never stops teaching.
Journaling for awareness. Growing for life.
The life of the mother includes making a lot of decisions. Sometimes big. Sometimes small. From which brand of BPA free water bottle to buy, to where the kids should go to school, to whether they need to see a doctor for that most recent cough. While there are days when I really wish I had a magic eight ball that would give me all the answers, it really just comes down to trusting my instincts. But I have to tell you: my usually decisive self has been second-guessing herself lately. Maybe it’s the nature of the end of the school year, the tasks that have surmounted. (Only one day left of school – yippy!) Nevertheless, a couple days ago when Brennan (not quite three-years-old) was invited to have a play date later this week with a new friend, I swirled into anxiety mode. The only kind of play dates Brennan has done are the kind where I’m with him or the kind where he goes to play at the home of one of my closest friends while I run one of the other kids somewhere. This invitation, while extremely kind, is with a family I don’t know very well in a home that Brennan has never played in, and I have been wrestling with how to respond. Then something happened yesterday that brought some clarity.
We were alone in the art aisle at Target. Adeline (6) was standing beside me trying to decide between a Rapunzel coloring book or a Tinkerbelle one, when Keegan and Brennan dropped the bag of goldfish crackers they’d been sharing in the shopping cart. I stooped down to pick up the scattered mess – my head down for maybe ten seconds – and when I stood back up I saw that a man had walked into the aisle and was crouched down next to Adeline. The scruffy, middle-aged guy seemed out of place among the Crayola crayons; he did not have a shopping basket, held only a hooded sweatshirt. In that second that I turned and saw him squatting there beside my daughter, I heard him whisper to her, “Your shoelace is untied.” Adeline immediately recoiled in surprise and seemed to shrink as she got down low to tie her shoe.
I stood there almost frozen, looking hard at the man as he stood up and made eye contact with me. The mother in me felt violated and was screaming in my head about how grown men should know not to sneak up on little girls, that they should direct their shoelace comments to the mother, that they should honor people’s personal space. But something else inside me was trying to turn off the alarms: wasn’t this innocent enough? No!
I took two steps closer to the man and put my hand on Adeline’s shoulder. Despite the fire in my belly, and undoubtedly in my eyes, the man remained unmoving. Words would not come to me. I was both partially stunned and keenly aware that anything I said would alarm my three kids. I seemed to become a bear, standing there staring down my challenger as he faked interest in a set of markers and eventually wandered off. Adeline rose from the floor, shoe tied, and I then saw that she was on the verge of tears. My heart sank to see her shaken, and yet I was glad to know that she was aware of something here…
I got down to her level. “Tell me, baby.” But her words wouldn’t come either. So I said, “It’s okay to feel uncomfortable around strangers. We don’t know that man. But you are okay; I’m right here. You can always walk away or take my hand.” By then her tears had been unleashed. I held her to me, promising her that she was all right. I was deeply grateful to see that Adeline has good instincts, but oh how my heart ached to see her innocence further departing. To see her coming to understand an untrusting world.
Finally Adeline said, “Mom, I feel funny.” I hugged her a little tighter and told her, “That’s your intuition – it’s the voice inside that lets you know when something is uncomfortable or just not right. We have to always listen to it.” Then I swallowed back my own tears.
Hours later I was still holding onto that moment in the store. I kept thinking of Adeline’s words, “I feel funny,” and my advise to always pay attention to that voice inside. As a mother I don’t want to be hesitant or indecisive; I can’t be. I want to find a way to better honor my own feelings about things, my own instincts. With this resolve in mind, I called the mother of Brennan’s new friend. I thanked her for her thoughtful invitation, but suggested that for their first play date together the moms join and make it a picnic. She loved the idea! We ended up talking for a half hour and with each minute that passed that funny feeling further departed.
This week I had a powerful reminder to pay close attention to how I feel about things. Sometimes I’m going to have to work at getting comfortable. And when things are just not right, I will have to feel the fire… and become a bear.