Last weekend, my husband and I went out to lunch. Well, my husband, myself, AND our two-year-old daughter. It wasn’t a birthday lunch, an anniversary lunch, or any sort of special occasion, it was simply a spontaneous trip with the fam to try some new New York food.
Things were going well: My husband and I were enjoying a plate of potato pancakes while my daughter colored and laughed and ate fistfuls of ketchup — along with some french fries — but suddenly the mood shifted. My daughter’s laughter ceased, and my little girl was upset. When I asked her what was wrong she pointed to her pants: She told me she had to go potty.
I should have known it was a rouse. It was a way to get “unhooked” and out of her high chair, but since we are still in throes of potty training, I couldn’t say no. I wouldn’t say no. And so I took her to the bathroom.
Unsurprisingly, she didn’t go. The second we got near the restroom door she tensed up. She locked up. She told me she didn’t have to pee. When I suggested she tried anyway, she huffed and puffed. She turned to run away. And while I did catch her and place her on the toilet, I knew this meal was about to go downhill.
When we returned to the table, my daughter refused to sit down. She just wanted to play; she wanted to “dance.” My husband and I had indulged this whim when we arrived — it was German restaurant where such behavior is expected and encouraged — but now our meals were on the table. And both her food and mine was getting cold. So we told her she had to sit down and finish her meal. Food first. Dancing later.
And THAT didn’t go well. She was not happy.
As her father struggled to wrangle her into her seat, she kicked and flailed and “fought back.” And while he did manage to get her down, her tantrum was not over: i.e. she channeled all of her anger and frustration into her hands and slapped over a glass. A glass FULL of water.
I was horrified, and I was mortified. I mean, my daughter is no saint, and as she ebbs closer to three her tantrums are becoming more frequent, and more intense. But generally she is a sweet girl. A well-behaved girl. But now we were “those people:” We were the parents of a “bratty” child. An unruly child. We were those parents who couldn’t control our kid.
I could sense all eyes were upon us — and upon me. I could sense everyone was waiting to see how would this mama react. Would I hit my daughter, or yell at her? Would I storm out of the restaurant or continue with my meal? Would my reaction be appropriate? Would I be “doing enough?”
I spoke firmly, but quietly, to my daughter (who was now crying more than before). I explained why her actions were inappropriate — why her response was inappropriate — and I told her she had to apologize to me, to her father, and to our waitress. The waitress who was wiping down our table and cleaning up the floor.
And while she did apologize — with tears in her eyes — I was still angry and annoyed. I was still embarrassed. And then I noticed it: a couple approaching us — and approaching me. A couple who was there moments ago when “the incident” happened.
“Oh here it comes,” I thought. “Here come’s the judgement. Here comes some snooty ass to tell my daughter how to act, and me how to do my job.” But instead of criticizing my daughter, the woman complimented her. Instead of judging me, the woman smiled at me. Instead of saying something like “what’s wrong” or “what was all of that noise about,” she said “you are such a good girl! You are so well behaved!” Then she looked at me, smiled, and winked.
OK, maybe I imagined the wink, but I didn’t imagine what she said: “You are so lucky. My kids weren’t that good when they were her age. You are so blessed.”
I smiled back and thanked her. I told her and her husband to have a great day.
You see, while I was worried others were judging me, I was the one making assumptions. I was the one projecting expectations. I was the one who was judging.
She was being supportive. She was being empathetic. She was commiserating: “Oh Mama, I’ve been there. We’ve all been there.”
So to the mother whose son just threw down a handful of DVD’s at Target, to the mother whose daughter just grabbed a fistful of candy bars at checkout, and to the mother whose child just had a meltdown on aisle nine, remember: We’ve all been there. We’re all “in this together.” And it happens to all of us.
It happens to the best of us.