Perceptions that Hurt Our Connections
Saturday afternoon that changed me; animals, lost kids, and grace.
My children are those that we have to bribe to see the animals at the zoo. Our local zoo has this fantastic play structure that my kids love. Most of the time when they ask to go to, they could care less about the animals and want to spend all day climbing the rock wall, swinging in the giant bird’s nest, rocking the splash pad, and visiting the penguins. For my arctic bird loving son….. it is like heaven.
If heaven had penguins and a tunnel slide.
This particular day, it was extremely busy. We don’t get many non-humid days here in North Florida, so when we do, it seems the entire city takes advantage of it. My husband and I had held the kiddos off for as long as we could and headed over to the play area.
That’s where I came face to face with the judgment of “The Mom.”
The Judgement of A Mom
We were checking out the penguins and naming them as we always do. I don’t think they really cared for it since they were refusing to respond. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a woman holding the arm of a little boy; he was crying. Her demeanor is what made me turn and watch, as it was, for lack of a better term, rough. She walked up to a woman and asked: “Hey, this your kid?”
She marched past me, so I made a move to stand in front of her.
“Hey sweet man, are you lost? Where’s your mommy?”
I am always prone, in these situations, to address the child rather than the adult. My pediatric nurse training kicked into high gear, looking for signs of something out of the ordinary. He looked up at me with these giant brown eyes filled with tears and shoved his thumb further in his mouth, shaking his head yes. I reached to put my hand on his little one, and the women holding his opposite arms jerked him away.
“Is this yours?” She asked gruffly.
“No, ma’am.” I said, “Where did you find him?”
“He was standing over there” She pointed to a little grove of trees that housed the climbing structures made to look like igloos. “He was crying for his mom, I’m looking for her.”
When a child is lost, especially on a busy, crowded day, every mother within earshot becomes a detective looking for scraps of clues to return a lost child. The woman holding his arm, asking around was explaining she “didn’t have time to watch other people’s kids” and “it was ridiculous that he was lost in the first place.” The other women agreed, some shaking heads, some saying things never losing their own children, some staring, but no one made a move to walk to the play structures to see if there was someone frantically looking. No one even asked the little boy any questions or even his name. They all just condemned her, his mother, for her apparent lack of attention. Then, as fast as they gathered, like hens collecting chicks, they took their own kids and walked off leaving the annoyed lady, the child, and myself. I asked her if she had looked at the play area or maybe by the splash pad. She shook her head and repeated she didn’t have time for any of this.
“I’m just gonna take him up front. When she wants him, she can go get him.” She marched off towards the front, scared boy in tow.
That is when I saw her.
The mother was looking frantically around the bushes and in the structures, calling his name, getting very worried. She was doing what all moms of lost children do, trying not to panic but at the same time panicking inside. The worst case scenario playing out in her mind as her eyes searched for her child.
“Ma’am, are you the mama of the lost little boy?” I asked
She looked up from a bush she was searching in. “Oh my God!!! Yes!” Immediately she looked down, and her worried face grimaced as she saw I didn’t have her child. “A woman was looking for you. She had your son and took him to the front of the zoo.” She looked at me as though the words didn’t make sense.
“To the front?” She looked towards the front of the kid’s area.
“Yes, ma’am. The front of the zoo, the main entrance.”
She turned then and briskly walked towards the entrance. I followed. As we rounded the entrance to the children’s zoo area, I stopped at the gate and told one of the zoo workers to radio to the front the description of the older lady and the little boy and to have the workers try and stop her, that mom was coming. The mother had gone on ahead, but after I gave the instructions to the confused but at least compliant zoo workers, I took off after her.
I caught up with her. She was crying silent tears as she hurried. I grabbed her hand and kept walking, a silent wall of support. When she caught sight of her son, she took off running. She scooped him up and held him close to her. Yelling and fear were saved for another day, only pure relief at finding him safe. He was okay, frightened but okay and mom could wrap him in her worried arms.
I approached her.
She up looked at me, waiting to hear it. Waiting to hear out loud what she was already thinking about her parenting. Waiting for me to tell her how much better I am at parenting than she was. Waiting for me to say out loud the judgment that she was already thinking to herself.
I knelt down to their level, and I put my hand on her arm.
“I am so sorry this happened to you today, I am so glad you found him.” I turned to the little boy and added “You were so brave, sweetheart. Your mama loves you very much.” She waited for it, braced, insecure, posed for the verbal onslaught of her mistake.
But I didn’t.
I smiled at her, nodded, and then I walked away to my husband who had come to make sure everything was okay with my kids who were generally worried about a lost child.
I Am Exhausted
Friends, can I say this to you?
I am exhausted. I am exhausted by the constant sound of judgment. Everywhere we go, we are looked at and criticised by a 30-second snapshot of a life we are living. Our kids talk back to us or throw a fit, and some stranger is telling us what we should do to stop that behavior. We send a kid to school or private or homeschool and someone tells us whatever the choice is, we did it wrong. We choose to work or stay home, and some blog is telling us which is harder. I am so tired of always feeling the need to defend the choice we choose that works best for our family. I get tired of hearing moms talk down about each other as if we could genuinely live someone else’s life.
Kids can get away from us in a split second. I know. Once I lost Miss A in a very crowded day-before-Christmas shopping madness that is Bass Pro. I thought her dad had her and he thought she was waiting for me in the restroom. She had walked away to find us and in the madness lost us. That fear of never seeing your kid again is powerful. There is no worse feeling than looking up, and your kid is nowhere to be found. I knew that mom was terrified, she didn’t need me to remark on what happened, she needed my support. She needed God’s grace. When I lost Miss A, I was frantically searching when another woman came up to because she recognized my mannerisms. She gently said, “are you looking for someone?” The moment I had to describe what my child was wearing, I lost it. My resolve broke, and I crumpled to the floor in tears.
Matthew 7:12 calls for grace, not judgments. The Bible tells us that we are to do to others what you want them to do to you; this is the meaning of the Law of Moses and the Prophets (GNT). God is calling for grace, not perfection. He is calling for gentleness towards others, not harshness and whispered words. The resounding “This could never happen to my kid” is filling every comment section and on every lip of those who wish to put us firmly in our place. We are to show grace to our fellow moms and help them when they fall, not stand over them intent on convicting them for every wrongdoing.
The thing is mom nation…… we are all the mom at the zoo who has lost her kid. At any moment our children could become lost in a sea of craziness at a playground or get away from us and head towards a street. At any moment, we can be the one that needs grace not the judgments of others. James 3:17 is an excellent reminder of the way God sees us But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure: then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.
Grace for the moment
Maybe the mom at the playground glued to her smartphone runs a small business and the only time she gets to work is when her kid is otherwise engaged. Maybe the mom in the store with the kid too old for a meltdown has a child with special needs and needs compassion, not evil stares. Perhaps the mom at the zoo who loses her kid is just a mom who thought “today is a nice day to take little man to the zoo” and didn’t set out to ruin another women’s day. Maybe the mom who loses her kid in Bass Pro writes a blog post about how we all need grace.
Grace, not perfection.
Love, not harshness.
It is how we will win the war over judgments that ruin our connections to others.
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