The child’s screams were an ice pick in my brain. Piercing and impossible to ignore. I scanned the throngs of people, searching out the source. There. A young man emerged from the deli department with a squirming, screaming little boy. The man wore a grim smile as he struggled to hold on to the bucking child. Moving towards the exit, he expertly dodged the boy’s flailing fists, humiliation etched in his every movement.
I looked up and smiled into the handsome face of my teenage son. Feeling grateful for my well-mannered offspring, I thought no more of the incident as I moved into the express checkout lane.
Laden with bags, we approached our Honda and I noted that parked next to us was the young man with his obnoxious son. Sitting in the front seat of a compact car, the young man looked straight ahead. His jaw was set, and behind him the little boy was continuing his verbal tirade.
Trying not to stare, I noticed that the toddler was getting more physical. With the windows of their car down, we could hear his screams as they became increasingly shrill. With a haggard look, the man got out of the car, and slid into the back seat with the child. “What’s he doing?” I whispered to my son. He was right next to the duo, while I couldn’t observe from my vantage point without being obvious. As I looked into the cars nearby, I noted that there were several other patrons watching the exchange as well.
As far as we could tell, the young man never raised his voice, hurried his movements, or lashed out in any way to this wayward child. The boy began to calm somewhat, though I could still hear his angry sobs. As I cautiously backed out of the parking slot and prepared to make my exit, I noted that the young man was now leaning against the outside of the car, lighting up a cigarette.
Something in his countenance gave me pause. Perhaps it was the slump of his shoulders, or how he clutched his cigarette like a life preserver. His eyes were cast down to the ground, as if he were afraid to look up and see censure in the eyes of others. I felt the impulse to roll down my window and say something to this worn daddy, but I squashed it down and drove away. I immediately regretted my decision.
I had missed an opportunity to speak life
into the heart of a fellow traveler.
Praying for this man, I drove home pondering what I wished I had had the courage to say. I blew my chance then, but I want to give some hope to some other mommy or daddy out there, so here goes…
To the grossed out mommies and daddies who are sick of scraping chunks of vomit out of the carpet: (What strange phenomenon prevents kids from puking on non-carpeted surfaces?) I promise you will not be fishing turds out of the bathtub or be a human Kleenex forever.
To the isolated mommies and daddies who for all intents and purposes haven’t left the house in months because the kids keep catching (and sharing) every virus known to man: They will develop a working immune system someday. I promise you will not turn into a pale and pasty antisocial troll. You will be able to go out and even enjoy friendships again.
To the mommies and daddies who are just plain frustrated: It is normal to want to throw the baby out the window sometimes or sell your toddler to the first passing band of Gypsys. (Note that it’s normal to feel this way, not to act on it!)
To the anxious mommies and daddies who fear they are ruining their children: You are. Get over it. You are going to pass on some of your neuroses and fears. You will also pass on some of your gifts, talents, and brilliance. It all evens out.
To the humiliated mommies and daddies who are forced to carry their hysterical progeny out of a busy Walmart: You are doing great. Stay firm—it will pay off, I promise you. Don’t give up and you will enjoy your babies again someday.
To the mommies and daddies who feel defeated at the end of a never-ending day: What you are doing is important. Training these barely-sentient beings to become unselfish, polite, and generous humans is just plain HARD. I promise you, it is so very worth it.
And to the moms and dads who have passed the early years of child-rearing: I know our natural instinct is to put traumatic events behind us, but let’s not forget how draining and frustrating raising little ones can be. Let us remember the feelings of ineptitude, of bone-deep exhaustion, of utter aloneness. And let us remember that our own well-mannered children were once obnoxious brats too.
May we remember so that we can look at these weary souls forging along in our wake and say:
I know how you feel.
You’re doing a great job.
This will not last forever.
And most of all, you are not alone.
“Kind words are like honey—sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.” (Proverbs 16:24, NLT)