“handle it differently, please.”
This is one of my go-to phrases with my children, most often my daughter when she’s reacting to something that doesn’t go her way, whether it be a math problem, her brother’s advice on a video game, or a sock with an irritating toe seam.
But more and more, I’m finding myself wanting to plead with some adults: “handle it differently, please.”
While out shopping, I heard a mom tell her talkative toddler to “stop boring me. I don’t want to hear it.” My head shot up so fast I startled her. I think the look on my face (I should never play poker) told her how bad I felt for that little boy because she immediately backpedaled and started asking him questions about his day, what he did, who he played with . . .
While driving home from car line, most every morning I pass a mother and daughter walking to school. The mom is paces ahead, power walking. The daughter is runwalking to keep up, her heavy backpack slowing her down. I wish I could say I prayed for the mom to recognize what she was doing and decide to power walk on the way home, after her daughter was in school. But I didn’t. I judged her. I got upset with her. I decided she was being selfish and ignoring her daughter. Day after day, power walking while her daughter tried to keep up. Not taking advantage of what could be memory making daily walk-n-talks. I wanted to call out the window “YOU’RE MISSING IT!!! PAY ATTENTION!!!!” Then last week, an unexpected surprise – they were walking together, talking. And this time “Thank you, Lord.” came spilling out of my mouth. The next time I see them, I’m confident I will pray instead of judge. That the mom won’t let those precious, fleeting opportunities slip by even one more time.
Friday night, at a school carnival, my daughter is trying to win a goldfish by throwing a ping pong ball in bowls of water. She’s excited and I look at her and say “You better not win a fish. Don’t do it.” and she and I both know I’m teasing her. Not about the fact that I didn’t want a goldfish, because with a 55 gallon saltwater tank at home filled with half the cast of Finding Nemo, I did NOT want a goldfish. I was teasing her about winning one. She and I both knew that if she won a goldfish, I would deal with it. The fishbowl that was purchased to fill with blue jello and gummy fish would instead get filled up with water and we would have goldfish until . . . well until we didn’t have a goldfish. Ya know she won a goldfish – and promptly named it Donald.
Later, I was standing with two sisters, both moms of my daughter’s classmates. The boy excitedly approached his mom, wanting to try for a gold fish. She didn’t even look him in the eye as she said, in flat tone, “You bring a goldfish home and it’s going straight into the toilet.” His shoulder’s dropped. He heard what I heard: “If you bring home a pet fish, I will kill it.” He seemed to know she wouldn’t change her mind. He didn’t argue. Instead, he slipped away unnoticed as she continued talking to her friends. His cousin, a girl, approached her mom, goldfish in hand. The mom, sister to the first mom, said, “I’m not buying one thing for that fish. Not one thing.” The little girl started to argue, and I couldn’t listen, so I went to find my daughter. I judged and wimped out at the same time.
Why would these moms say these things? What is the big deal about a GOLDFISH? Put it in a glass. Buy fish food for a buck or two. Teach a kid how to take care of something smaller than them in a world where other people take care of them all the time. I found myself wondering what kind of home life these two women had growing up.
And I had a humbling epiphany. Some kids grow up to emulate their parents, some kids grow up fiercely determined not to emulate their parents. Doesn’t make me any better. Or any less damaged.
Doesn’t mean I make the right decisions when it comes to my kids either. Because, as I was standing, holding Donald the goldfish in a plastic bag, waiting for my kids to be bored with the carnival, a woman approached me. She wanted to buy the fish to give to a little girl who was crying because after trying and trying to toss a ping pong ball in a bowl of water, she still couldn’t win a goldfish – like her sister did. I found PinkGirl and explained the situation and asked her if she would consider giving her fish to the little girl, since she herself had Nemo and Marlin and Dory . . . PinkGirl reluctantly, but immediately said I could give away her goldfish. So I did.
PinkGirl had giver’s remorse. There were big crocodile tears and “I want DONALD back.”
There wasn’t any getting Donald back at that point. Donald was long gone with his new owner, a beaming little girl. Meanwhile, MY little girl was heartbroken. For the rest of the night, which thankfully, wasn’t but about an hour and a half, we snuggled. I wiped her tears. I stroked her hair and rubbed her back. I apologized again and again for giving away her fish. (even though I had permission.) I carried her partway to the car and then handed her over to her dad to carry her the rest of the way because I’m not as strong as I wish I was.
Then, the next morning, Saturday, she and I talked about it again and she told me she thought she did the right thing, but that she was still sad about it. By Sunday, she had forgotten all about Donald.
I wish I could say I’m not going to judge parents when I hear or see them say or do things that hurt their children. But my immediate identification with a child in one of these situations practically insures that I will. As an adult, I’m asking God to allow me to see the parent as wounded too, not just the child. I’m praying that I will stop – mid-judgment – and pray for that parent as well as that child.
I know how much I need prayer instead of judgment. I’ve got my own list of things I should handle differently.