Yesterday was the first day of summer vacation, a wonderful day where my children are excited about school being over and not yet bored and fighting with each other (well, not more than usual, at least), and where I am feeling energized by not having to do the normal morning routine.
I wanted to take advantage of this collective familial good mood, so after a nice, lazy day of playing, coloring and romping around, we piled into the car and went to the Cleveland Botanical Gardens.
I usually feel somewhat self-conscious in these situations because we are a visibly Jewish family, and, you know, four kids can seem like a lot sometimes to people.
At first, I was feeling pretty proud of myself. Even when I couldn’t temporarily locate my daughter in the Children’s Garden (a whimsical, lovely space with the most creative container gardening), I totally kept cool, picked up my toddler, walked over to the other side of the garden and oh-so casually mentioned to one of the workers that I was looking for a little girl with a pink dress and a red bow.
I wasn’t even all that embarrassed when another mom found her (not at all far away, I should mention), and, reunited, we walked back to the sandbox where her older brothers were playing. I felt like it was very “it takes a village” and I legit did not feel judged by the other parents there.
When we left this small garden, on a quest to find the intriguing towers my children had seen pictured at the entrance to the garden, that’s when this went sideways.
Despite my constant reminders to walk, not run, and to stay within sight, my children couldn’t resist and they ran down the stairs to the base of a tower, sprinted up the stairs of the tower, and then dashed down a ramp to another tower.
This would have been fine if I hadn’t been stuck holding a toddler-laden stroller at the top of the stairs, and if the ramp they ran down hadn’t taken them completely out of my line of vision.
Deeply perturbed, I did some sprinting of my own, clutching the handles of the stroller while muttering promises of retribution under my breath as I ran the length of the pathway leading to where I hoped my children would be. I was flooded with feelings of worry, anger, shame, embarrassment. I worried that anyone who saw this debacle would think “oh, she is overwhelmed. She shouldn’t have had so many kids if she can’t manage them.” and other such unflattering thoughts.
When I did find them, thank G-d, I informed them that we would be heading home that minute. THAT MINUTE. They were, shall we say, greatly displeased as we walked the long, long, eternally long walk back to the parking garage. I had to carry my daughter a few times because of non-compliance, and one of my sons asked angrily why I was “so strict.”
Needless to say, this was not enjoyable, for any of us. I was singularly focused on getting to the car and getting home. As we were entering the building leading to the parking garage, a smiling woman held the door for us.
I thanked her and she remarked, “No problem. I’ve been there.”
Ah, mom solidarity. Such a welcome thing during a parentally difficult moment.
“I only have one, though. I could only have one.”
Suddenly, with this personal disclosure, the encounter changed from a one-mom-to-another moment to something heavier, deeper. I fumbled awkwardly to say the right things.
“They said I wouldn’t be able to have any, but then I had my daughter.”
“That’s nice, ” I said. “I mean, I’m glad that they were wrong.”
After that, we made some typical mom small talk about how kids get sassy at such a young age, etc. etc., and wished each other a good day.
But the interaction lingered. Yes, I was overwhelmed and frustrated at my children, but Hashem sent me this woman, this friendly woman, to give me a sharp reminder that all my frustrations and embarrassments are a blessing that would be welcome by others.
True, it doesn’t take away the exasperation of raising children, and it doesn’t absolve me of the unpleasant task of giving my kids consequences when they, you know, run away from me in a public place, but it did give me perspective.
So as I type this post with my daughter on my lap, with her whining about wanting to ride her bike around the block (I said no. Because she’s four), I remember the words of that mother yesterday and it helps me control my feelings of annoyance. It helps me be the kind of mom I want to be.
Thank you, random mother at the gardens yesterday.
BEFORE THE EXPULSION FROM THE GARDEN
AFTER THE EXPULSION