If you ever want to feel super about your parenting skills, take your kids to the zoo on a Saturday. In January. On the only nice day of the entire month. At noon.
Two years ago, I would have looked at this situation entirely differently than I did last weekend. See, when we had one kid, it was so easy to think, we got this. We had a nice, tidy little stroller, one water bottle, maybe a couple of diapers. We had a nice, tidy little toddler with blonde piggy tails and a big smile and enough energy to outlast both of us. But she was easy to keep up with. She asked nicely to see the animals, she sat in her stroller when she got tired, we generally had peaceful days.
Enter kid number two. I always tell people it’s like our family grew exponentially, times ten, rather than by just one more addition. There’s more stuff to remember, way more snacks to buy, more energy to be summoned to get through a simple day that should be fun. (Luckily there’s also way more belly laughs and smiles and looking at my husband like what? who made these kids? they’re hilarious! moments, way more hugs and way more i love yous and way more sloppy kisses.) But with two, I started to see things a little differently.
For example, those parents digging in the bottom of their bags for the last of the snacks because they just couldn’t bear to spend $10 on a bag of popcorn? We were those parents.
Those parents running after one kid while keeping the other contained possibly against his will? We were those parents.
Those parents backtracking to pick up stray shoes and socks that got left behind in a wake of people? We were those parents.
Those parents pushing an empty stroller while keeping an iron grip on one unsteady toddler and giving the big girl a ride on their shoulders? We were those parents.
Those parents saying quietly through gritted teeth, “complain ONE more time and we are LEAVING”? We were those parents.
Those parents blushing profusely and quickly hustling along their five-year-old after she screamed, “Look Mom, they’re struggling!” at a pair of mating tortoises? Yep you guessed it, that was us.
I’m ashamed to admit that I used to live DEEP in the comparison game. I’d look around at other parents struggling or kids melting down and think, first, thank goodness that’s not us but also, dang, I have got this parenting thing DOWN. my kid doesn’t do that. And that’s just not true in the slightest. Because really, she did and really, do any of us have it “down”? What does that even mean?
I noticed last weekend at the zoo that my thinking has shifted. Instead of making a mental list of the many ways I was doing parenting better than those other people, it made me feel so much better to know that we weren’t the only ones with kids who ran away from us or kids who needed a new snack every five seconds. Instead, I looked at those other parents, sometimes catching their eye, giving a slight nod, saying I see you, I get you, I am you. And every time, that nod was returned in such a knowing way it could only come from someone else who really understands. Like, solidarity mama, me too.
We had a play date last week, one that ended with a very moody child (mine) who would not tell our host thank you but instead stomped out the door. I, of course, was embarrassed, and later texted my friend to apologize for my girl’s surliness. She responded, “No need to apologize, she’s a kid, mine do the same, no judgment here.” And I can’t tell you what that meant to me. Just the simple fact of someone else getting it.
One of my favorite middle grade books of all time is Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech In it, she says, “Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked two moons in his moccasins.” Well, turns out it takes two kids for this judgey mama (me) to really learn what it means to have empathy and compassion for other parents, but I’m getting closer and closer to it every day. (Kudos to you if it only took you one kid or you just didn’t judge in the first place!) But, if I happen to see you in Target and your kids are totally melting down, I’ll see you with compassion, catch your eye, give you that mama nod, and know in my heart that you are doing the very best you can.
Because aren’t we all?
Currently Reading: Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt. I don’t feel like I’m exaggerating when I say these books are perfection. I read The Wednesday Wars last year and it was one of my favorite middle grade picks for the year. And I just finished Okay For Now– with tears rolling down my face, of course- it was just so, so good. They are companion novels, meaning they share a character, but they do not have to be read in a certain order. Okay For Now is about Doug Swieteck, 7th grader, 1968, with a tough family life, a tough reputation to overcome, a creative mind, and really the kindest heart. I fell in love with his story and will be signing its praises for many, many years to come. From a middle grade writer perspective, I learned so much from Schmidt about characters and leaving things up to the reader’s imagination and perfectly placed words and voice and just all the things. All the stars for this one (both of these really). If you love middle grade fiction, there is no way you won’t love both of these.
Currently Obsessed With: This tea. Nice and hot with a drop of honey. It’s my favorite thing to have after the kids have gone to bed and I’m snuggled under a blanket with a good book. (I found it on Amazon, but I’ve seen it at Target, too!)
Thanks for reading and until next time, peace and love from my household to yours.