Sometimes you see stuff coming, and sometimes you just don’t. As in, not at all. Yesterday was one of those times I was blindsided… entirely so.
12 days into winter break. Survival mode and low parenting standards were in full swing. With three full days remaining in our lengthy school hiatus, we were at the playground with friends trying desperately to encourage interactions with others instead of continuing our sibling civil war.
My 8-year-old daughter, the self-proclaimed leader of our offspring herd, borrowed our friends’ scooter and a mohawk-festooned helmet. Off she went, pushing-and-rolling her way down to the tennis courts where a smattering of kids were scootering around the fenced perimeter.
My daughter entered the makeshift scooter rink as I half-watched (OK, three kids on a playground and a half-quadrillion hours into winter break with — FINALLY — semi-uninterrupted adult conversation, I was maybe 1/8-watching her. But still, I was somewhat aware. Kind of. Ish.) A few minutes in, she ran up to me, lugging the borrowed scooter and unfastening the spikey helmet.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, hugging her petite frame against my hip. “They said I look weird!” She whimpered. I turned away from my socializing and rubbed her back as I spoke, “I’m sorry! That’s not nice of them.” I paused, harnessing my inner helicopter mom who wanted to haul out and give those judgmental scootering snots a mommy monologue.
I looked down at the borrowed helmet she’d tossed at my feet. “That looks like a pretty cool warrior’s helmet to me,” I assessed. She was leaning against my side, gaze down. I clearly needed a different approach.
“What would Aaron do?” I asked her, referencing my middle son — her younger, incredibly annoying yet beloved brother who is fearlessly sparkly and unabashedly flamboyant. She looked me in the eyes and I had an oh-shit-where-am-I-going-with-this moment. Quite uncharacteristically, I began speaking without actually thinking about the words coming out of my mouth. The utterances just rattled out in some inspired semblance of poignancy. Thank goodness!
“He wouldn’t let those mean kids stop him. He’d say, ‘That sounds like a them problem.’ Right?” My mouth said. She nodded, hugged my hips, and popped the mohawk’ed helmet on her ash blond head.
“That worked!” I said to my friends with equal parts relief and surprise. “That worked?” I said to myself. “I need that pep talk when I look in the mirror,” one friend said, “‘That’s a them problem.'” She mimicked telling herself. We laughed but knew we could all use such confidence.
I wished it would work for me.
15 minutes — and numerous bouts of kid squabble mediation — later, my middle son chasse’d up to me in his unicorn-covered ensemble. “She’s being nice to me,” he said in reference to his sister. “That’s good.” I stood listening for the formal complaint or problem I had to resolve. “She said I helped her remember it was a ‘them problem’ and now she’s ok.” I smiled, relieved and still quite surprised my unplanned pep talk was — apparently — effective. “Good!” I replied, hugging his thin frame against me. And off he leapt and twirled to the impromptu scooter rink.
More chatting and more kid wrangling ensued in the passing 20’ish minutes. Then, my sparkly son returned to my side again. “What’s up?” I said, as he blankly stared up at my with his enormous, lushly fringed blue eyes. “She’s still being nice to me,” he said. “She told me that I can have her morning treat tomorrow.” I asked why she offered this reward. “Because she said that I helped her feel OK about liking things that the boys liked and that now she’s happy.” And right then tears welled in my eyes, my heart swelled, and a bubble of relief and love crowded my throat.
I smiled wide, blinked away the tears, and cleared my throat. “That’s so nice! I’m glad.” I said to him. And off he scampered.
I turned back to my friends who were kindly looking towards me with lovingly inquisitive faces. “Sometimes you’re surprised to find out you actually did something right,” I said and I gave myself a tiny pat on the back as I sighed out years of self-doubt.
Sometimes — sometimes — we get it right.