A few days ago I was waiting in line at the checkout of the local hobby store. One woman in particular caught my eye. She was dressed classier than the rest of us, having more of what I'd call an 'outfit' on. The rest of us were a bit sluffy in shorts and t-shirts and flip flops. Honestly, she made the rest of us look like we could up our game a bit.
With her was a little boy; I'd say he was about four or five. As I stood there waiting, she finished checking out, and began to walk out of the store. All of a sudden she started talking to the supervisor who was standing there monitoring lanes. She grabbed the little boy's hand, which held two containers of bright pink bubble gum, raised it up into the air, and in an unnaturally loud voice said, "He's trying to steal candy!"
She looked down at the little boy, glanced over at the supervisor, and upped her ante, saying, 'She's going to call the cops on you!'.
The supervisor got a horrified look on her face. The little boy immediately started wailing loudly, holding out his hand, with the two packages of gum now eagerly offered up.
We, the onlookers, stood there in awkward silence. For a minute everything stopped, nobody spoke.
The mother continued to stand there, glaring at the little boy; the cashier motioned me up, and I checked out my few items. As I tried to walk out of the store, I had to wait for her to move aside, so I could go through the doors leading outside. As I passed her, I couldn't bring myself to look at her, because I knew the daggers my eyes would send. 'Just don't look up Bev. Keep moving."
I hated what I'd seen. I hated being reminded of a few less than stellar times of mothering in my own life. When I mistakenly took all three kids to Walmart to buy school supplies; by the time we'd finished, arguing over crayons and folders and notebooks and such, I stood at the checkout and loudly declared, "I am NEVER taking all three of you shopping again!" It wasn't my best moment.
Another time I was trying to get three kids to go up an escalator, one still had to be held, and the other needed her hand held and was terrified of the moving stairs. The third was free, on her own, so she went ahead and rode up the escalator, to stand there unattended, while I was at the bottom, overwhelmed over a toddler who refused to move. A woman I did not know decided to impart her vast wisdom in child handling, in front of God and everyone, and I recall not taking the advice very graciously.
So I get it. I've been a maternal train wreck in public. I've come home with all four of us crying and worn to a ragged mess. The woman I saw at the hobby store was different. There was no taking the boy aside and talking to him quietly. There was no quietly insisting he return the candy and apologize. There was just an abandoning of him to himself, all five years or so, not showing that anyone was willing to be there for him, no matter what, on his worst day. He clearly had no advocate. There was no regret in her eyes, for how she'd handled the situation, but rather a look of satisfaction that she'd done well.
I wonder if that's what they thought of me that day in Walmart? Or at the bottom of the escalator in Sears, thirty years ago. Or countless other times when I was too hard on our kids, expecting them to be something other than kids. I pray that my kids, looking back on my very worst mothering moments, never felt abandoned by me.
My mother had her first child at the ripe age of 17, and her sixth when she was 24. Six of us in 7 1/2 years, and four of them were hooligan boys. I only remember once, when she took all six of us shoe shopping. I don't remember who cut up, but she spoke the dreaded words, 'just wait until we get home.' Sure enough, when we walked through the door, she promptly lined us up by age, and the spankings came down the row. It did not matter whether I'd misbehaved. I was guilty by association. It's the only spanking I remember ever getting from her. My mother had less mothering skills than she really needed, mostly because she was a kid herself. But I never ever questioned if she was ultimately on my side. On my worst days I still knew she would go to bat for me. That's what mothers are supposed to do, aren't they?
We go to the movies a lot, and a few weeks ago I saw the preview for a movie coming out this Friday - Bad Moms. I know there will be plenty who go see it, and think it's hilarious. It just makes me sad.
In a world that has as many problems as we do, and children being our only hope for the future, surely at least our mothers are always for us, standing with us, even on our worst day? I still have vivid memories of my own mothering days when I fell into bed at night, full of regret for how I'd handled the day. I was never proud I'd failed. Rather, I was usually heartsick, wishing I could go back and get a redo. Generally how I felt was only made worse, when I'd go in to check on them one last time before heading to bed myself. The worst behaved child often seems to grow wings when they sleep.
I definitely didn't go sit and have drinks with girlfriends, bragging over what a rotten failure I was at this mothering business. When did it become funny to be a bad mom? I'm not getting it. Movies like this make me wonder if we are indeed going to hell in a hand basket, laughing all the way. Surely there's an element still out there who sees it as the highest of callings, and when they blow it, it causes some looking deep inside, seeing a need to grow up oneself, rather than fodder for girlfriend's night out.
There's a woman my daughters (and I) follow, who has invested her life in encouraging young mothers to see their time raising their children as a worthy investment of their lives; whether they work inside or outside the home has nothing to do with it. If you're hoping that someday your kids will 'rise up and call you blessed', in spite of all your failings, you might check out Sally's website, and her two books, Mission of Motherhood and Ministry of Motherhood. We can do better than I saw that day at the hobby store; than I did at the checkout of Walmart, or the bottom of the escalator in Sears; and certainly better than some will see in the theater this weekend.
I'm glad I didn't glare at the mother in the hobby store, but if I'd had a copy of Sally's books, I might have tucked it under her windshield wiper. It's not so very long ago I could have used a bigger perspective of mothering myself.