Setting: A rainy, winter day in the recent past after about 12:30 p.m. at Papa Gino's in Kingston, Massachusetts.
Dear Frustrated Mom,
You don't notice me here, do you? Sitting in the booth about 20 feet away? Taking in the whole scene unfolding before me? That's OK... you have a lot on your plate right now and I am quietly eating my lunch. I wouldn't expect you to notice me. But make no mistake about it, I have definitely taken notice of you and just wanted to say one thing.
I feel for you.
I genuinely mean that. We have all been there. It's one of those days where nothing seems to be working out and the odds are stacked against you. Two young kids, a busy schedule... all the stress you could ever ask for... and you simply can't catch a break.
Oh yes. Been there, done that!
I bet every person here knows what it feels like when you get a raw deal of a day like that. It is just awful. Plain and simple. I've only caught one small glimpse of your ordeal, and it is enough to make my heart break for you.
But there is also something important I need to say to you, a reminder that really can't wait any longer.
It isn't your kids' fault.
You want to know a secret? I hate the rain, too. Summer rain isn't so bad. But this freezing, soaking, unrelenting winter rain that drenches everything to the core? Disgusting. And add this whipping wind on top of it? An insanely gross day out there, to be sure. But your kids did not schedule today's weather, so is it fair to blame them?
I saw you ask the woman at the counter about the five-minute lunch deals. Would they really be ready in five minutes? She assured you they would be. I could see you had your doubts. I had mine, too. We were both right. It took so much longer than five minutes. I think she knew it would, too. She should have been honest with you from the start. There was no excuse for misleading you that way. Maybe somebody is to blame for that delay, but I know it isn't your kids. It's not their fault.
Your poor little boy. He was so excited about his orange soda and then looked so upset when he tripped and spilled it all over the floor. No reason to be so annoyed with him, though. The nice young man from the kitchen is cleaning it up, and even doing it with a smile for your boy. He got a new cup, too, and has his orange soda back. He even kept his clothes relatively clean! Not bad. Give the little man a break. He didn't trip on purpose. They are called accidents for a reason.
So that's why you needed the lunches in five minutes. The kids have a dentist appointment! I can hear you on the phone. We can all hear you actually, explaining yourself to the receptionist. You had car trouble this morning, too? Oh man, this really is a bad day. You just want to show up 15 minutes late? I think that is totally reasonable. I am sure the woman at the dental office will understand, especially if she has young kids, too. What? They won't take you a little late? They can't wait an extra 15 minutes? Seriously? Wow... that stinks. They really should show a little more sympathy than that. I noticed you slammed your phone down...
...and now I just saw you slam the food down on the table. I heard you, too. Your words and tone clear as crystal. "Here! Eat your lunch! You're not going to the dentist today!" And you look like you could just start crying right there. Part of me wants to go over and give you a hug. You look like you could really use it right now.
Then I notice your kids ...
Take a moment. Look at them. Do you see that nervous look on their faces? Do you see the mix of fear and pain in their eyes?
They want so badly to make Mommy happy, and they are so worried anything they say or do might make it worse. Walking on eggshells? They are well past that. They are afraid to take any step at all, just staring at their lunch and at each other. I can I almost hear them pleading: What did we do wrong?
Repeat after me: It's not their fault.
The car trouble, the freezing rain, the late lunch, the spilled soda, the unforgiving dentist... all things your children are not responsible for. Don't saddle them with that guilt. Don't allow their hearts to fill with fear and worry over things they can't control. Look at those sad eyes and do something, anything, to make them smile again. Because when you shove all the crap from this day aside, do you know what you have?
A great mom and her wonderful kids.
That's right. You are a great mom.
Maybe this isn't your greatest moment, but I can see there is a lot of good in you. I can see how much you care. I know how much you love those two little munchkins. The day just got away from you, and it can be so incredibly hard to cope. Like I said, we have all been there. And will there be times when the tables are turned? When I will be letting my frustrations show in front of my innocent daughter, through my words, actions, and expressions? Absolutely.
You see, we need to remember something very important. Kids do not only build feelings by what they are told, but also by what they perceive. They naturally internalize every vocal tone, every facial expression, and every action we give them. As adults we know deep down they are not to blame, but they perceive that guilt from our behavior, not our words. Even a nonverbal infant will smile and laugh with a happy parent and become upset with a stressed or angry parent. It is just their natural born instinct to see how you are feeling and place those emotions on themselves. It is so easy to forget, especially on a day like this, but we have to try and always be aware of it.
So here is my advice:
Sometimes when we really, really need a break, we need to give ourselves that break.
Sometimes when life gives us lemons, we need to make that lemonade.
Recognize what a gift you have here. A whole afternoon that is suddenly free, and two wonderful loving kids to enjoy it with. Seize the day and make it a memory worth remembering. All of you will benefit from it and you'll also be giving your kids a valuable lesson on coping. You are a great mom, and I know you are strong enough to do this for them.
You might ask why I took the time to write this letter to you. Why get involved and put it all into words?
The answer is simple. Because someday I will need to read this letter to myself.