As a mom, I am always correcting my son's behavior in an effort to mold him into a well-mannered person. My kid is forever catching some fresh hell for committing run-of-the-mill kid crimes. It isn't enough for me that he follows the rules. I want the boundaries I create to help him develop confidence and self-respect. Like any mom, I want my son to be a decent kid.
And so I am constantly saying things like this:
Say, 'Yes, please' or 'No, thank you' when someone offers you something.
Always say, 'Excuse me' before you interrupt.
Please use your words when you are upset!
Tattling is lazy problem-solving, kiddo.
Any time I take my son to the grocery store, I get a little nervous that he will throw a fit when I give a firm 'no' at demands for candy. At the dentist, I get nervous that he will squirm out of the chair. At the library, I fear that he will stomp or shout.
Four-year-olds are truly outrageous to behold.
While I am usually wondering if any of my momisms are making their way through the maze of my kids' brain, sometimes -- just sometimes -- he will astonish me with behavior that reveals just how much is really sinking in. It becomes so bluntly obvious to me that my kid is actually listening.
Take the other day at the park.
My son was going bonkers to get out some serious pent-up energy. My wild child spotted a dozen or so kids on the jungle gym and made a beeline for them. He chatted them up, talking about superheroes and fast cars. He showed them that he could do flips. He said, "Lookatme! I can go THIS fast!"
My son charmed most of the kids except for one boy who was playing by himself. This kid's dad was standing behind him and completely absorbed with texting. Not being one to ever give up on making new friends, my son tried to play with the shy boy.
But he got dad blocked.
This dad (who two seconds ago was super-glued to his phone) was wearing a baseball hat sideways, nearly covering one eye. The seat of his pants were down to his knees, with his skivvy's hanging out. He kept scowling at his phone. He was drooping the B word and the F word and some other words that have zero business near small ears.
We'll call him Mr. Mean.
My son climbed over the monkey bars toward the lone boy and started to say hello when Mr. Mean snarled, "Hey, get outta the way!"
My son wasn't deterred. Apparently thinking that he was in this man's way, my kid muttered a quick, "Oh! Excuse me!" and scooted to the left and tried to climb up next to the boy from a new angle.
But then Mr. Mean yelled, "Get outta here, kid!"
I am standing less than 10 feet away watching this whole thing unfold. I really don't suffer fools -- or jerks -- easily. I can feel my mom hackles going up and I'm quickly summoning my inner Mama Bear. I am .02 seconds away from aggressively intervening on my child's behalf.
But as I drew in a breath big enough to rain down some Mom Thunder, something amazing happened.
My awesome child said this to Mr. Mean:
Hey! You shouldn't be mean! You should say excuse me! I don't like how you are talking or looking at me! You should say you're sorry when you hurt people's feelings, Mister!
The man looked visibly stunned. He just got called out for his crappy manners by a 4-year-old.
At first I wasn't sure what, if anything, this man would do. We were at a park surrounded by children and bored-looking parents, after all. And these other parents were all noticeably curious in the amazing display of self-defense unfurling before their eyes.
But Mr. Mean did nothing. He muttered some nasty crap to himself and returned his attention to his phone.
Sadly, this misguided a-hole was overlooking his golden moment to teach his son a life lesson that my kid was so desperately trying to impart.
Treat others with kindness. And when you fail at that then have the decency to own up to it. Make amends. Try again.
I was enamored with pride at my child that afternoon. Not only did he demonstrate that he really is listening to all of my Momisms, but he defended himself against an intimidating bully.
An uncomfortable moment of my staring down Mr. Mean passed before I redirected my son's attention back to the gang of children hanging like monkeys on the bars of the jungle gym. My kid didn't really need me to do or say anything. So I didn't.
Well... except for this: I put my hand on the back of his shoulder and I whispered, "Hey, kiddo... I'm really proud of you for standing up for yourself. Well done."
And then we left.