I felt tears welling up behind my eyes and threatening to fall.
Why was it that every single other toddler accompanying their mom was sitting calmly on their laps, well behaved? Not my two year old.
We were at Riley’s preschool Easter program and Copeland was screaming and crying, in full blown meltdown mode. I kind of understood. He saw all these little kids, including his sister, up on stage singing. They had duck whistles and lamb ears and he wanted to be up there too. He felt left out and didn’t understand why he had to sit with his mommy while these other kids seemed to be having all the fun. I get it, I really do. At the same time I was also exhausted from trying to hold and calm a writhing, screaming child and I was embarrassed by the debacle it was becoming. I didn’t know what to do. I could take him out of the sanctuary (and I did, multiple times), but then I would miss Riley’s performances that she was so excited for me to see. Or I could stay in the sanctuary to watch her perform, only to annoy and distract everyone else around us.
I felt a tear start its journey down my cheek. Seriously, could not one other kid just start acting up so I wouldn’t be alone with all eyes on me?
Then I saw her.
That’s what I call her anyway, I don’t actually know her name.
The Momcourager is this sweet woman who takes her grandchildren to preschool every morning. I often find myself parked beside her in the parking lot, or walking by her on my way out of the building when Copeland is at his worst. In those moments I feel the red flushing over my cheeks as I imagine every other mother staring at me, placing her judgments on me like a crown on my unwashed hair. In those moments I feel the shame run through my body, telling me I’m a failure and I must have missed the memo on how to properly handle these intense toddler moments.
But that shame turns to relief as soon as the Momcourager talks to me, with an understanding smile on her face.
Copeland went through a phase recently where he would try to run into the parking lot. Obviously, this was scary. I knew it was coming, but it always caused a scene to try and stop it. He refused to hold my hand to cross the street – screaming and sitting down, unwilling to stand. Sitting in a parking lot is not an option either, but when I would lift him up to carry him he would squirm and writhe so intensely that I almost dropped him on several occasions and barely made it across the parking lot any safer than when he tried to run into it.
During one of these occasions the Momcourager gave me one of those understanding smiles and said, “Oh I remember those days. My son ALWAYS ran off away from me and never wanted to hold my hand. He was so independent! He was my wild one. I remember how hard that was.”
Relief washed over me. I wasn’t alone in this. What took her less than 30 seconds to say made a difference in the whole next hour of my life.
Copeland went through another phase where whenever I tried to get him into his car seat, he would quickly jump out laughing (he is much faster and stronger than he looks!) and climb into the front seat of the car. I drive a pretty small car and trying to get to where he was and wrangle him back into his seat (much less try to buckle him up while he is squirming and yelling) is no small task. One day while this was happening I finally got him buckled, closed the car door, and sighed out loud. That’s when I heard her voice again. “My son was just like that!” I looked up and there was that understanding smile. “I remember one time I was driving down 95,” the Momcourager said, “my son was 18 months old and apparently he had just figured out how to unbuckle himself! I looked back and he was completely unbuckled, crawling around in the back seat!” I felt my whole body relax. “Wow, that must have been terrifying”, I commented. “It was! Oh he kept me on my toes”, she laughed.
Normally after wrestling Copeland into his car seat I would drive away feeling defeated and exhausted. This particular day I found myself driving away with a smile. Isn’t it amazing how such simple words spoken by a stranger can do that? One word of encouragement can hold the power to completely lift your spirit.
The smiles and the grace that this woman offers me day after day are such a gift to me. She probably has no idea how many times she has lifted my spirit with her words, and helped turn a tough morning around.
One day, I hope to be her.
I’ve been telling Jordan about her lately and when I do I beg him not to let me forget her. Not to let me forget this stage of life. I know that one day, this wrangling a toddler phase will be over. I know that one day my kids will be independent beings and I will walk about my day feeling so much more like my own person and much less physically worn down. And I’m sure that when that day comes, it would be entirely too easy to forget this stage. It will probably be easy to look past the struggling mom whose two year old is running away from her, not thinking twice. Perhaps it will even be easy to look right at her and judge her, failing to see the tired desperation in her eyes that once existed in my own.
I pray that instead, I see her. When I do, I pray that I give her an understanding smile. That I take the 30 seconds to say, “Oh I remember those days. My son ALWAYS ran off away from me and never wanted to hold my hand. He was so independent! He was my wild one. I remember how hard that was.” And maybe, just maybe, she will be able to drive away with a smile, knowing she is not alone.