Each year around Christmastime we take our boys to a local store to pick out their very own ornament to add to the tree. Thanks to poor weather and scheduling conflicts this year we found ourselves today, on Christmas Eve, rushing to make sure that this tradition continued. We packed the boys up, headed downtown, parked and proceeded to pick out a couple new ornaments (plus purchasing a *bonus* ornament which suffered a catastrophic fall thanks to an unnamed child destructor ::::cough cough Mr Terrible Twos cough cough::::
The weather in these parts has been unusually wet and windy for the last week or so and our boys have been suffering from some major cabin fever so we decided to keep the trip going, grab a little lunch and let the boys run out some of their energy by wandering through the blocks of downtown. It was clear from the moment that the ornament hit the ground during our first stop that Mr. Terrible Twos was going to test our patience today and so it was unsurprising when he continued his antics through our family lunch. Creamers were slammed roughly on the table while a fork waved dangerously close to his eyes. He wiggled and slipped under the table, onto the ground, sneaking into the booth behind us. There were lots of stay stills, knock it offs, time out threats and mom hisses filling the mealtime from my side of the booth while the Mister kept the 4-year-old focused on building coffee creamer towers and on NOT participating in his little brother’s parental control coup.
As I worked on keeping my cool and keeping my toddler from disrupting anyone else’s meal time I also was flashing back to another table at another time when things didn’t end with candy canes for my kids and smiles from the patrons around us. When I was still fairly new to parenthood of two small children I had the misfortune of being the subject of public shaming at a restaurant because of my children’s behavior. Having seen so many news stories and opinion pieces on this topic still didn’t prepare me for what it would be like to have someone call me and my children out as being bad restaurant patrons for all to hear. I feel compelled to share this story for so many reasons. And I’d like to file my story under “Compassion” with a huge big ol’ capital “C.”
A little over two years ago I was on the most emotionally trying “vacation” I had ever experienced. We had flown into Oregon to attend a wedding of a relative and also do a little sight seeing while we were there. It started with me getting the stomach flu the same night we arrived. Right as I started to feel better, my husband was taken down by the same sickness. On the morning of our 4th day in Oregon my husband was still terribly ill. The kids, ages 1 and 3, had been in cramped hotel rooms much more than we anticipated. They were little balls of energy from having been cooped up and hungry when I left with them to get breakfast that morning. My husband needed some time to rest without screaming children. The children needed food and a break from the room. We were almost 1000 miles from home. Nothing was ideal about the situation. And so I entered a family diner in a small coastal town in Central Oregon that morning with my two toddlers and my story began.
My boys were having a tough time from the start. Big Brother (at that time age 3) was bouncing off the walls. Mr. Terrible (who was at that time age 1) was officially and alarmingly hangry. Big Brother kept needing reminders to use his “inside voice.” Mr. Terrible wanted to run around and was fussing because I wouldn’t let him down. I was also exhausted from having just gotten over an illness. I knew that we were being a bit rowdier than I would have liked but through it all I kept telling myself, “it’ll be OK as soon as the food gets here.” While that may have been true, I never got to test that theory. It was not going to be OK as soon as the food got there. Before the food had a chance to arrive I got to experience first hand what it was like to be the subject of public shaming because of my kids’ behavior. Before the food hit our table I was in tears.
A husband and wife were being seated by the waitress. My children and I had a table near the front door and they had been watching my struggle as they waited to be taken to a table. When the waitress went to seat them near us the woman immediately says in a very loud and disgusted voice, “Oh No! THAT’S not happening. We need to be f-aaaaaar far away from them.” She made a gesture towards me and my kids, complete with a glare to me and continued to loudly comment on their “awful” behavior as she walked past the rest of the tables between me and where she was finally seated. I couldn’t tell you specifically what she said after that first comment because as it was happening I was going into a state of shock – but I can tell you that it was detailed and loud enough that every person she passed by turned to look at me as she spouted off about my kids’ appalling restaurant behavior.
I’d like to think that most days I could have taken that moment and let it slide off my back but that day, after a week where nothing had seemed to go right, where our kids were cramped in hotel rooms instead of doing all the fun things we planned. Where I had been yelling, “no,” “stop it,” and “don’t touch” more than I’ve ever wanted to… where I’ve wanted nothing more than to just be home where we may be sick but our kids could at least have their own child-proofed home and toys to entertain them – on that day when I most definitely didn’t want to be in a restaurant far from home by myself with two young children, that mean-spirited comment cut like a knife. And instead of letting it roll off my back, it was the straw that broke it. As the waitress came back my way I mouthed, “I’m sorry. I’m trying.” And I found myself standing by our table rocking my 1 year old with tears pouring down my face.
Here is the point where our experience could have gone one of two ways. Instead of everyone agreeing with that woman and either putting their faces in their plates and ignoring us or cheering her on because misbehaving children are not suitable for public consumption, I had the complete opposite experience. The waitress came over and told me that my children where behaving just fine and not to worry about what that woman said. She shared with me that her mom was a single mom and she understood how hard it could be to be out in public with small children without help. Another woman sitting with her 2 daughters and her husband a few tables away from us was so angered about what she heard the woman say about us that she came over to assure me that the woman was out of line. She realized as she talked to me that I was in desperate need of extra hands so she gave me a big hug and sat down next to my older son. She stayed even after her family finished eating, helping cut the boys food & holding Mr. Terrible so I could eat too. Her daughters joined us at a point and Big Brother made a couple of new friends. And then a woman who I believe was the owner of the restaurant approached me and told me that my meal was on the house. That if the other woman didn’t like children then she could eat somewhere else. She shared that she was a mother and she understood what I was dealing with and we were doing just fine.
I cried through the whole meal. First, because that initial woman’s actions felt so unnecessarily cruel after the universe had already been handing me my beatings steadily over the last few days. And because I was trying. Trying my damnedest. And yes, I was failing in that moment, but I was still just a human being trying to get my kids fed. I desperately needed help – not nasty hurtful comments. Then I was crying because every other woman that approached me after was pouring love and compassion and sisterhood at me. To have that help that I so obviously needed come straight to me through a stranger who just happened to be passing through the area and eating her meal with her family at the same time and to have the waitress and owner stop and recognize that I needed to hear that I was doing OK – maybe in the moment I was not doing “great” but I was doing my best and that counted for something – It was overwhelming in so many ways. So much so that I cried every time I retold this tale for months after it happened.
The happy ending of this story for me was that I had one of the biggest and most genuine outpourings of kindness from strangers I’ve ever received all because of one angry woman’s rude public remarks. A day that I could be looking back on with embarrassment I actually look back on as inspiration. A lot of character was revealed to me that day as I was at my weakest. One woman took that moment and tried to cut me down farther. Three other women saw me crumbling and tried to pick me back up. I just hope that if I’m ever witness to a similar situation that I will always remember to be in the latter group. In fact, I don’t just hope to be – I now aspire to be.
(And as a side note, after both of us getting well just in time to fly back home we returned from this godawful vacation only to find that our car battery was dead in the lot at the airport. Can it get worse? I guess the answer is yes – it always can. We now refer to bad vacation experiences on the “Portland scale.” Sure it was bad – but was it PORTLAND trip bad?)