It all started with Asher, peeing his pants.
With Evie scooped up in my arms and my foot already out the front door, Asher came running behind me, soaked through his the-button-on-these-pants-is-too-hard jeans. The bus that brings Lila home from kindergarten (and takes her back to the school if I am not there to pick her up right on time), was imminent. The bus stop, a ten second drive from my front door to the stop.
More than annoyed at my about-to-turn-four year old, Asher, I barked, you have to change your pants. I can’t put you in your car seat with all that pee.
Which led to his jaw falling down to the floor, his feet stamping, and the tears (oh, the tears.)
All of which was drama that I had approximately, um, zero seconds to deal with at that exact moment. And so, I made a choice, a simple, heat of the pee pants moment, choice. I picked Asher up, placed him down in front of his dresser and told him to change his pants.
Then, I raced down to the bus stop with Evaline.
The bus pulled in, Lila hopped off, I turned to go home, knowing Asher was probably still a sobbing disaster. But there, as I turned back to my house, there were neighbors standing on the corner, arms flapping, eyes rolling. Something was amiss.
My heart sank, my face turned red. And I knew.
That something amiss was my pantless, whimpering, mess of a son, huddled beside a telephone pole, where he had apparently chased out of the house after me.
The complete stranger walking her dog who came along side my child gave me a stern glare as she touched Asher’s shoulder and asked, is that your mommy?
There is no rock big enough, folks.
You see, my kids don’t throw tantrums in Target, they can sit through table service meals without causing a scene, they don’t talk back (in public), are generally the sort of incredibly well behaved children that spur random strangers to give me a nod and smile and say things like, your children are so well behaved! (which we all know is code for good job, Mom and Dad!)
Well, is that your mommy? spoken by that stranger yesterday, as my son stood shivering in his wet blue underwear, was clearly code for you ought to be ashamed of yourself.
Of course, if that stranger could have just been there an hour earlier, she would have seen Asher and I working together on his letters.
And if she could be a fly on the wall in my house, she would see that my children are cared for, well fed, well loved, well watched over and protected. I am just a flawed and frazzled mother who did not want to see Lila get shipped back to school and whose son really needs to stop peeing his pants every other day just because he can’t unbutton his jeans.
But all of this aside.
The fact that I broke down sobbing with my husband last night and had to be dragged to see my safely sleeping son nestled beneath his blankets last night, aside.
The fact that my son, who was not traumatized by the event, who ate his lunch happily, who played outside for hours, who laughed with his family at the dinner table, that my son was sleeping as though nothing had happened at all. As though I was still his mother and he was still my child and we were going to be okay. All of that aside.
And aside from the fact that I had to be reminded by my husband that this one failure does not define me as as parent – the bigger problem in my heart this morning, is that I am guilty of being on the other side.
I am guilty of being that stranger, silently and without rolling of eyes, but still judging, thinking things I have no business thinking when I see children who appear in my yard for hours on end without their mother ever stopping in to see where they are, or with whom. When I see a father with a red solo cup at ten in the morning, at three in the afternoon, more often than not. When I once saw a completely naked child tear off from his front door and down through the streets on a dark Halloween evening.
The children in my yard, maybe they tell their parents before they come over and their parents trust them in my yard, with my children. That father with the red solo cup, maybe it’s just iced tea, maybe it’s water, maybe it’s none of my business if all other signs point to his children being happy and cared for. That child on Halloween, maybe, well, none of my business.
So, yes. I have been on the other side, and I am mortified now, knowing how very little I know about anything that happens in anyone’s homes. Just as they have no idea what happens in mine.
I am not defined by that moment yesterday or the image that is now ingrained in my brain of my son whimpering by that telephone pole. And I don’t have the right to define anyone else by any small glimpses into their lives that I see either.
I’m humbled that it took such a moment of stupidity for me to realize something so, so simple.
I am also throwing away that pair of the-button-on-these-pants-is-too-hard jeans. Because, clearly, if Asher was trying to tell me anything yesterday, it’s that he just needs to be given a little break.
Maybe we all do.