I know that I have the tendency to be an over-thinker. Just ask my sons’ preschool teachers. (Me: Is it normal for him to be obsessed with butts? Do you think he’s allergic to milk? How many letters should he be able to recognize at exactly age four years, 5 months, and 24 days? I hate to admit it, but, yep, that’s me.) I will have a rocky interaction with someone that simmers in my mind for days as I think of the many different and perfect one-liners I should’ve, could’ve said. But no matter how hard I try to be prepared, I’m almost always caught off guard in these put-you-on the-spot moments.
Most of the time, my unpreparedness shows up when the comment or interaction is negative. I imagine myself looking like a bumbling fool as I stare and try to come up with something to say back. (So yeah, not only am I an over thinker. Apparently I’m an over thinker who has the inability to actually SAY anything…a great combo, right?) This recently happened to me at the grocery store. I was preparing for a day at home with my three kids and my nephew. My husband was leaving at 8 am and wouldn’t be home until 9 pm. It was me and the rowdy crew (one with strep throat and two with sinus infections…I found after I committed to take on this circus). I woke up early because I knew my only chance of getting to the grocery store without two to three beasts attached to my leg would be if I got out of the house before 7.
So I rolled out of bed and (maybe) got dressed. I was definitely tired and mentally preparing myself for the day, so there’s a chance (or ten) that I as a little out of it. I was waiting in line at the deli when I noticed a woman pushing a cart toward me. As she came close she said, “Move over…front or the back. Just pick one already.” I moved out of way with a foggy, uncaffeinated mind. As she passed she said, “It’s not like you didn’t see me coming.” And there I stood, a bumbling fool, unsure of what to say back.
I stood there for a moment and actually almost approached her after I woke up a bit. Who did she think she was telling me, a busy, tried mom that I needed to get out of her way? I felt the need to prove to her that I’d had a long night with sick kids, that I was preparing for a day when I wouldn’t have a moment to myself, that I was doing the best I could and she should recognize that.
It bothered me as I walked through the produce section, to my car, and yet still when I walked into my home. I couldn’t figure why she didn’t just ask me nicely to move out of her way. I spent the day feeling that I should’ve taken the time to prove myself…to a complete (and cranky) stranger.
Later that I week I had another interaction that made me puff out and want to prove it. When my kids are sick, they can really have a hard time doing anything…except whining. Someone saw my kids in this sick, miserable state and decided to tell me how terrible their behavior was. I was told I needed to discipline them differently because whatever I was doing was not working. My kids don’t listen, need more time-outs, and need to be better taken care of.
Once again, I immediately wanted to prove my myself. “I work so hard and my kids are great people…and here are hundreds of examples”. Ways to exemplify my kids best behavior and highest strengths came zooming into my mind, and I was thinking: “I’ll sure show them next time as my three perfect angels sit nicely and listen to my every very appropriate parent suggestion.” I was falling for all of the traps that negativity sets out.
It took me a few days but eventually I realized that I was letting these other people with negative comments control me. I do not need to prove to anyone–a parent, a friend, a complete stranger that I’m a good parent or that my kids are nice people. I can’t let this negativity get to me, and I can’t let it dictate how I live my life. As far as I’m concerned, I should breathe it in for a moment if I must, but then I need to exhale and let it go (cue Elsa).
I (we) don’t need to feel obligated to justify a bad day (or even a good one) to anyone. That need to “get back at you” or as I’ve said a million times “to prove something” can become a terribly nasty habit. The so-called glory when we follow through will be short-lived anyway. Because there is no point in measuring yourself against anyone’s expectations but your own. And even then, every single day isn’t going to be full of growth or even just pleasant behavior. There will be plenty of days that knock us back, but one bad day or even a bad month doesn’t have to define you.
The next time another interaction like this pops up, I’m going to tell myself to be ok with the bumbling fool act because what could I actually say back that would make me (or them) feel better? Instead of racking my brain for a come-back, I’ll give a quick smile, a small nod, and I’ll remember what I’ve been told so many times before and always point out to my students: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” (Thank you, Harper Lee) This thought works two-fold because it’s a reminder for me to think about others’ lives and walk in their shoes, but it also shows hope that someone will do the same for me (along with the rest of the frazzled moms out there). Kids are going to have bad days and act crazy. I am going to have bad days and act crazy. That is nothin’ but the truth.
Instead of putting each other down, let’s be more inclined to build each other up; we’re all in this together after all. If you see me this week, I’ll probably be the crazy (unshowered) lady in the grocery store with three kids hanging from my legs as they smash cookies into each others’ faces. (Thank you, Schnucks for those free cookies! Some days you are a life saver.) We will be a mess, but we will pass out smiles (and probably strep throat) to all of those out there just making their way with through the day like us.