There we were – in the hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping, feeling the woosh of the electronic sliding doors, welcoming you into a gift-giver’s paradise. Surrounded by brightly colored coffee mugs, intricately woven rugs by world artisans, and the fresh smell of milled scented soaps, we struggled to find our place in the already overcrowded store. Vintage Christmas melodies swooned from the store speakers to soothe snarky shoppers as instrumental music would lull a babe during the struggle of an afternoon nap. We had discovered several finds for our family when I had to dislodge my youngest from his umbrella stroller to use as a makeshift shopping cart. With all three children now free to roam the crowded wellspring of holiday merchandise, a woman, seemingly out of nowhere, approached us and handed my oldest a bag of chocolate coins and four dollars.
Breathless, she sighed and said, “Is it okay if your children buy these chocolates and share them? I normally buy these for myself each year, but your children have been just so well behaved in this store I really would love to get these for them. The money should cover it. May I?”
Surprised and slightly distracted by the tugging on my jeans and the rifling of old fashioned toys on the store shelves, I happily obliged yet gently questioned the stranger lady’s decision making: “That is so kind! But are you sure? I mean, they’ve been all over the place in this store!”
With a wink and a smile, she returned back to her husband, and the children enjoyed their surprise candy treat.
A few weeks later, while grocery shopping, a similar experience occurred. As a seemingly quick trip prompted me to take the troops on foot instead of sailing in a grocery buggy, my four year old accidentally cut a woman off in a narrow aisle, filled with picture frames and other breakable items.
Without prompting, he stopped, turned around toward the woman and said, “I am so sorry! Please excuse me.”
The lady, with a shocked expression on her face, looked at me and exclaimed, “Did he just say excuse me AND I am sorry?! YOU are a good mom.”
Immediately I went into a billion reasons why I am not, starting with, “Well, ma’am, I don’t know I would go that far…”
Cutting me off and staring me dead into the eyes, she said, “Well, I WOULD. You ARE a good mom.”
My seven year old, grazing my hand lightly as the lady marched on, quietly said, “See Mommy? You really are. You need to listen to her.”
It was then that I realized that I had a struggle with complaining. And downplaying. About myself and sadly, about my children.
We live in this culture that loves self-praise and self-gratification so much that we are afraid to agree with anything good spoken over us or our families at risk of sounding conceited:
When someone tells me I look pretty I respond with “I look tired.”
If someone compliments my choice of clothing, I make a joke that I have worn these same jeans two days in a row.
When friends and family enjoy coming to our home, I point out that we have nothing hanging in our hallways, I am behind on laundry, and it is “still a work in progress.”
And when strangers – TOTAL STRANGERS – tell me that I am a good mom and my children are beautiful and well behaved, I go into an utterly unnecessary tirade of how I am barely making it as a mother, question God for making me one, and site random examples of salsa jars breaking on aisle seven and tantrums on the cold concrete ground in the parking lot.
So, I decided to try this out for myself. Last week, I was in a store, by myself, and saw a mother with five small children, one in a buggy, and the other four following her quietly in a store full of craft supplies, lamps, mirrors, and other various breakable objects.
“Wow! You guys are doing awesome!!” I said. “And so are you, mama!”
“Well, you must not have heard them on the other side of the store, and these two I babysit, and these two are sixteen months apart, and…”
Mamas? This is an ugly cycle we need to break. TODAY
LET SOMEONE TELL YOU TODAY HOW IMPORTANT YOU ARE. How vital you are to your family, your home, your community, your workplace, to the stranger that takes your order at a restaurant.
Let it start with us. I am tired of complaining about my children. They are friendly, smart, courteous, wise. They let people go first into an open door, and they find toys in their rooms to gift their siblings on a normal day, just because. They wave at strangers, and they still make birthday cards for our elderly neighbor, even though we moved almost two years ago.
You are beautiful, valued, and you ARE doing a good job. How can strangers see it and we cannot? Our world is notorious for using words as weapons. Countries are at war, families are broken, friendships are severed.
Today? Be grateful. Pleasant words are sweet to the soul. Just smile, give thanks, and shower someone else with the same kindness.