From the Outside In

I’m so used to living my life looking from the inside out. Wishing I had more time, more control, more space, more energy, more patience. Thinking I’m being judged for the whiny preschooler, ornery six year old, bad hair day, inability to remember simple tasks and deadlines. Motherhood and family life have many of us so wrapped up in what we should be doing, could be doing or would rather be doing that I, for one, often miss what’s right in front of me.

I long ago gave up expecting or striving for perfect. I do, however, expect/want/wish/hope my kids will behave relatively well in situations where other mothers are present so as not to let anyone else know how badly I’m swinging by the seat of my pants at any given moment. I just want to look a little bit like I know what I’m doing, if even for a second. Although, when a fellow parent compliments me on having it all figured out (ha!), I dismiss those good vibes quickly thinking, “if they only knew.” There is no winning with me, apparently.

So it is often in those moments when my kids are screeching through Target that they want a new toy and we’re only there for toilet paper or when they are smacking each other in the head as I attempt to buy groceries or the three year old is running wild in the elder’s school while I’m trying to scoop ice cream for the 100th day of school Kindergarten celebration that I hang my internal head, assume the jig is up and can’t wait to get the hell outta there before I’m branded with the scarlet B of bad parenting.

Today, I was one of a two-parent volunteer team to lead an arts and crafts project at school. I convinced the hubby to take the three year old to lunch during that half-hour block so I could focus, for a change, on just my kindergartner and his peers. Especially since tape and glue were involved. My parent partner’s two preschool boys were with her. As we walked into the school together, I recognized so much of myself. The strained smile in her voice as she cajoled her kids to stay put while we signed in. The pre-bad-behavior apologies. The split attention during the activity.

And really, they were fine. The youngest was a little wilder, excited to see his big sister, stimulated by all the activity and new toys and books. But overall, totally acceptable behavior. Until we were trying to exit the class and hug our big kids goodbye and that little guy tossed an entire crate of crayons all over circle time. And I laughed. Not because it was terribly funny, but because it was really no big deal. And yet, I could see to the mom, it was. And I knew how that felt. But in the grand scheme of things, it was crayons.

So I bent down to help pick them up and helped her push the stroller to the car.

Do I think seeing my usual stress on another mother’s face is going to really help me be calmer the next time I’m in that situation? I hope so, but probably not. But it was nice to see myself from the outside for a change and realize that my mother was right all those year’s ago: Ain’t no body paying attention to me, they are all busy worrying about themselves.

So the next time you see me trying not to freak out with two crazed kids in tow, remind me of that. And maybe help me pick up the spilled crayons, if you don’t mind.