I sat on a park bench, one sweet Saturday afternoon, swapping humble boasts— bonding over motherhood. The woman next to me cooed at my baby and praised my toddler’s fearlessness on the slide. My pride beamed like October sunshine until my son shoved a little girl to the ground. The little girl’s mom shouted “No! That’s unacceptable.” Shame sent my heart tumbling. I felt attacked. In a haze of embarrassment and remorse I walked over and started quizzing my son. What happened? What did she do? She must have done something. That mom didn’t need to use such a violent tone.
Brandon fessed up to pushing the little girl and my husband assured me it was indeed unprovoked. My vision blurred. Anger enveloped. “It’s okay” the mom muttered in response to my flimsy apology from across the park. I waived bye to my new friend and pushed my daughter’s stroller away briskly as my husband and son hurried to catch up. Blame spewed like a broken sewer line in my head. Why did my son do that? That mom had no right to speak to Brandon that way. Where did he learn to shove? He did NOT learn it from me. I am a good mom. I shoved down bitter insecurity, wishing for absolution.
I’d forgotten about the shoving episode until I started reading “The Conscious Parent.” Dr. Shefali Tsabary explains how parents can easily wander off into the realm of ego. (The ego of image, perfection or control. I stood squarely in the ego of image at the park.) I let my toddler’s bad choice and normal behavior make me feel like a bad mom. I made it about me. I felt judged. Flustered by my own emotions and feelings of inadequacy I severed an opportunity to teach.
Dr. Tsabary writes “life is wise.” In its absolute wisdom life served up another chance for me to enter into ego a few months later at the zoo. Bonding with a friend over motherhood, I heard sobs from another little girl. I didn’t take the bait. Brandon had snatched a plastic pineapple (the very symbol of hospitality and friendship) out of her hands. This little girl sobbed as her mother whisked her away too quickly. I went over to my son and asked him what happened. I didn’t feel threatened. I felt compassionate. Brandon’s eyes widened with empathy. This was not about me. I welcomed the opportunity to teach. “We don’t snatch. We share. You made that little girl cry. Let’s go say sorry?” He nodded.
We raced through double doors down a windy path toward a trail of loud tears. I knelt down and prompted Brandon softly. He offered a sturdy apology. The little’s girl mom looked surprised. “Tell him you forgive him,” she encouraged.
“I forgive you,” the little girl said still crying. Her words hovered in my head for days. I forgive you. The words delivered a wallop of perspective.
In response to an apology, I might have prompted my son to say “it’s okay or don’t worry about it” but the little girl at the zoo knew better. It’s not okay to hurt others with our actions. If we do, we must learn to apologize from a pure place and we can only hope our heartfelt apology is met with raw forgiveness. I witnessed this powerful message only after I checked my emotions at the exit doors. Life is truly, unrelentingly wise.
I can’t undo my behavior at the park nor can I offer a heartfelt apology to the little girl and mom I mentally slandered. (It’s clearly impossible to learn a lesson while defensively yielding a three pronged pitch fork of pride, ego and perfectionism.) I can only show up consciously moving forward and pray I can catch all the lessons life shoves my way.