It's a cloudy, cold-ish June day in Seattle, and I decided to take the kids to the club by myself to go swimming. Sam just got one of those body suits with some floaties sewn into the lining, and that meant I would just need to hold Caroline and could let Sam paddle around the pool on his own. He's been hesitant to make the leap into swimming on his own, and I was hoping that a little confidence in the form of some styrofoam might help him experience it feels to swim by himself.
We had a blast - played Marco Polo, had races across the pool, and played tag. After about a half-hour, though, we reached a point which often happens with Sam: I told him to stop doing something, and he kept right on doing it. This time, it was crawling all over me and Caroline, which Caroline made known she didn't like, and trying to pull the straps on my swimsuit. Since Caroline was screaming and I didn't really want to play peek-a-boob with the rest of the pool occupants, I told him to stop. He didn't. I told him to stop or he would have a time-out on the side of the pool. He didn't stop. So, on the bench he went, where he proceeded to cry, complain, beg and negotiate his way off. I ignored, and then I told him that if he wasn't able to do his time-out quietly, we would need to leave. Any guesses what we did next?
The next act unfolds in the dressing room, where a crying Sam stood in his drippy suit next to Caroline and me while we proceeded to get dressed. I reach over to unzip his suit for him, and he pulls away.
"No!" he spits, "I want to go back to the POOOOOL!"
"Sam, your choices are to let me unzip your suit or wear it to the car and be wet."
"I WAAAANT THE POOOOL!!" Threatening to run out the door, sobbing. I ignore and continue to dry and dress myself and Caroline, all the while Sam is red-faced and in full tantrum mode. Sam attempts to negotiate, threaten, beg, and I calmly repeat his choices, aware that I am being watched.
I glance up, and a kind pair of eyes catches mine. She smiles, and whispers:
"You're doing a great job."
I smile back, and say thank you.
After a while, Sam calms down and begins to get dressed all on his own. Before long, we're joking and laughing together and the storm has passed. Another lady in the locker room catches my eye, and says out of Sam's hearing:
"Look! He's doing great! I remember going through the same thing with my kids. You handled that really well."
Oh, sweet ladies of the OAC locker room. You have no idea how badly I needed to hear that, and what a difference you made to me today. I was telling a friend recently that one of the things I miss so terribly about my mom is how she encouraged me about my parenting and always made me feel that what I was doing was right and valuable. That void in my life hasn't been filled, and I feel it. So often, it seems like I am surrounded by disapproval. I know that's not really the case, but when you're out sailing alone on the sea of parenting as I often am, every little swell begins to feel like a full-on tsunami as you picture every stranger eyeing you disapprovingly, every family member or friend thinking about how they would have done it better. Actually hearing from two strangers who took the time to tell me that I was doing a good job in the midst of a challenge brought tears to my eyes. It also made me think about how I can pay it forward. I already try to go out of my way to say something helpful or supportive to a parent I think might need it, but I know I can do it more often. Now having been the very needy recipient of this gift, I'm going to make more of an effort to give it.
7 months ago