The best way I can describe the guy's face is that his expression was about a 80/20 mix. 80% was full of knowing sympathy, and 20% clearly read as "just smile and back away slowly from the crazy lady's car."
He had been in full earshot, courtesy of the Mothership's open sunroof, of me completely losing it. I don't even remember what it was about, but something about Sam spilling his milk in my slippers (I'm still not sure why they were in the backseat of the car) and being distracted and then stuck in the middle of the intersection behind a stopped bus was the straw that broke the camel's back. I snapped. Somewhere in the middle of the tirade about how angry I was and what would happen if they did that ONE MORE TIME, I glanced over to the corner to see him standing there. Before I could even react, the light changed and he was left in our dust.
But wait, I wanted to say. You should have seen me before this happened! I was so good! So calm! So patient! For so long! Really, mister, if you'd just been with me for the past three hours or so, you'd totally get it! You wouldn't go home and tell your family about the insane woman who totally lost her snot on her kids on the corner of 46th and Fremont!
You see, I'd just spent two hours in the local tire center managing two small children during what was supposed to be no more than a one hour wait, and watched helplessly as it slowly stretched into two. I'd come prepared with books, crayons, a fully charged iPhone. I spent my time that first hour going from child to child, helping with a coloring suggestion, assisting with the filling of the free popcorn bag, taking small bladders on bathroom breaks, answering questions about the Mars rover, explaining the rules and regulations of Olympic volleyball.
All was well for the promised hour, and then...things started to go wrong. As I gazed helplessly out the window at the Mothership, stripped of its tires and stranded on the lift, I felt like I was in an episode of the Twilight zone. In slow motion, things fell apart. Fights broke out over the toy desk. Random displays of heavy, metal auto parts started to look more tempting than Angry Birds. Tires presented for sale began to resemble excellent choices for practicing riding and roping skills. The floor apparently needed dusting with a small dress worn by a person. As most parents know, things with kids can go from "a-ok" to "on fire" in about two seconds flat. We were going down in flames, and I was stuck.
Eventually, perhaps because they finally decided they needed to get us out of there and spare their waiting room, someone came out and popped the tires on in exactly two minutes flat, I paid, and we were gone.
And then, somewhere on the way home, I met my friend on the corner.
Is there anything else besides parenting that holds up such an unflinching mirror? And not a mirror of how we strive to be, or what we are most of the time, but of what we really are. Sometimes, it's ugly. Sometimes it's hard to look. Every time I hear something coming out of one of my children's mouths that I've said to them in frustration or anger, I feel like a failure. If I'm honest, I spend more time than I'd like hoping and praying that my children remember and repeat more of the good stuff than the bad stuff, both to themselves and to others. Because some days, there's a lot of bad stuff.
I was sufficiently humbled by my run-in with the sympathetic/fearful pedestrian that I have found myself incredibly softened to other parents recently, parents that I would have been quick to judge. Maybe I needed a little slice of humble pie to remind myself that I'm human, too, and that I so often fall short of the ideal. We all do. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.
And then, there was this today. Caroline, after I apologized for putting her leotard on wrong, looked at me and said, "It's ok, Mommy. Sometimes people make mistakes." And Sam, seeing a crying child at the park, ran over and got down on his level. From across the playground, I saw his mouth move to say, "Are you ok?"
And I have to remind myself, have to acknowledge, that they heard these things from me, too.
6 months ago