a proposal at a gas station

I was in a rush a few days ago.  A never-ending rush of driving kids, placating kids, getting food, picking up clothes/trash/toys/books/mail-we-haven’t opened.  I pulled into a gas station after dropping one of the three kids off at a gymastics class.  The other two were in the car.

Mommy, what are we doing?

Mommy, why are you getting out?

Mommy, I’m hunngrryyy….

Ugh. I’m getting gas. Be right back. Play with your toys.

As I got out of the car, a large black man started to approach me from behind.  “Ma’am, excuse me?”

I steeled myself. Immediately.  I didn’t waver. I steeled myself against this large black man whom I didn’t know at the gas station.

And do you know why I became defensive?  I had read that it was common for people to come to gas stations to steal purses from cars.  To ask for money.  Mostly because the gas stations are located so close to the highway.  Who knows if it’s true or not.  As such, I had made it a habit to lock my car and grab my purse when I was pumping gas.  But my kids were in the car, so my car was open and my purse was in plain sight.   I was in a rush.

“Excuse me, ma’am?”

“Uh-huh.” My response was negligible.  A verbal non-response.

“I’m trying to propose to my girlfriend, Jasmine, on the phone here,” he held up his face-time phone in view of me, “and she has asked that someone witness my proposal.  Will you watch me propose to my girlfriend? I’m going to get on one knee”.  He got on one knee on the concrete right next to my gas pump.

“Jasmine, you are the light of my life.  I can’t imagine living without you, will you marry me?”

I couldn’t hear her response, but I assumed it was yes by the joy on his face.  By that time, my mouth had dropped, I had muttered a congratulations, and my hand had fallen flaccidly off the gas handle.  My eyes wandered between the numbers on the gas tank, his face and his phone.

“Thanks, ma’am. I’m getting married!”  He walked back off to his van.  I watched him walk away from me.  He was a driver for a food company.  He hopped back into his food truck van and went on his way.  I stood there, paralyzed, my eyes drifting back towards the gas tank.

The tank was half filled, but I was filled with a vast void of shame and emptiness inside me.  With a little bit of selfish happiness that I got to experience the proposal of Jasmine and the black man at the gas station.

I looked around.  Did anybody else see what I just saw? No.  No one else was around me.

I got back in the car and sat there for a bit.  My eldest daughter asked me, “mommy, what did that man want?”

“Well, honey, it was the most wonderful thing.  He was proposing to his girlfriend.  Right here at the gas station.  And he wanted me to witness it.”

“What was her name?”

“Jasmine”

“Jasmine, like the PRINCESS?”

“Yes, like the princess.”

I can’t tell you how many times over the past few weeks I’ve thought of those 45 seconds.  About my defensive reaction to a large black man approaching me from behind at a gas station.  About his simple and joyous request for me to witness his marriage proposal.  About my shame, my complete and total emptiness.

eating crow on helicopter parenting

I’m going to eat some crow here.  A year and a half ago I posted a blog on raising children.    In it, I attacked our generation of parenting, specifically the tendency to resort to helicopter parenting.  I argued that we should allow children to take “reasonable risks to gain experience that builds confidence.”  I still believe that.   But how much risk is too much risk for a young child?

We moved to a lovely child-filled street in Houston.  Each house has a kid under the age of eight.  Mostly boys, but some girls too.  To my astonishment, they play smack dab in the street with their scooters, bicycles, and whatever-the-new-electronic-fad-thingy is.  And most days, they play unsupervised.   There are two girls, both age five, who flock daily to our house, since we have the girl house now.  They ring our doorbell and ask to play with our girls.  I have never met their parents.  I have never even SEEN their parents. I don’t even know where one girl lives.  These children play on their scooters in the neighborhoods, often without shoes and helmets, for hours in the afternoon.  And no, they are not sisters.  They come from two different homes on two different ends of the street.

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Lest you think we live in a bad part of town, let me debunk that theory.  We live in one of the nicest areas of the city.  And no, we don’t live on a cul-de-sac.  We live on a quiet street, but still a cross street.

Do parents abdicate their responsibilities because they have a false sense of security about their neighborhood? Do they trust that all will be well because we have nicely groomed bushes and fancy cars?  Because they think someone else will watch out for their five year old child when they shoot across the road without looking?   Do parent think that schools will teach children responsibility? Social-emotional learning? How to deal with strangers, other adults or older children?

Is this true for your neighborhood?

I went out and got one of those bright green plastic “kids” to place in the middle of the road.  If not for my kids sake, than for the sake of all the kids whose caregivers are not around.  I hunker down and spend time outside the front of our house watching my daughters play.  They plead with me to go just a little bit farther.  Just a little bit longer.  To push the boundaries just a little bit more.  I’ve found myself becoming the parent I hoped I wouldn’t have to be.  The one that hovers, that listens, that watches constantly.  The helicopter parent.  Because, precisely, other adults are not there.

 

 

 

everyone’s a judge

A few days ago a friend and I were at the pool with the girls when we noticed a mom struggling with her daughter. The girl was 4+ and had the same name as C. so EVERY TIME she said her name, of course, I couldn’t help but whip my head around like someone was on fire.

The mom was desperately trying to get her daughter out of the pool. She had used up all the tools in her proverbial “mom bag”.  She had yelled at her, pulled her out, threatened her and – the little girl was unfazed. The older C. was obstinately playing in the pool and wasn’t going anywhere, no matter what her mother said.   In fact, every time her mother lunged at her to grab her, the little girl giggled and ran to the other side of the pool.

Pool-mom: “If you don’t get out in one minute, no books tonight.”  Giggles. “If you don’t get out right now, I’m GOING TO TELL YOUR FATHER.” Giggles, swim, swim.  “If you don’t get out right this second we are NEVER COMING BACK TO THIS POOL EVER AGAIN.”  Giggles, giggles, swim, swim.

Ugh. My heart ached for this mother.  I’ve been there. I feel you. I SEE you. I KNOW you.  I AM you.

C. and A. are both children who – at one age or another – would have run off with a perfectly good stranger if it meant that they could have stayed at the playground for a few more minutes.  Threats bounced right off of them.  For C. they still have no effect.  Most times I have to pick her up, throw her over my shoulder kicking and screaming as we leave the playground, only to push her into her car-seat so she doesn’t squirm out and try to run back to the playground.

This is EXHAUSTING and embarrassing.  Some days I just want to give up; give in.  Throw everything into one huge crap pile and say “YOU WIN!”  Stay in the pool, for all I care!  I’m going home to have a margarita and watch a movie.

So pool-mom I didn’t say anything to you that day, but I looked at you with sympathetic eyes (I tried to make them as sympathetic as possible) as if to say, I KNOW you.  We have BEEN there. Us parents have ALL been there and felt judged as a bad parent and a terrible person.

And as we walked away from the pool that day, my friend said: “Did you see that mom? She didn’t have control of that little girl at all. And that little girl was older than your kids.”  Her judgement of the pool-mom sat on me like a wet blanket.  My friend had forgotten what it was like to be pool-mom.

Don’t get me wrong, my friend is AWESOME.  She is also like majority of people out there that often find it too easy to cast judgement.

I do it too.  I judge the way people look.  The way they treat their bodies.  The choices they make, and sometimes even the things they say.  WE ALL play judge and jury.

But as a parent, who has struggled with managing my own insecurities about being good enough for my kids, I impeach us to put down our gavels and exercise bit more empathy.  That mom who can’t stop her kid from screaming in the airplane? Offer her some help.  The dad who can’t get his kids to be quiet at dinner? Offer him a smile.  Remember how hard it is to raise kids to be adults with value; and how important it is too.

It’s so easy to judge.  Our capacity to offer up compassion for other people is bound only by our imagination to realize that we are all trying our best and we have all been there, in one form or another.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your comments below.