Friday, October 17, 2008

the wisdom to truly succeed

To the girl in the orange shirt in the elevator at IKEA yesterday:

You know, at first I was going to write a blog about our encounter. Then I wasn't going to give you the time of day. Now I'm back to writing, but for a different reason.

When the elevator doors were open right after I picked up Curly and Superstar from the playplace (li'l ~j. is now officially too tall for that gig), I encouraged my crew to run because as we all know, those elevators are slower than ten slow things. I was pushing a shopping cart, Atcha was in her carseat, in the basket of the cart, quietly and happily chewing on her blanket. Li'l ~j. and Superstar were excitedly talking about what they'd order for dinner in the IKEA restaurant (they were so hungry!) while Curly sat on the floor to put on her socks and shoes (no shoes in the playplace!). And then there was Bubby, sitting in the seat of the cart, buckled in, barefoot (he had long ago kicked off his shoes and yanked off his socks), and also very hungry. He was throwing one of his fits. He knows how to scream. I'm not exaggerating when I say that I'd wager he's woken the neighbors with his nighttime rants. I was ignoring him, which is what I knew to do during this brand of tantrum. I was excited that our day was almost finished, and that after dinner we'd be home. With all that excitement in the elevator, I looked to you.


You were staring straight ahead, over the head of your toddler, sitting so quietly in her cart-seat, and over the baby girl in her seat, in the basket of your cart. Both your daughters had the proper foot coverings, were spotless in their pink and white, and in case any room might have been left to one's imagination regarding their gender, you chose to top it all of with those headbands with bows bigger than their heads. Yet you didn't smile. You were clenching your teeth, I could see that.

Your mom, who was there to maybe help you with your kids, or maybe buy you some furniture, or whatever, she was another story. She glared at me. She and I made eye contact and I smiled, to which she deliberately did not smile back.

At this point I was made very aware of Bubby's screaming. I began to sweat. C'MON, elevator! Hurry up! My boy's screams are intolerable for other humans! I felt bad.

Until I realized that my feeling bad was your intention. Then I felt unfairly caught off-guard. As the elevator doors opened by the waving of Superstar's hands (she always plays that trick!), you exited with your pouty mom, and with an eyeroll and a head twitch, the two of you glanced over your shoulders at me. The only words I heard were "" .

I admit, I was stunned. As you sauntered off toward the Erktorps, I led my kids in a daze to the restaurant. Deliberately straining to gain composure, I mentally prepared to grab the right number of spoons and forks and yogurts, and reminded the girls how to glide their trays along the cafeteria-type bars. "Pasta, please, with red sauce," said Curly. I was so proud of her and I remembered that she does this at school now. Bubby was still screaming. His screams filled the place (and IKEA is a big place!). I paid for our meals and struggled to find a clean table near the restaurant's play area. After getting Superstar and Curly set up, and helping Li'l ~j., I wiped off a nearby highchair with a napkin and buckled the strap around Bubby's chubby waist. He stopped screaming in exchange for an open cup of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and a strawberry-banana yogurt. I checked on Atcha, who was still happy in her carseat (she always is!). The three older girls were eating.

That's when I broke down.

Using those crappy brown napkins to dry my tears, I balanced between trying not to cry and knowing that it was coming anyway, so try to at least make it discreet. I looked at my kids. I was so proud of them, and my heart swelled with love (which didn't help the cause of my crying!). Li'l ~j. saw me. "Mommy, what's wrong?"

"Oh, Sweetie. I'm okay."

"Mommy, do you miss Papi or something?"

"Oh, of course, I always miss him when he's not with us, but that's not why I'm crying."

"Then why are you crying?"

Now this is an interesting situation (which I know you don't know right now): your 9 & 1/2 year old wants to know something that you don't necessarily want to share, but she's too old for some shiny distraction. And too smart. She wants truth.

"Because that lady who was on the elevator gave me a mean look." (Whether you're a 4th grader and a mean look means you didn't say the right thing at recess, or you're 31 and a mean look is the lowest of insults to what it means to be a mother: a mean look is a mean look.)

"Yeah...I saw that. Why did she do that?"

"I think she didn't like that Bubby was screaming."

"Well, I think she had a pretty bad attitude."

"Maybe so."



"I just think that if we see people like that, who have bad attitudes, maybe you can just think to yourself, 'Nobody's perfect.'"

I thanked her and hugged her. She's saved me on more than one occassion.

While we finished our meals I thought upon what had just happened -- the whole of it. And I'm going to share it with you, right now:

That morning, I woke up as usual and got Superstar ready for preschool. My husband took her to school and then took the van to get the tires rotated while I was home with the other four (the two older kids didn't have school that day). I ended up having to give baths to both Bubby and Atcha (two separate baths for reasons of poop), which I had not planned on, but it worked out. I also managed to get myself ready and see to it that the older two girls had hair brushed, teeth brushed, all that stuff (you'll find out later when your daughters grow up -- it's lots of stuff, and often harder to supervise their doing it themselves rather than you just doing it for them). We all piled in our van and picked up Superstar from preschool.

Then we drove to our pediatrician's office for Bubby's two year well-check. That's right, my 33-lb. boy is only 2 years old. My main concern, which I discussed with the doctor, was Bubby's tantrums (atrocious!). "Sometimes he's just having trouble communicating, and other times he's throwing a tantrum, and I can tell the difference. I really, sincerely feel that Darin and I are both very patient with's just that when we're in public...well, other people don't like the screaming so much." Our doctor told me, "You know, the children that have gone from not hearing at all to suddenly being able to hear everything - for example, those who get cochlear implants - those are the kids with the worst behavioral problems. And you're right, sometimes he is just having trouble communicating, and that's how he deals with it because he's only 2 years old. But when it's a tantrum, you're right to ignore it. You should start attaching discipline to it, timeouts to let him know that it's not acceptable, but you're right to ignore it. You know what you're doing. "

After our meeting with the doctor, three of my children (and their mom) got flu shots.

Following the doctor appointment we drove to the gas station to fill the van, and then to Sonic to get a snack (tots and strawberry limeade). Then we got on the freeway and drove to Salt Lake, and then east to Primary Children's Medical Center. Baby Atcha had to have an x-ray of her hip and a consult with a pediatric orthopedic surgeon. We made a stop in the ladies' room, changed diapers, washed hands, and walked back to the parking garage.

Driving towards the setting sun, and with only one request to "just go home", the kids and I talked about how neat it would be to stop and see Papi's new office. We drove to Draper and found the right building, and got to meet some of Darin's co-workers, about whom we had heard only wonderful things. After a tour of the facilities we took the frontage road to IKEA.

After our shopping experience (where Li'l ~j. was my big helper despite her growing hunger) is where we met.

That's what I had done that day. Not too shabby.

Sitting there at the restaurant, reflecting on my day and all that I had accomplished I wondered to whom I could go for comfort. I thought of many friends, other mothers who would support me. But I also realized that maybe the very thing said (not necessarily by my friends, but likely by me as I've done it so often before) to resolve the issue would be something like, "Oh, what does she know," with a tone just as venomous as how I was treated.

That's not what I want.

What I want, Girl with the orange shirt, is for you to remember. Because it is inevitable that you, too, will be caught off guard one day. During a time in your life when you don't have your mom there to help you, when you have a load of kids and hear crap all the time like, "You don't take them ALL out at once, do you?", you will plan and prepare and you'll remember to take your time and you'll remember all the diapers and the wipes and the sippy cups and the changes of clothes, and things will be going really well, but when one of your kids acts tired/hungry/their age, someone will give you that look. Someone who doesn't know. And I hope you'll be sorry for how you acted yesterday, just as I am sorry to whoever it was about whom I thought, "My kid will NEVER...". I don't know why we do this. Nothing comes from insulting what another holds most sacred. Nothing. As a friend once reminded me, one of the adversary's biggest weapons is pitting women against women.

I forgive you.

Oh, and just so you know, after our little encounter, three other women smiled at, engaged, spoke to, and complimented my children. And their mom.


lisa said...


I just read this to both of the girls (who have both had their share of tantrums, whiny days, etc.)You, my dear, are a gem. And we couldn't love you more.

P.S. Mica says to tell you that she loves you.

More Caffiene, Please said...

I love this post. We had a hard time with CJ and it always seemed like nobody understood - even our family members. There were many a break-downs. But now, he's so cheerful and helpful and just awesome. So all those people can suck it, right? Including lady in the orange shirt.

Tori :) said...

I have definitely been there ~j. It is because of those looks or those comments that I make sure to smile or something at those kiddos and their mom.

You're a great mom, J.

compulsive writer said...


Jane @ What About Mom? said...

Reading this, I wanted to say -- Dude, sometimes you just gotta resist the urge to do one more thing with the kids on days like those. Take 'em home and feed 'em frozen french fries or something.

Then I remembered we had a very similar experience at Panda Express last night. 2 yo didn't get nap (long story), ran into Payless to get winter boots (would've gone w/o the kids, but wanted them to actually fit), and then had to run to PE to use the bathroom.

2 yo wouldn't take off the flipflops from Payless (she has exact same pair at home). So I let her *borrow* the flipflops while older sisters peed.

Some days, it's just about surviving, and hoping your kids know that you love them, no matter how frustrated/embarrassed you get.

Shar said...

Wow. I loved this post. You are such a good writer.

No one wants to be made to feel like an incompetent mother. It hurts. But you are very compassionate.

Tonight at dinner, we were having a conversation about the movie where the blind girl gets eye implants and can see, but ends up wanting to be blind again at the end because that was better for her. And my uncle said that he's heard that some of those who have gone from not seeing to seeing or not hearing to hearing, feel a bit of chaos because the new world they're in is so foreign. I guess it would make sense. What do you think? Have you noticed that in your little Bubby?

Before I had kids, I would get so annoyed if someones kid would cry on the airplane, and I would think, Why can't they control their kid? Now that I have a kid, I feel so bad for ever thinking that and now just feel for the mother with the crying kid. If we had Stepford children, our lives would be very boring!

Queen Scarlett said...

Another Amen here...and I love you.

jennie w. said...

The nice thing about having six kids is that I'm much to frazzled and busy to notice everyone's dirty looks. I remain oblivious. Just how I like it.

rec and etta said...

you are a wonderful mother jenny, your emma told me so:) "my mom is so good to us"...what a compliment

rec and etta said...

oh my gosh, i just caught my name change "etta-bedda-wetta" all these awful childhood memories are rushing back..jk

leschornmom said...

You Go Girl! I am not as good at writing as you are. I could have written ten nearly identicle posts but none of them would have been as well worded!
The truth is sweety, You have crossed the thresh-hold (how do you spell that any way?) You now have a (sigh)..."Big Family"! For the rest of your mothering life you will be judged (good or bad)by perfect strangers. Some will ooh and ahh. Other's will glare! But if you keep a good attitude for the most part (and rant when you need to) you will survive!
And besides... WHAT DOES SHE KNOW!?!

sue-donym said...

This was a wonderful post.

I really hope and pray that I have not been that "girl in the orange shirt" (I really don't look all that good in orange) but I'm afraid I have been in the past.

One of the great lessons I have learned from you ~j is to look beyond what we initially see and search deeper. Everyday I try to smile at a frazzled mom, wink at an unruly child, and ALWAYS hold the door open for a mother with a stroller.

Love you.
YOU have and continue to teach ME.

AzĂșcar said...

What goes around (Justin is always right.)

If you can't smile and lend a sympathetic look with a another mom, well then, you're a dork.

Reluctant Nomad said...

This was so lovely Jen. so so lovely. Gives me hope that I can forgive. Most of the time when this happens to me, I simply laugh (loud, out of spite) as they walk away. And then cry once they're gone.

Bunsies said...

All I can say is I am so sorry I was on my way to work and couldn't talk!!

wendy said...

I'm with Azucar on the dorkness.

I cringe when I think of some of the ways I judged mothers BEFORE I had kids. It was not in situations like yours, but I was hard on my siblings and their parenting styles. Boy, do I get it now.

Monica said...

I gave you a standing ovation for that one.

As always, I love.

Geo said...

I'm with Monica. You're doing SO beautifully well.

And I love the title of your great post.

beans said...

Take THAT orange shirt. Seriously? Orange shirt? And your girls were dressed in pink? That clashes. AND NOBODY does that to my sister. NOBODY.

Kaerlig said...

Your daughter is wise beyond her years. And Jen, I totally know what it feels to be in public with screaming toddler. At some point, every mother knows. Orange shirt will know.

ash said...

You're an awesome mom and an amazing woman. I only hope to have half of the compassion you did. You know, the next time I'm at IKEA and my kid is the one screaming.

Lucrecia said...

You know what this story is to me...It's a lesson on compassion no matter what! I've come across many situations where at times I might judge them or I might catch myself. This is an excellent example of the fact that you just never know what other people are going through, or what led them to the situation. It's a lesson that you should just be compassionate no matter what. Thanks for the reminder Jenny!

Gerb said...

You know what I thought when I read this? I wish I were a cool mom who takes all her kids with her everywhere. Do you think they wonder if you love them?


Emily said...

Jenny - You are seriously a rock star. You are a better woman than I. Keep up the great work...your kids are great.

wendysue said...

You are one blessed Momma. You are able to tackle all of that in one day, with all the kiddos, and at the end of the day, still forgive that other mother, and you know why? Because I have a feeling you KNOW that you are a good mom (with fabulous kids!) Say it! Say it!!

love you ~j.

Adriane said...


Seriously, so blessed! said...

I swear that wasn't me! I wouldn't do that! I would scoop the screamer up and let him snot on my Anthro sweater, I swear it! Love you!

Shelly said...

I too, have gotten looks like that from other people. You will be blessed Jenny for all you do as a wife and mother. "Nobody is perfect like Rae said". You are a wonderful person and that is all that matters.

Bek said...

Amen Jen.... It is hard when we need to discipline our kids and have to say "to hell with everyone else here".

The thing that always consoles me is that I am pretty sure that I am usually bothering them way more than they are bothering me (not always, but usually). That makes me feel better.

Wow. Lil J is such a tender heart. Bad attitude indeed. I'd say wicked witch, but whatever....

heather said...

if i didn't already have the best mom in the world, i'd pick you to be my mom. your kids are very lucky :)

Sister Pottymouth said...

You are an awesome mom. Remember this post
? Reading yours made me relive that moment. It was painful. I didn't express it nearly as well as you did.

That you are an amazing mom is evident in your daughter's wonderful response. Who else would have taught her so well?

i i eee said...

I've kept this comment box up on my browser for a few days, reminding myself to comment.

I've had a hard time saying something, because this made me so very angry. Seriously, I want to track that girl down.

You're awesome. And your kids are a million times over more blessed than those two little dolls ever will be, because your kids have a wonderful mother.

Shouldn't say it, but it's true!

Teeth Whitening said...

You are a fantastic writer. Keep it up!

TX Girl said...

I'm sure we have ALL been that mom in the orange. I know I was before I had kids. But, as I'm carting my 25 lb 1 year old around and my daughter is dancing and running up in Target I think back on those days and realize those moms were doing their best and seriously- some days are just crazier than others.

I think everyone immediately knows what kind of mom you are when they hear your daughter's response. It is obvious you are raising beautiful and compassionate children.

I think we all need a little lesson in perspective!

Motherboard said...

I have a child like yours-- she used to throw MONSTER fits in stores. I had someone tell me to just stay home and get a sitter if she couldn't behave in the grocery store. (yeah. niiccceee!)

I told her how nice for you that you have a Mother to tend for you. I don't. So deal with it, or go stand in line behind someone else.

People can be so mean. You definitely took the higher road here...

(I added you to witty women over on the MMB)

Anonymous said...

i love this post, i had tears...but that may be the pms:)

wonder woman said...

I'm new here and decided not to lurk......what a great post!! I was AMAZED at your day and all you did with all the kiddos. I'm impressed that only *one* kid had a tantrum!

Your daughter's advice brought tears to my eyes. What a sweet girl. Who's obviously learned some great things, probably from her mom.

I had tears, too, and I'm not pms-ing