I was sitting at the doctor’s office today, listening to the moments tick away, and wondering how my doctor has become the customer, with me losing money as I wait for her to see me, while she overbooks to maximize productivity and profitability. I am sure she is grateful for my help, yet, still asks me to both pay her and lose money waiting. Wow. Talk about a business model. As you might imagine, pointing this out to her, and everyone within the zip code, requires little in the way of courage from me.
But, across the room, a little boy, about 6 or 7 years old, spilled water all over himself, his mother, her fancy suit and briefcase. She was mad. Mad mad mad, and irritated and annoyed and unable to stop the turbulence of her day from landing, it seemed, on this little boy and his spill. As she stormed back and forth to and from the bathroom with paper towels, she fussed at regular intervals, and increasingly intensely, yelled at him about how he can never sit still, and fussing turned to hissing, which turned to berating and I found myself sitting in judgment of her, my anxiety building, and I felt physical pain at her parenting, her meanness toward this little boy, who became more darling in my judging eyes, as she became more evil.
My courage was fighting for air, and I tamped it down with excuses, with rationalizations.
But my courage is louder than my fear, and it worked its way forward, forcing me to a place of empathy for that mom. I have raised (quite possibly) the worlds’ wiggliest kid, he spilled everything, and ALWAYS all over me and directly into my briefcase or purse. “I have been that mom,” I thought, “I have lost it and fussed and couldn’t stop when I should have and just kept going on and on and hissing and yelling, until my yelling had nothing to do with that child, but to do with my frustration, my anger at myself, my bad day, my hard life, all rolled up into a hopeless sense of courage-lessness. “And,” I thought, “I have felt the remorse she is going to feel in about 5 minutes, and begged God to give my child a short memory of my transgressions, and a forgiving heart.”
Yet, the mother kept hissing, kept berating, kept tearing down, what would take a long, long time to recover and re-build. My courage was sneaking its way past my fear and rationalization.
Yet, my rationalizations fought back, “if I get up, if I STAND UP for this child and mother, and put my courage to work- that woman might punch me! And she’s probably about 10 years my junior and could out-run me…” My courage shrugged its shoulders. That kind of shrug that means, “yup, I already thought of that.”
I stood up. Awkwardly, I walked over to her, wincing at the thought of my adorable little nose getting smashed by an angry mother bear wielding wet paper towels and a grudge against humanity.
I touched her shoulder lightly and said, “How can I help you?”
She looked at me, for an eternal moment, and finally said in a desperate whisper, “I am so frustrated, I am just beside myself, and I don’t know what to do with him anymore. He’s a problem! He never sits still! He’s always spilling stuff and not listening and acting out!” Her son stared at her intently as she recounted a child he appeared not to know personally, but to disdain. “AND,” she whispered toward the far side of the room, “my other two kids are so perfect, it makes me wonder, what happened to this one that he is so… not like them???!!!”
The look on his face said this secret was out…again, and the “whispering” was familiar and intentional. His courage drained out, and I thought, “it takes a lot of wiggling for this little boy to hold his courage in…”
I crouched down to face him.
“My mommy hates me,” he said plainly.
It took less courage to be honest with him than it would have taken to placate his fears, so I met his dwindling courage face to face with my tentative ‘still-might-get-broken–nose’ courage.
“Your mommy does not hate you, even though I can see it feels that way. She loves you. And sometimes she is tired, and distracted and busy, and so full of all the things she has to make happen in a day, that your wiggly-ness drives her nuts and she wishes she had the patience for it, but she doesn’t. Then she feels bad, then she gets mad that she feels bad, and mad that she has to do everything, and she yells- and most of the time, you’re right in front of her, and so you get it all.”
“I can’t help being wiggly. It just happens,” he said.
“I know that, cause I’m wiggly too,” I smiled- and he laughed. “But your mom isn’t, so she doesn’t understand why we’re so wiggly, but I do, and someday she will too, but the important thing to know is that you are you, in your exact special way, and perfect in the way that only you in this whole wide world can be. When you are bigger, she will laugh about your wiggly-ness, and you will know this- that because of exactly who you are, wiggly and all, you have wiggled your way right into your mommy’s heart in a way in there spot that ONLY YOU have found, and only you know about, and only you fit. No one can ever take that spot, because it is yours, and your mommy loves you extra special for it. Mommies aren’t perfect, but you are, and you help us be as perfect as we can be.”
The mom was crying. I was crying. And, the little boy was… wiggling- and smiling.
Then, we all went our own ways, all better for the interaction, for the courage to bring the fullness of who we are, and the best of who we could be in that moment. Thank you, courage, for fighting your way to the surface, and doing what needed to be done.
I’ve got your back, courage, and I will take my lumps as they come, for they will certainly come, and commit to being alive to the possibility that courage will open the possibility of a true and genuine presence with others – for me, for others and for the good of the world around us.