It was early evening. The sun hung low and bright in the sky leaving a trail due west across Lake Michigan. Small waves lapped the shore. The beach was quiet. Most of the day’s visitors were gone. A few people lingered, probably hoping to catch one those spectacular coastline sunsets.
I walked just near the edge of the water. Close enough for the frigid liquid to tickle my toes, but far enough that my feet didn’t go numb. I carried my sandals in my hand, enjoying the squish of sand beneath my feet. How long was it since I last walked on a beach alone? I couldn’t remember. Beach trips are always a family affair. But this night the boys wanted to stay at the campground and play with newly made friends. My husband stayed behind with them.
I was lost in thought, enjoying the rare solitude, when I noticed a family in front of me: Mom, Dad and two boys. One boy was a preschooler and the other a toddler. The boys were playing a rowdy game of chase, a scene that plays out in my house almost every day. I smiled. That was us a few years ago.
I was just passing them when I heard the dad yell, “MIKE! MIKE! NO! MIKE! NOOOOOOOO!” He ran and dove to grab the younger boy, but he was too late. A rock whizzed past my eyes, barely missing me. The mom let out a horrified shriek. Then I heard the Dad, “MIKE! That was VERY, VERY naughty! You almost hurt that lady.”
I took me a second to realize I’d almost been stoned by a preschooler on the beach. I shook it off and kept walking. It wasn’t my first near death experience with a little boy’s poorly timed rock hurl.
But the mother ran up to me. She was mortified. “I am soooooo sorry!” she said with her hand over her heart. Her face was white, and I could see the fear that I was angry in eyes.
I think I surprised her when I started laughing. “Oh, it’s fine. I have the older version of those two back at the campsite. I’d like to tell you it gets easier, but… I’ve had worse than that happen to me. Kids will be kids, right?” Relief washed over her, and the color came back to her face. “You should sign him up for pee-wee football. The kid has a good arm. Maybe he’ll be a quarter back someday.” She smiled and looked back over her shoulder at her little family, and I continued to walk down the beach.
I’ve been that mom, embarrassed, mortified, worried my kid’s actions made someone angry. And I’ve been the recipient of a stranger’s forgiving kindness. Like the time at a restaurant when Wade asked an older gentleman with a beard and an eye patch if he was a pirate. I stopped breathing for a second. Then man simply replied, “Argh!”
I’ve also been on the receiving end of judgmental remarks intentionally spoken loud enough for me to hear. Like the lady behind me in the grocery store the other day when Wade accidentally bumped her cart. “You’d think people could make their kids stand still!” And I’ve had my share of dirty looks and sideways glances when my kid threw a fit in the store.
You can spend every day until your child is 18 teaching them what’s right and trying to make them behave. Buy you can’t actually MAKE them behave. Even good kids have bad days. “Can’t you control your children?!” Well, no, actually I can’t. You can remove the screaming child from Target, but you can’t make him stop screaming. At least not by any means that’s legal. You can try to tackle your kid in the sand before he throws a rock at a stranger, but sometimes you don’t make it in time. Those little guys are fast!
If you’re a parent, you should know that. Even if you don’t have children of your own, weren’t you a kid once? Don’t you remember what you were like? Forgot? Go ask you parents how many times you preformed cringe-worthy antics in public.
So let’s cut the parents of the world some slack. Let’s have a sense of humor. Let’s try to remember what it was like for us. Even without our sneers and comments, those poor parents already think they’re doing a terrible job. Let’s encourage instead of tear down. All it takes is a little kindness.
And let’s all be glad toddlers have bad aim.