Monday, April 02, 2012

Parents on the Edge

We left church yesterday with two thoughts in mind:

1. We need to begin frisking John on a regular basis.

2. John's probably going to join the Knights of Columbus one day.

What? My thoughts were supposed to be related to the Gospel or God or holiness? Such is life with young children in church.

Quick flashback to last Thursday -- I am running to the store to buy chocolate coins for Tim's play (a total bail out, violating every tenet of "Parenting with Love and Logic" -- but that's another story). I found the coins, snagged a few other items, and zipped through the check out line.

Only one bag of coins was in sight. I was about to start a quick perusal of the floor when I thought to ask John if he had seen the candy. He reached into the pocket of his blue jean shorts and -- lo and behold! -- there they were.

On Sunday morning I delivered Ainsley to the nursery and sent Kolbe and John ahead into the church. I found them on the front steps. Kolbe had confiscated a sword and an Easter egg. Blame it on inadequate caffeine. I can understand overlooking the Easter egg, but it's a mighty distracted Mom who misses the three foot long sword her four-year-old is hauling into church.

Aside from this, John was nothing short of angelic at church. I wish I could say it was for a good reason.

About ten minutes into Mass, a family of four quietly took the pew in front of us. There were two cute little boys -- about three and five. The parents -- what can I say about the parents? They looked rough, almost strung-out. I thought the father might be  sick or in some way disabled. The wife helped him get the hymnal, gently gave him the response cards.

About twenty minutes later, the father abruptly left. The mother started hissing at the kids. One of them climbed onto the kneeler. She grabbed his arm roughly and jerked him back. This both continued and escalated. She snarled; she grabbed; she elbowed. It was ugly.

First I prayed. Then I felt sick. Then I wanted to cry.

We've all seen this before -- in the grocery store, in the emergency room, in a parking lot. A few weeks ago I heard a woman drop the F bomb to a van load of pre-schoolers. When Tim had his anaphalactic reaction to the wasp sting, we ended up in the ER late in the evening. It was chock-full of sick, tired children and parents on the ragged edge. Not pretty to see.

And I get it. The kids are miserable and the parents are scared, stressed, exhausted, maybe worried about money, usually alone, wondering if they're going to be on that hard, plastic chair for two hours or six, thinking about work the next morning, maybe thinking about children they left unsupervised at home. I get it.

Fourteen days before I delivered Ainsley, I sat in a hard, wooden chair in the doctor's office holding John who had a 104 degree fever. When the doctor could find no source for the fever, he bagged John to get a urine sample. John was dehydrated, and it took him four hours to produce a sample. Four hours.

We all have limits, and parenting stretches them.

My kids have a universal reaction when they encounter mean parents. They hold on and don't let go. When Kolbe was about three, we were browsing through Sam's Club and encountered a mother with a nasty bite.

"She's mean," Kolbe said, his eyes wide. He grabbed my leg and wouldn't let go.

So it was yesterday with John. Though the scene in front of us wasn't loud, John assessed it all, no problem. He wrapped his arms around me, sat in my lap, kissed my arm.

I leaned over to Dave and said, "Let's pray for that woman after Mass."

I am not one to intervene. Mostly I think my involvement would only cause tensions to escalate. I wish I had said something to the women who dropped the F bomb. As mothers it might -- might -- be helpful to get a wake up call that says, "Hello! Lots of ears around here! Clean it up already!"


In Borders Bookstore one afternoon, I encountered an exchange between a mother and daughter that was so hideous, I expected to see John Quinones jumping out with a hidden camera. John and his crew stage a variety scenes (mean parents, racist customers, caretakers being unkind to elderly people) in restaurants and playgrounds trying to see who, if anyone, will intervene.

I remember one episode in which a fake mother verbally abused her daughter. Many, many people shook their heads and passed on by. One mother stepped in to say something along the lines of, "I know how hard parenting can be. We all lose it sometimes. What can I do to help you?"

That's what I had in mind yesterday morning. This woman was on. the. edge. I couldn't simply look away.

And then she got up and left. With another rough jerk and a hiss, off they went.

Please join me in praying this family.

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