You may not think I saw you. But I did. I saw you roll your eyes when we exited the changing room.
I don’t blame you. You just don’t know what you are seeing. Based off your exaggerated eye roll, I’m guessing you see a demanding child, a loud child, a child I should have control over. Maybe you think I’m not a very good mother. Not as good as you, your children waiting, waiting, waiting so patiently for the tiny changing room door to open.
Maybe you sighed so loudly to send me a message.
You took too long. How selfish of you. Your kid is a brat. You are not a good mother.
I felt the pressure to move him along while I was inside that tiny space. I knew you were waiting. I knew you were not the only one waiting. I heard someone try the handle, even though my big black winter boots should have been clearly visible under that partial door. I felt the pressure to do for him. I knew you were waiting. I knew others were waiting. I also knew there were at least four or five other changing stalls. I knew that others would move faster than we were. I knew that we could move faster if I helped him. But he needs to be able to do these things himself and I am not helping him by helping him. So I wrapped my arms around myself, my fingers pressing against my ribs, and I fought the urge to help him.
To help him dry his skin and hair. To help him untie the knot holding up his bathing suit. To help him out of his bathing suit. To help him navigate putting on his underwear, his pants, his shirt, his socks, and finally his shoes. When he screeched, “I need you to do it FOR ME!” I held my ground. I squeezed my arms tighter and fought my hands from helping. The physical urge was so strong. Instead I prompted him to keep going. That he could do it himself. When he sang a song instead of zipping up his pants I gestured for him to zip. Trying to remind myself not to talk so much. Not to verbally prompt so much. He grinned when he got all his clothes on, and I grinned back without telling him his shirt was on backwards. I gently reminded him to stuff his towel and wet bathing suit into the bag. I stopped him before I opened that tiny door and said, “See? You can do it by yourself. I’m so proud of you!”
If only you could have seen that smile that lights up his eyes from deep inside. If only you could know what it meant to him, to me.
When I opened that door and saw your face, saw your eyes roll up and away, heard you sigh and usher your two small children forward, already instructing them to hurry I didn’t feel embarrassed or sorry. If you tried to shame me, it didn’t work.
I do not know your story and you do not know mine. Maybe you are lovely and you’ve had a bad day. I try to give you that grace. The grace I wish for my son as he learns important life skills, necessary skills. Skills that your children are picking up by osmosis. I try to give you grace.
And so I smiled. I let you push past us and I smiled at my son. I smiled at the other parents nearby.
I smiled. Because that was huge. He dressed himself, and I forced myself to be still and I let him. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t quiet, but he got it done.
In the past I might have felt shamed by your eyes or your sigh. I might have gone out to my car and cried a little, felt sorry for myself.
I am not helping him by helping him.
Even if you wished I would.
I’m doing the best I can.
My son is doing the best he can.
Maybe that was the best you had that day.
I hope you get another chance to do better.
I’m sure you can.