With all the food issues that my family has to deal with now, we've run into various reactions from others. Some people are curious, some are sympathetic, some are annoyed, and some are downright antagonistic, which truly, I just don't get. I've had people look at our food and start rolling their eyes, or making snide comments about us in a perfectly audible undertone. Seriously, why do they even care what we eat?
And besides, it's an instant judgement based on a mere sliver of information. When that type of judgement is enough to make someone say or do something negative to another person? Not cool.
While I'd love to sit on my high horse and say I would never, ever make this type of judgement about someone else, I can't. If I tried, my high horse would buck me off into the muck filled with times I have made a judgement like that, without even thinking. I've formed opinions about a person because they have the same religion as someone I know who is rude and thoughtless. Or made judgements about someone because they are in the same tax bracket as an ex-roommate of mine. I know I have done this.
I try not to, and I'm definitely not proud of it, but I know it's happened. However, I have one memory that keeps me from going too far down that road of judging precipitously and acting on it. This memory reminds me that you never know what's truly going on with someone else.
I was reminded of this today after reading an inspirational blog post ( http://timcatalano.com/ ), and I thought I'd share.
Years ago, when my youngest was still a toddler, I took them both to a McD's playplace. It was one that wasn't separated fully from the rest of the fast food joint, with a wide open entrance that connected to the dining area. So any noise in that structure echoed throughout the entire restaurant.
That day, there was a LOT of noise. Four families worth of kids were having a ball, and you could definitely hear it. There were two family's children who had come in together and then there were my two kids and the few children of a man sitting by himself at the table next to me. He was dressed in work clothes, jeans and a plaid shirt, and had that exhausted look that seemed very familiar. Every parent has seen that glazed look that comes when you're bringing your kids somewhere because you're hoping you can sit and have maybe 5 minutes of peace, finally.
The man's kids were the loudest of everyone, screeching happily and running around like sugar-buzzed little monkeys; you could see why he'd need some peace. I don't doubt that nearly everyone in the entire restaurant was cringing at the volume. The women were keeping their kids from getting too loud, but that guy? He didn't say a word to his kids, just sat there silently and watched them.
Eventually, as people would finish eating and leave, they'd pass by our tables. You'd hear them muttering, just loud enough for us to hear, about how some people should control their kids. Some parents just didn't know how to teach their kids polite behavior, how to act in a public place, how to respect other people's ears, and so on and so forth.
When the two other families with children left, they walked right in front of us and were even louder in their comments about behavior and children and discipline and control. The man never even really looked at them, although you could tell he'd heard. To be honest, I felt bad for him. Yeah, his kids were a bit loud, and that was annoying, but they weren't doing anything naughty. They hadn't hurt any of the other kids, which is not something you could always say about children in a playplace. And at this point, he'd had a long stream of negative comments.
I've been in that place, where I was so tired that the thought of controlling the kids and their energy seemed like climbing a mountain, so I thought I'd make a comment just to be nice. Like I would hope someone might do to me in the same position.
I don't remember anymore what I said. Something innocuous, like 'your kids seem very sweet' or 'at least they'll sleep well tonight, huh?' Parental banter with another parent.
What I do remember is what he said. He looked at me and smiled just a little, then turned back to his kids. I didn't think he was going to answer for a minute when he finally spoke in a low murmur.
"It's the first time I've seen them happy since their mother died."
It was like a kick in the chest. We only exchanged a few more sentences before they left a few minutes later, sympathy expressed and taken. But when I looked back at those kids, it altered every single moment of my perception about that family and their time there. I knew that if those people who had made their snide comments had been aware of the situation, nearly all of them would have buttoned their lips in a heartbeat. But they'd been so annoyed, so quick to judge, that they felt they had to lash out at him in some small way for causing them a few minutes discomfort.
Like I said, I don't always manage to keep from making judgements without knowing the whole situations. And sometimes I act on them. But I will always have this memory to help keep myself in check. It reminds me that if I'm going to act on my judgements, I better make sure that I truly know what's going on. And it reminds me of the importance of knowing what IS important in our lives, and teaching THAT to our kids.
I think that can be one of the most difficult things, at times, because there can be so much social pressure to conform, to have the same values (or eating habits) as everyone else. Everyone else thought this gentleman wasn't controlling his kids, but letting them experience that joy, for that small time, was so much more important to his family.
I struggle with giving that to my own family: what's important. I only hope that when the time comes and I'm looking back on it all, I will find that I did.