I recently spent a morning meandering and gabbing with a beloved friend. As we walked along a magical, secluded trail, she showed me some special spots where her children play together. “We are here a lot because we can’t be in public right now,” she confided. One of her children is going through a period of strong tantrums and the effort and strain of it in the social scene is just too much. She admitted how ashamed she feels when her child throws a public tantrum and how her fear of getting caught in that situation has vastly limited her social life. How isolating it can be…Having read some of my experiences here (and heard about them in person and seen them in real life), she added, “You know how it is!” Oh yes, Mama, I know how it is.
This conversation reminded me of some instances when I had no choice but to be out in the world while my children were going through changes. Bleak times filled with helplessness, anger, sadness and humiliation for all…Happily, what also came to mind were the times when someone – often a complete stranger – gave me love, peace and strength just when I needed it.
Everybody knows what a MILF is, right? Well, I want to talk about MILCS: Mothers I’d Like to Celebrate. I don’t even know if some of these people have children…But they are MOTHERS, for sure. See if you don’t agree.
Once, Z was having a ghastly tantrum and I had taken her outside to avoid disturbing G’s tae kwon do class. People kept walking by and either totally avoiding us or looking pityingly at the poor, poor little girl. Poor, poor little girl was so angry (no idea why, this was a daily occurrence at the time…) that nothing I knew of (not hugs, not threats of Consequences…) would stop the screams of rage. I was near tears.
As I stood there, trying to shrink as small as possible while still indicating that the tantruming child had someone watching her (for what that someone was worth), a woman came up to me and said, simply, “Mom, you are doing okay.” She wrapped me up in her arms and rocked me a little from side to side and then went on her way.
Hey you, lady who just hugged a pariah, you are doing more than ok.
Oh, here’s a good one. You know when someone thinks your child with an attachment disorder has autism and that your child with autism is neurotypical, or vice versa? Yeah, that happens to me sometimes.
I was at this fantastic storefront Aztec-Mexican restaurant in Norwalk, CT called Molcajetes (http://www.ctbites.com/home/2009/9/18/los-molcajetes-seriously-authentic-mexican-in-norwalk.html) with extended family when Z threw one of her most remarkable, powerful tantrums of all time. Full Spectrum Grandmother tried to intervene and got kicked for her troubles…Pardner tried joking her out of it with no luck…
Over the course of the next [period of time, I am not sure how long!] or so I spent with my rocking, growling, kicking, screaming daughter out on the stoop, not one but TWO women with autistic sons walked by at different times and commiserated with me over what they thought was a textbook autistic tantrum.
“Oh no,” I told each kind mother in turn. “The one with autism is sitting inside eating nicely!”
When Z was good and ready she pretty instantly stopped being upset and went inside and, with a big smile on her face, devoured enough food (fresh, garlicky guacamole and soft tacos and just-fried chips with that incredible slightly sweet cabbage salsa) to feed an army, which is kind of what she was. You need fuel for that kind of sally!
When Z was younger, I often felt as if people judged me as a mother for her behavior. I wished I could maybe wear a sign that said, “This is not a normal tantrum. I have tried everything you (or I, or anyone) could imagine to stop this tantrum and many others like it. Yes, my daughter was just hitting me and screaming as if I was hitting her but I was not, actually, hitting her…, as you can see right here with your own eyes. In fact, your staring at us might even fuel this little situation we got going on here. Now, please, I just have to sit here and wait it out so I would be so grateful if you would stop giving me dirty looks.”
Now that Z is a little older, people can tell her tantrums are not just run-of-the-mill. They can see that she is older than a “normal” age for tantrums, and that she is writhing and screaming, extensively, without any input. They seem somewhat less likely to be appalled -- and rather more likely to feel compassion for both the parent who stands helplessly witness to such an event and the child who cannot extricate herself from it – or let herself be extricated...
G has his moments too, whether from his really rare but quite memorable public tantrums to his more common general inappropriateness/cluelessness, not to mention flailing.
One time, after a hard day, I said to G as we were leaving a local co-op, “You have the most important thing, a kind and loving heart. Now you just need to pay attention to the world around you and work on your common sense.” (This is one version of my ad-nauseam-aforementioned Pay Attention to the World lectures.)
We had gotten into the car and had just begun to pull out of the parking lot when a woman with a silver bob wearing a striking purple jacket and lots of chunky silver jewelry waved me down, practically throwing herself in front of the car. Thinking maybe I had forgotten one of my organic, vegan, sustainable, equal-exchange, wallet-straining purchases, I stopped and rolled down my window.
“That was one of the most inspiring things I have ever heard,” she told me. “It will echo inside me for a long time. Thank you.”
No, thank you, Ms. Silver-Purple Angel-Person. I will never forget you.
I tell these tales not to brag or make it seem like I am doing such a great job that was duly appreciated by these wise women (ha!), but to share that these women actually made it possible for me to Go On. Their simple acts of generosity have resonated in my life for months and years. They allowed me the space and peace in which I could settle my heart back into love for my children instead of fear. They made it possible for me to celebrate my children, just as they are, and so I celebrate them.
Just so, I hope when my friend who is stuck in the woods for now with her clan reads this she will know how truly I honor her finding a way to celebrate her children through it all. In addition, I hope she will encounter surprising (yet very welcome) love and acceptance when she does have to put herself and her family “out there,” just as I did with these MILCS: huge-hearted strangers, generous-spirited everyday angels who just
Went For It.
And guess what? We can all – in some way - do the same.
We all have the mental capacity to recognize opportunities to grow our hearts, to stretch a little or a lot. Sometimes it seems like we don’t have the emotional capacity to execute such acts of kindness and generosity, whether it’s due to emotive stinginess (high on the fear spectrum, no?) or the shyness of those on the awkward end of the social spectrum. It’s probably easier to be surprisingly kind to strangers, as these women were to me, but we encounter countless such opportunities of all sorts every day. And I am not talking about the somewhat trite “random acts of kindness” trope, because these acts are more than random. They are necessary.
You never know when your small action may make a real difference in someone’s life. Plus, I suspect our capacity to be generous and kind grows with the PRACTICE. Be grateful for any everyday angel you meet…and pass it on!
Lest this seem preachy, I should add I’ve no idea what a generous spirit means to you in particular and no advice beyond the suggestion that choosing kindness at a given moment may resonate more than you’ll ever know.
Thanks and love forever, MILCS, and all you others trying to make sure your heart isn’t several sizes too small, and all y’all who are just plain trying,
Full Spectrum Mama