It was an evening like any other, I thought.
My husband was out of town on business, so my mom, being the awesome Gigi she is, spent the afternoon with the kids and I to offer some help and diversion. We wanted to go out to eat dinner before we parted ways, and settled on a nice, loud, neutral family restaurant. Perfect for a quick meal with two kids, I decided.
Until it wasn’t. Something must have been in the air that night, because both of my offspring were out of their minds. At one point, my normally well-behaved-in-public four-year-old was actually doing a headstand in the booth, Elmo undies in the air for all to see. There were blueberries thrown to the floor with reckless abandon. Screeching one-year-old demands for food that wasn’t his. A meltdown from my daughter because she was certain my mom was going to eat the doughnut that she brought especially for her (although she herself had previously refused to eat it).
To put it lightly, we were that family.
It was a meal where conversation had begun and halted at least a dozen times, and then was ultimately abandoned. My food remained half-eaten as I scrambled in the booth to get everyone else fed, quiet, and appeased. I got up twice to cart my crying daughter outside for a come-to-Jesus meeting, well aware of all of the pairs of eyes watching us.
All I wanted was to get out of that restaurant alive. People were unabashedly staring, and even though that normally doesn’t get to me, it did that night. After we paid, I all but threw the kids in the car, kissed my mom goodbye (and thanked her for always dealing with our chaos gracefully!), and schlepped the kids home. On the way, images of tucking both kids quickly and seamlessly into bed danced in my mind as I fantasized about the day coming to a close.
When we finally pulled into our driveway, I grabbed the baby and helped my daughter hop out of our SUV. As she walked towards our front steps, she turned to look at me, and in a sweet and thoughtful voice, said, “Mama, I had so much fun at dinner with you and Gigi. What was your favorite part?”
I am not often speechless, but for a second, I was.
It’s a question I’ve been asking her for a long time after an activity or outing– What was your favorite part? I love hearing her answers, and as she’s gotten older, she’s begun to ask me, too. I am a natural optimist, but in all honesty, in my exasperation, it was difficult to think of what I enjoyed about dinner that night. Between the screaming, crying, mess, side-eyes and whispers, I was at a loss.
As I looked at her face, which held genuine interest in what I would say, I realized: In her four-year-old mind, it was a great night. She went on to tell me about how she was happy sitting next to my mom in the booth at the restaurant, and loved having a doughnut with sprinkles. She enjoyed getting to eat french fries (her favorite), and having a cup of pink lemonade. She was with people she loves doing things she likes. Although she had some emotional moments, it didn’t detract from the goodness of the situation in her eyes. Not one bit.
I want to live that way.
She doesn’t see the world, or her circumstances, in black-and-white as I so often tend to do. I think, with age, we lose the ability to keep our eyes on the joys of where we are presently, especially if there are bumps (and tears) in the road. My impulse was to call the whole night a wash because of brief (although, at the time, they didn’t feel brief) moments of mayhem at a loud, bustling restaurant. I was more focused on my embarrassment and frustration than on the yummy food (that I didn’t have to cook!) we were enjoying, with the company of some of my favorite people.
Sure, there were Sesame Street-embellished bottoms wagging in the air and plenty of tears… but if my daughter can see past the things that were upsetting her, so can I, right? Why should I let the hard things about our night overrule the good? Why is that my tendency? I couldn’t stop thinking about how much her simple and sincere question rocked me in the middle of my aggravation. Its pointedness literally stopped me in my tracks. I know that permanent change is hard, but I hope that her question leads me to further consider how to live life focused on the goodness of my experiences instead of the extraneous noise and difficulties.
Rachel is a wife and mother living in Raleigh, North Carolina. She’s a fan of good coffee, wearer of gray t-shirts, and is constantly starting books she will never finish. Her family is her joy, and she loves to engage with other moms and dads on matters of parenting. Her blog posts have also been featured on the Today Show Parenting Blog and Scary Mommy.