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The Power of the Smile and Nod

I have since discovered and have taken great comfort in the simple, gentle smiles and nods I get from those people who understand -- the fellow moms, dads, aunts, uncles, grandparents, nannies, teachers--who know what it's like to deal with children.
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Cute little toddler boy with curly hair getting help from his mother as he plays outdoors with bubbles.
Cute little toddler boy with curly hair getting help from his mother as he plays outdoors with bubbles.

We were on the verge of catastrophe.

My 3-year-old daughter and I were having lunch in a brewery. (Don't judge. For the record, other people had their kids there, too.) She had dropped a quarter-sized plastic dog that she had just earned with her good behavior behind the low wall that separated our table from the area of brewing equipment. It had only been minutes since the dog had been freed from its (deadly) plastic wrapper, but sometimes that's all it takes to fall in love with your favorite toy... of that day.

I assumed it was gone forever, but told her I would see what I could do. Seconds passed that felt like hours. I hadn't seen anyone back there and figured it was an off-limits area. My window of preventing meltdown city was closing rapidly. I began planning in my head how I was going to break the news that she would never see that precious little mutt again, while also trying to tie into my speech the importance of eating all of her lunch.

Always, I'm multi-tasking.

Suddenly, her face lit up. Lo and behold, there was a group of beer-toting adults who were taking a tour of the brewery shuffling into the restricted area -- the very area where the poor dog lay. Lonely, cold, and abandoned.

Am I really going, to do this? I thought to myself. Am I really going to interrupt this guy's awesome brewery tour to retrieve a child's toy that he is probably going to need a magnifying glass and a helmet with a flashlight to find?

Sigh. Yes, yes I am.

"Excuse me, sir," I said smiling, "but there is a small dog--"

Before I had even finished, he had bent over, picked up the dog, and delivered it safely into the hands of my grateful child. Then he smiled, nodded, and said six words that have brought me so much comfort over the past three and a half-years,

"I have a two-year-old."

It's like a secret code because what he really said was this: "Don't worry about it. I get it. If I had not found that dog, she would have cried. Loudly. You would have felt guilty and embarrassed for causing a scene in a restaurant and ruining other people's dining experiences. Your lunch would have been ruined, your drive home would have been miserable, your day would have been a loss. What was supposed to be a sweet memory of you and your daughter spending quality time together would have become an absolute nightmare. I can give up a few seconds of listening to the cool man-bun brewer dude to help you out... because I know you would do the same for me. We are in this together."

I thought back to a few other occasions where other parents helped me to parent. There was that time we were at the public pool in a state park. It was time to leave, but my toddler was going to make sure that everyone at that park--and in the state for that matter -- knew that she did not want to go. A tantrum of all tantrums ensued. As my husband carried her out kicking and screaming, I felt the need to yell to everyone, "SHE'S TWO! SHE'S ONLY TWO!"

Then there was the time we had to stop to use the potty at a gas station, and my toddler refused to get back in the car because we would not buy her a $5 princess castle that had been on display. (Seriously, even at a gas station?? Is no place safe from toys??) That time, I felt the need to assure everyone in the parking lot, "SHE DOESN'T MEAN IT! SHE IS, IN FACT, OUR CHILD! WE ARE NOT--I REPEAT, NOT--KIDNAPPING HER!"

I'm sure there were people shaking their heads in disgust, annoyed that we had disturbed the peace in both places; but there were the other faces I saw who were giving me that same smile and nod as the man in the restaurant.

Girlfriend, we get it. This, too, shall pass. We are not judging you. You got this! And good for you for not giving in and buying that toy. Seriously, even at the gas station??

This past Christmas, we took both of our children to a light show in Philadelphia that attracts hundreds of people per showing. It gets very crowded. VERY crowded. She did not mean it, but my daughter stepped on the fingers of a woman who was sitting in front on her, but leaning backwards.

"Can you watch yourself?!" said the woman very sternly to my daughter.

It took everything in me not to unleash my inner mama-bear on the woman, but I kept it together. I instructed my daughter to apologize to her, then simply said to the woman, "She's three."

Almost immediately, the woman's face turned bright red and she was quite obviously mortified.

"Oh Lord," she said, "I forgot! My kids are so grown now, and I forgot what it was like! You don't have to apologize, sweetheart! You enjoy the show! I forgot, I can't believe I forgot!"

Children are difficult. What they decide to lose it over never makes much sense, and that is not something you can ever stop and explain to people when you are forced to parent in public. From the outside, it must look like the children are a bunch of brats and the parents have no control over their little monsters. I'll admit -- I had those very thoughts before I had kids.

But I have since discovered and have taken great comfort in the simple, gentle smiles and nods I get from those people who understand -- the fellow moms, dads, aunts, uncles, grandparents, nannies, teachers--who know what it's like to deal with children. I know they are not judging me, but are instead cheering me on, encouraging me, comforting me, and not letting me feel like a complete failure.

So in thirty years, when I see a child sobbing uncontrollably because he wanted a blue crayon but got a red; or because his ice cream cone is disappearing because he is eating it; or because her opened umbrella is not making it rain; or because her eggs are not eggy enough -- may I not forget. May I, instead, offer a comforting smile and nod, and say, "I once had a two-year-old."