If you can’t say something nice…don’t say nothing at all.
Folks, I’ve been T.H.I.N.K.-ing about Thumper lately. I loved the scene in Bambi in which Thumper’s mom asks him to remember what his father had told him that morning, to which Thumper replies, “If you can’t say something nice… don’t say nothing at all.”
Don’t we all learn this when we are young? Later, as parents, don’t we pass along the same advice to our children? I love the acronym that you see floating around the internet these days: Before you speak, T.H.I.N.K.: Is it True? Is it Helpful? Is it Inspiring? Is it Necessary? Is it Kind? Wouldn’t the world be a kinder, gentler place if everyone– children and adults- followed this advice?
The other day, I wrote a post in which I confessed two of my brilliantly backfired fibbers. Both of the fibbers occurred while I was nine months pregnant with Seuss and dealing with 3-year-old Leo’s challenging behaviors. That summer was the height of our under-arming out of public places phase. I cannot tell you how many times I would manage to wrangle 3-year-old Leo 19-month-old T and all of our pool gear into the car, drive to the facility, lug everyone through the building and out back to where the pool is located only to have Leo throw a tantrum of epic proportions that would necessitate my under-arming him the hell out of there, all the way back through the facility, and home. I don’t care how old and sentimental I get, I will never miss those tantrums. Leo’s tantrums were loud, long, wild, and all-too-often public. When the tantrums would happen at the pool, all the other moms would look away, in an attempt to be polite. They would rifle through their diaper bags or start up a quiet conversation with their children, pretending not to notice us. It was impossible not to notice us when this was happening, folks.
I’ll never forget this one morning at the pool. We had just arrived, it was excruciatingly hot and humid, and I was so tired. T was elated to be at the pool, but Leo threw an epic tantrum. All the moms did their pretending-not-to-see-it thing, while I tried to remain calm. “Leo,” I struggled, “Leo, if you don’t stop before I count to three, we will go home.” I was thinking to myself, “Why? Why? What am I doing wrong that this keeps happening?”
Defeated but determined not to convey it, I set my jaw, collected our belongings, and told my poor sweet T we would need to go home, again. Leo, who was now livid with me, upped the ante- no matter how loud and out of control he was he could always take it up a notch. The moms continued to look away as I struggled to lower my nine-month-pregnant-body down to his level (read: to the ground, where he was flailing) to pick up his violently thrashing little body. Once I had him, I grabbed T’s hand and our bags. I did all of this while trying to maintain a modicum of sanity.
“Excuse me!” I heard a female voice, from the opposite side of the pool, call out.
I hesitated. I was embarrassed. I was furious. I was trying, desperately, not to cry. I just wanted to go home. Reluctantly, I looked up and met her eyes.
The woman was walking toward us with gusto, arms swinging. “Bravo, mama! Bra-VO! No one here will say this to you,” she said, as she gestured toward my silent audience with one hand, “but you are doing the right thing. You’ve got this. Good job, Mom!” And then, she clapped. She applauded my parenting.
I thanked her. She had validated my parenting when I was questioning it and feeling small. The tears welled, “Thank you” I repeated, mouthing the words this time, for my words were now gone. She nodded, and then turned on her heels and walked away.
And, with that, I left the pool with my still-thrashing three year old under my arm. When I finally made it back to my car and managed to get the kids clipped into their car seats, I put my head to the steering wheel and did the ugly pregnancy cry thing. I realized that I had been feeling quite alone with this spirited, strong-willed three-year-old. On this day, I felt supported and I was extremely grateful for that woman’s words that morning. I wanted to go back, to thank her properly, but Leo was still thrashing in his seat and I was far too emotional to be coherent.
Do you know how often I think of that stranger and her kindness? It has been four years but I think of her all the time. I think of her when I’m in Target and someone’s kid is acting up. I think of her when I am checking out at the grocery store and the mom with four whiny kids in tow is behind me; I see that look in the mom’s eyes and I know she’s struggling to hold it all together. I think of her every single time I see an insanely pregnant woman managing toddlers. I think of her when the frazzled looking mom in the minivan cuts me off and then apologizes with a wave. I can see the ruckus going on in her backseat- I know how loud it must be in her car, how difficult it must be to think, let alone drive. I think of her when I see a mom whisking her crying child out of mass on Sundays. I think of her every time I see a child pitching a fit, or a mother who looks exhausted.
We have all been there, haven’t we? And some of us have been there more than others.
Do you know what? I always say something now. Always. And, if I can’t say something due to distance or whatnot, I make eye contact and I send that mom a genuine you’ve got this smile. I know how much a kind word can mean in such a dark moment, and I know that kind words are contagious- they can alter behavior.
I don’t know where the woman from the pool is today. I wish I could thank her. I wish I could let her know that the words she spoke to me on that day changed me, and my behavior, forever. I’ve little doubt that, without her, I’d be fumbling in my diaper bag trying to be polite and not notice the elephant in the room. Now, I know better.
I’d like to add to add an addendum to Thumper’s words, and to the T.H.I.N.K acronym: If you are thinking kind thoughts, always share them. Think about how lovely this world would be if everyone poured forth all the kind thoughts and observations that they keep in the silence of their minds.
This morning, I will leave you not with a quote, but with an entire poem. I’d like to thank Free Range Learning for sharing it with me yesterday, while we were discussing this amazing piece by Lauren Casper, for it captures my feelings so eloquently:
by Alison Luterman
I stalked her
in the grocery store: her crown
of snowy braids held in place by a great silver clip,
her erect bearing, radiating tenderness,
the way she placed yogurt and avocadoes in her basket,
beaming peach like the North Star.
I wanted to ask “What aisle did you find
your serenity in, do you know
how to be married for fifty years, or how to live alone,
excuse me for interrupting, but you seem to possess
some knowledge that makes the earth burn and turn on its axis—”
but we don’t request such things from strangers
nowadays. So I said, “I love your hair.”