“I am going to close my eyes and pretend you didn’t say that and give you a chance to make it right.” It rolled off of my brain’s tongue like spit up from a reflux-y infant’s mouth. No, I didn’t say it out loud. And this time, I didn’t say it to my kids. But fantasizing about giving this go-to ode from my parenting playlist to a Starbucks employee was SO FREEING.
The scene: a location in a neighborhood with more children than ants. The situation: a mom hopes to connect with her 5-year-old despite the company of her 1-year-old brother. The crime: saying they had “just the one” highchair, which was occupied.
What? This is Chicago, not an off-the-grid mountain town. All I could see was that unassuming employee doing the Dr. Evil simultaneous smile and snicker while lighting a match to my best laid plans. Plans I know are necessary, like highchairs, to make quality time with each of my three kids a reality. Instead, precious moments I hoped to steal with my spirited middle child would now be stolen by her squirmy brother.
No time to mourn the impossibility of plan B, I pictured myself delivering a line once exclusively reserved for my offspring to someone voting aged+. Sweet mental meditation! The process proved such an effective mood catalyst that I became addicted to casting adults under the silent spell of my most used mom-isms:
To the person I overhear ordering with, “Give me the hummus platter,” or “I’ll take the pinot.”: “How about a little please and thank you!?!” OR “Why don’t you try again, in the form of a question.”
To the coworker who often speaks from or acts on emotions before pausing to think: “Was that a (30-60)-year-old choice?”
To the preschool teachers whose thinly veiled expressions guilt me about being late or forgetting the library books, again: “Can you cut me some slack, please?”
To the grocery store worker who asks while I’m juggling a cart full of kids and food, a bag on each shoulder, a kid in one arm and a work call on the other, if I want a bag for my milk: “I hope you are selling limbs, because I am not an octopus.” And, for the record, yes I want my milk in a bag. Every. Single. Time.
To gossipy moms: “No one likes a tattletale.”
To the road rager: “Two wrongs don’t make a right!” or maybe, “I can only hear your best voice and that does NOT sound like your best voice.”
To the boss who says daily, “I know your plate is really full but I need you to…”: “What you’re saying is important to me, but I simply cannot listen right now.”
To the health insurance representative who will not provide any of the codes I need and cannot answer my questions (and cannot tell me who can) but is pleased to “educate” me on a whole host of other topics: “First things first!”
To the friend who spends too much time texting at happy hour: “Eye contact, please.”
To the customer service rep who acts like they cannot hear me when I ask to speak to their manager: “I was not born yesterday.”
To the broken record colleague or friend who vents for months but takes no action: “Instead of complaining, let’s focus on what we CAN do.”
To the doctor who wants to explore every wait-it-out scenario before refilling my psych meds or prescribing an antibiotic for the fifth bug I’ve caught from my kids this season: “Can you see that I am struggling?”
To the way too well read friend or parent who is a frequent giver of unsolicited advice: “Who are you in charge of?”
I recognize actually saying these things would be rude and many of these people are just doing their job. I do believe everyone is fighting their own mostly unseen battles, including myself, as evidenced by the contents of this piece. My intent has been get-yourself-through-the-day comic relief. And, it has worked.
An outcome I didn’t expect was an increase in positive and supportive things I’d typically share with my kids, friends and family being directed towards complete strangers, more often.
To the mom mirroring my muffin top tucking pants maneuver: “You are beautiful, as is.”
To the child sitting alone on the field trip school bus: “You will find your people, I promise. It just might take some time.”
To the mentally ill or homeless people we see on daily walks and commutes: “You are loved, no matter what.”
To the person on public transport who looks flat exhausted: “Be kind to yourself. Tomorrow is a new day.”
This list could go on for pages. It is not about shaking things off for everyday self-preservation but about connection. Maybe I am craving connection in our increasingly disconnected world. And, maybe someday I’ll have the guts to let a stranger in on one of these private prayers. Until then, I will laugh and cry along with the voices in my head.