Sunday, April 13, 2014

To the Woman at Jim's Restaurant

Dear Woman at Jim's Restaurant on IH-10 This Morning, Palm Sunday:

Hi there.  You don't know me, even though you think you might, after witnessing what was definitely not one of my finest hours as a parent.

I'm the person for whom you left a note.  The note I never read, because I have the greatest husband in the world that would do anything to protect me.

I just have a few questions for you, despite the unlikelihood that you'll see this.

When you placed your handwritten, back-of-the-receipt note next to me, what exactly did you think you would accomplish?

Did you expect I might be mad?
Did you think you'd make me cry?
Did you just want to vent?

Were you thinking, "Maybe if I let this woman know what a horrible mother she is, I'll be doing the world a favor."

Were you thinking, "If I point out this mother's mistakes, maybe she'll change her ways.  Surely she can take some criticism from a complete stranger about her parenting skills."

Were you thinking, "Those children are just angels.  Why would that terrible ogre of a mother be angry or frustrated in the least?  Poor little things. They don't deserve this."

Were you thinking, "You know, it's Palm Sunday...I think I'll show what a good Christian I am by letting this woman know her parenting tactics are too brutal for those innocent kids."

Were you thinking, "There's no way that mother could be having a really bad morning in any way.  I really should not cut her any slack, whatsoever."

Were you thinking, "I really want to make sure that woman cries today."

Were you thinking, "I hope this reinforces any self-doubts she already has."

Were you thinking, "I hope this woman understands that not all women support her role."

Were you thinking, "Children like that shouldn't be in restaurants if parents can't handle them."

Were you thinking, "What is wrong with your kid?"

Were you thinking, "What is wrong with that mother?"

I wondered all of these things after finding out you left a note for me.

A note that my husband saw you slip stealthily beside me before you walked out of the restaurant.  He reached over and took it while I obliviously attempted to calm my 6 year old daughter Paige--and myself--down after she fell on the floor in the restaurant.  This, after a morning of Easter Bunny pictures and many wrong decisions according to Phoebe, our autistic 8 year old daughter.  Nothing was right for her that morning--lots of stimming, yelling, and tears.  We met friends at Jim's, a local favorite coffee shop/restaurant.  It was already loud and busy when we got there; Paige's fall just added to the chaos.  She slipped on spilled liquid and down she went, in a very narrow area on the way to our table. Paige couldn't hear me because she was crying after she fell, so I picked her up to her feet and told her to walk. "Come on, Paige.  Come on.  You're okay.  We will look at it when we sit down.  Let's go."  Phoebe was in between us, not moving.  "Phoebe.  Phoebe!  GO!  Let's go." (ensue yelling from Phoebe) All of this rough communication was transpiring in the area where the waitstaff come out of the kitchen so I was in a bit of a panic--I needed to get my kids to move to get out of their way.  Yet every single time I attempted to walk, I ended up stepping on Paige's toe because she would NOT move.  So, we finally get to the table, and I was just about at the end of my rope.  Yes, I was short with them.  Yes, I was probably a little loud.  Yes, I was frustrated.  All I wanted to do was sit down. We got Paige calmed down, inspected her leg, talked to the waitress about her slipping, got Phoebe settled, crayons were opened, juice in front of them, and I found myself checking Paige's leg again to see if there's swelling, talking to her about watching her step.  That's when you swooped in with your note.

I saw Matt reading something, perhaps a receipt? That's what it looked like. He was frowning.

I noticed handwriting on the back of it and asked, "What's that?"

He looked up at me, closed the paper up, and said matter-of-factly, "You don't need to know."

I said, "What? What is it?"

He replied, "It's a note.  I saw a lady put it next to you before she walked out.  You don't want to read it."

He then tore it up into tiny pieces and threw it on the floor.  He was visibly disgusted.

My heart sank.  I think I knew what it said, even though I really didn't know.  For a second, though--just a little second--I thought maybe some wonderfully understanding Mom might have written me a note of encouragement...a little, "Hang in there, it will get better." because you know on days like this we could all use one.

No.

You spanked me.

I'm 43 years old, mother of two, a wife...and I got spanked by you.  Hard.

All my insecurities about who I am as a mother--well, really, as a person--came hurtling toward the surface of my very soul.  In ten seconds--the ten seconds it took me to even process what had just happened--without even reading your words--my confidence about my mothering skills (including the ones necessary to raise an autistic child) were shattered.  As much as I hated myself for doing it, I began to tear up.  Right there in Jim's.  I wonder...is that was what you wanted, too?

Matt reached over and took my hand.  He smiled at me.  He said, "You don't need to worry about that."  His love for me was so great, even at that moment when I was perhaps acting very ugly, that he would not let me see your hurtful words.  This made me even more sad, because I knew he was the one that had to read it.  He knew what you wrote.  It hurt him, too.  Did you want that as well?

As we sat in silence, simmering and processing, I realized that maybe this was a lesson for me for Palm Sunday.  Jesus went into Jerusalem, and even though there were so many people that loved and supported him, showing their appreciation with palms laid down as he entered the city, there were others that were not so loving, and not so supportive--and in the end, these people cheered his death.  But Jesus remained steadfast and loved them, anyway.  He loved them anyway. It was a lesson in forgiveness for me.

So, Woman at Jim's Restaurant, while I don't really want to "thank you",  I feel I should.  I must also let you know that despite your questionable intentions, you did not make me sad for very long. Because as we ate our breakfast and talked with our friends and our kids, our smiles came back and soon enough we were laughing. Additionally, I forgive you.  I forgive whatever it was you were trying to do.  I will never know what that was specifically, but I have an idea. You are forgiven.  And may you forgive anyone that chooses to criticize your parenting on any day, not just one of your bad ones.

God bless you.

Sincerely,

Polly McDonald