We were the last family in the parking lot after an afternoon activity recently, and I was struggling (by myself) to load up my five rambuctious and/or whiny and/or hungry children into our 12-passenger van.
I rolled my double stroller to the back first, and decided to just let my wiggly two-year-old climb into the van through the back doors. I figured he’d get a kick out of walking all the way through to his carseat, where I’d help buckle him in when I walked around with the baby in a few seconds. I then took out my one-year-old and walked around to the side of the van to put him into his car seat. All the while, my three older kids were crawling all over the inside of the van, giggling and goofing off and not getting into their seats like I’d asked them to. My precious one-year-old decided to really ramp up and ride the struggle bus as I walked around. I had climbed all the way into the van to force my now-flailing one-year-old’s arms into his car seat harness when I spotted an older gentleman walking briskly around the van towards me. He was frowning. My heart sank. I backed out of the van awkwardly and put my crying one-year-old on my hip again.
“Is everything OK, sir?” I asked politely (kind of loudly because of all the noise).
“Well, if you heard me honking,” said the man, indignantly, “it’s because there is a child standing in the back of your van with the doors open, and he could fall out! I also watched him repeatedly almost get his fingers stuck in door–he could lose a finger, miss!”
I whirled around in confusion to see that two-year-old Roman was grinning mischievously at me…still in the very back of the van.
My mom once told me that in a lot of situations, saying the exact opposite of you really want to say is usually the right thing to say.
By the grace of God–and don’t I know it–I somehow watched myself say the opposite of whatever I really wanted to say. (I still don’t know if the “opposite” of what I actually said would have been an irritated “Are you serious?!” or just me bursting into tears.)
“Sir,” I replied, “Oh my goodness. I’m glad you noticed that. I honestly didn’t hear you honking at all with all the noise of the kids. I just really have my hands full today and I wasn’t thinking much about safety when I let my two-year-old climb in the van from the back. You’re absolutely right. He could get hurt because he’s not being supervised. I so appreciate that you cared enough to be concerned. I need to be better about how I get everyone into the car–maybe put the babies right in their car seats one by one first next time. It takes a village, for sure. There will probably be a few times in my children’s lives when a stranger just like you brings something to my attention that prevents an accident or maybe saves a life. Thank you.”
See? It was the Holy Spirit, all the way.
I think that man was truly surprised by my response. I could tell he had marched over ready for an altercation, and hadn’t expected a frazzled but sincere and respectful youngish mom. He and I somehow exchanged a few more pleasant words over the racket of my kids, who never quieted down. He actually left with a smile on his face and tipped his hat to me as he drove out of the parking lot.
This job can be so humbling in surprising ways.
I have to remind myself in those kinds of hard moments that my village is more than friends I pick and loved ones I love; there are strangers in it, too. Not only that, but I’ve got to remember that my village isn’t filled with people just like me. I can’t handpick everybody I’d like to have there.
The people in my village may not help me out just the way I would like to be helped out, or say things the way I’d like them to be said so that I won’t feel guilty or embarrassed or uncomfortable. The people in my village aren’t always going to have something helpful to say.
The trick–the grace–is to see through people’s poor execution and my own hackles to the genuine seeds of love and concern for my family’s well being.
Whew! This stuff is hard.
I would much prefer to never be challenged to respond “well” to being fussed at, judged, or informed that my children are being too loud, obnoxious, or unsafe.
But I wonder if when I get to Heaven, He will show me that one of the most irritating, poorly-executed interferences of someone else later saved a child’s life. Or mine.
If we can try to show the Dear Lord a good will and ask Him for resignation to the crosses He sends or permits to come our way, we may be sure that sooner or later they will turn out to have been many blessings in disguise.” -Blessed Solanus Casey
It does take a village to raise a family, in a certain sense. It’s pretty obvious to me right now that I need more eyes and ears, for one. But I’m also learning that sometimes the wisdom and experience of others is still raising me.