Confession time: I did something I regret yesterday.
I walked into Chick-fil-A with my two preschool-aged boys, as we often do when we need to get out of the house but I can’t really think of anything to do. This day, in particular, we had actually made it to the gym for my yoga class (20 minutes late, but hey, we made it!). I’m 5 1/2 months pregnant, but I look 8 months, and of course not even spandex will fit, so I was wearing my husband’s gym shorts and one of his t-shirts. My swollen calves were on brilliant display between the oversized shorts and my bright purple tennis shoes, which are the only shoes I can stand to wear for more than 30 minutes at a time these days. My hair was frizzy from being curly the day before and not having time to wash it that morning, so I threw it up in a bun atop my make-up-less face. Simply stated, I was straight up People of Walmart* material.
*It should be noted that I shop at Walmart all the time, and I love it because no one freaking cares. That’s actually quite a beautiful thing. I’ll write more about that one day…
But I didn’t go to Walmart; I went to the fancy gym among all the fit people with their spandex and weight racks, then to Chick-fil-A – the classiest of all fast-food establishments – where the folks asking “would you like waffle fries with that?” look more put together than I do, and they politely smile and tell me it’s their pleasure to serve my sloppy self and kids who obviously dressed themselves.
My boys immediately ran to the play area, as is their custom, while I got our food. Luckily I scored the perfect seat, the booth right next to the play area window, so I can eat my food – still hot! – while the kids play. I sat down and watched through the window, content to go ahead eating my chicken strips (and side salad… hey, I tried) without letting the kids know their meal was also available.
That’s when I saw her: a mom sitting in the play area watching her child – another woman who, like myself, didn’t seem much concerned with impressing anyone. She was wearing cotton shorts and a t-shirt with flip flops, but what I really noticed was her hair. It was dyed different shades of purple and blue, but by now it was badly faded. Usually when I see someone with wild colored hair I get excited and compliment them, a simple courtesy that meant a lot to me when I was sporting pink locks a couple of years ago. For some reason, this day, I didn’t. Instead, my only thought was, Sheesh, that color looks awful when it’s faded like that. You can’t wear that color if you’re not going to keep it up.
Then I noticed her daughter, just a toddler. I started to jump up and remind my rambunctious boys to be careful around the baby, like I usually do when there are itty bitties in the play area with them. But I stopped and watched this little girl for the worst possible reason: she looked different. She had a large bump on her forehead, unlike anything I had ever seen. I glanced at her often, trying to hide my curiosity, wondering if it was a pump knot like my kids have gotten or… gasp! What if this child is abused? Now, truthfully, this bump was unusual, but why did I jump to that conclusion?
I finally got up from my seat and went to tell my boys to be careful. When I got in, I walked right past the other woman without even looking at her. My 4-year-old was standing next to the little girl, and he reached out to touch the bump on her head. He giggled, “Look, Mommy! She has a BIIIGGG bump, and it’s squishy!”
I was mortified that he said this right in front of her mother, and I got nervous about how to respond. I quietly replied, “Yes, she does, but it’s not nice to touch people’s faces. You need to leave her alone and watch out because she’s small.”
“But look how big…” he interrupted, “and it’s squishy! That feels weird!” He and my other son snickered.
My back was to the mother, so I couldn’t gauge if I needed to reprimand him or calmly say something about how our differences make us special, but it didn’t matter. No words would come out of my mouth. I just stared at him until finally the mother sweetly chimed in, “Yeah, it does feel funny! It’s actually a birthmark, and it should go away by the time she’s your age.”
Now I knew I had failed Sensitive Mothering 101. Not only did I not help the situation of my own children teasing someone else for being different, but I had actually assumed the mark was a sign of abuse, and honestly, it was because of the mother’s appearance.
This mother and her daughter eventually moved to the booth behind mine when they got their food. As I overheard snippets of their mealtime conversation, I determined that this woman is a loving, attentive, good parent. Maybe she was overly sweet because she sensed my judgment and wanted me to hear, but really, does that matter? She had every right to make me feel like the slug I was.
Please know, this scenario is not normal for me. I am generally very friendly and will make conversation with anyone nearby, especially someone who looks like she did. I am often intimidated by moms who are wearing clothes and makeup and have their hair fixed when they run errands with the kids, so I reach out to the care-free moms that do what they gotta do to get out the door. Solidarity, girl.
Honestly, I don’t know why this day was different from others. Probably it’s because I have been depressed lately, feeling frustrated that my constant fatigue keeps me from being productive, and annoyed that none of my clothes – even maternity clothes – fit. I don’t feel like myself, which is pretty much a defining characteristic of pregnancy in general, but for some reason it has gotten me particularly down as of late. I could write a book on that, but the point is that I was thinking selfishly.
Now, I’m not saying depression is inherently selfish – I have walked that road and fought that battle, and if you are there, know that you are not a bad person and you certainly are not alone. But being depressed makes us feel not ourselves, and that can lead to thinking selfishly when generally you wouldn’t. Selfish thinking is giving so much attention to yourself and your own issues that you don’t value or respect other people. Yes, judging others is really about being selfish – putting someone else down to somehow lift ourselves up. The depression I have been walking through caused me to look at another mom who is probably a lot like me and we should totally be friends and thinking she doesn’t care about her own appearance, so she must not care about her child.
Geez, I hope no one around me thinks that way, because I am a hot mess.
In Romans, the Apostle Paul reminds us how selfish thinking leads us to devalue those around us:
“Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.”
He goes on to talk about how the body has many parts, and as followers of Jesus, we are the Body of Christ. Each part serves its own purpose, and to value one over the other because of the way it looks or the dignity of its job is missing the point of the organic function. When we look at those around us and put them down, we are missing the point. We can’t evaluate the fulfillment of our purpose based on the way we look or dress or what color our hair is. What matters is if I am using the gifts God has given me and living according to the faith he has given me. If I am doing those things, the only thing I will feel for those around me is love and compassion. Rather than judging that mom or hurrying out of the room after my 4-year-old acted like a 4-year-old, I should have sat down on the bench next to her and asked about her daughter, her family, and even tell her about the time I had pink hair.
After all, I’m used to eating my food cold.