We’re at the grocery store, and I know you from around town. Maybe we have mutual friends but we’ve never hung-out together, me a gaggle-deep amidst my 4 kids, you alone with a yoga mat slung over your shoulder. You look startled by us, almost like I’m doing something wrong, but you can’t put your finger on it. I simultaneously disregard a child’s pleas to purchase Cheetos, while gently reminding another to ‘make room for the world around them,’ as an old woman squeezes past our budding shopping cart. I examine the contents on a label of jelly, and still manage to talk to you. I know it’s a lot, but you could have just pretended not to see us. Instead you ask, “Whoa, is it a school holiday or something?” One eyebrow rises, as you survey my brood. “Right?!” I say, chuckling, as if no one has ever asked me that one before, “They are homeschooled,“ and then under my breath, “they NEVER leave.” You laugh and acknowledge my response to be inclusive with your own judgment. Now we can talk. “Shopping with Mom is actually a highlight in our homeschooling. They get to talk to strangers and even practice their conversation skills with humans of different ages,” (even the ones that don’t know that public school is a relatively new institution in the scheme of things). One of my middles steps on the shopping cart, causing one side to teeter and slam back down as she jumps off, startled. I put a hand on her shoulder and bring my gaze to hers, “I asked you to stay off the cart. Please don’t climb on there again.” This time you inspect us with two raised eyebrows and awkwardly move past while saying, “Okay… well, see you guys around.”
I push on towards the produce, and remember a time when I wanted approval for my perfectly behaved kids. But they aren’t perfect. And they aren’t the only ones having a learning experience at the store. Each time I feel defeated by a less than perfect scenario with my kids, I have an opportunity to make choices. It used to be that I would chastise them in the heat of my humiliation. Later I reprimanded and then apologized for getting upset or raising my voice. After a while, I was able to talk to them without referencing any spectator’s judgments. I confidently know now that I can use my words with them just like I ask them to use their words with the world around them; politely. I’m a living example of the people I hope they will be. That doesn’t mean that I’m always doing it right. I just know how to embrace failure and make that part of the brilliant lesson (that we’re all having) at the grocery store.