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Challenge: Finding Your Village

The Sweetest Words a Parent Can Hear

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I’ve cut up many a hot dog in my short three-and-a-half years of being a mom.

I know how each of my children likes them prepared, who needs ketchup, and who’d rather just eat the bun.

That’s why it took me by surprise when I looked over and noticed my son gagging on one. This wasn’t just a little “Take a deep breath, chew it up, and let’s try it again” kind of deal. He was actively choking and still strapped in his highchair at the barbecue restaurant.

It is at this point in the story I should tell you when it comes to fight or flight, I prefer to take a third approach: freeze.

I looked across the hushpuppies at my husband, who was hurriedly unbuckling straps. Everything was a blur, as if Zack Morris had done the “Timeout” hand signal on Saved By the Bell.

Then, Zack did the “Time In” motion and life resumed.

I grabbed my son from my husband and conjured up everything I thought I’d forgotten about dislodging from tiny food from a tiny throat. The hot dog came out. So did the rest of the supper. And lunch before that. And breakfast.

I smelled it before I felt the warmth on my leg, and I immediately thought of the sweet family to my left who had sat just down seconds earlier. They hadn’t even gotten their food yet, and we were putting on quite the putrid pre-show.

I blotted my jeans with a handful of tiny napkins and glanced in their direction, ready for the glares. Instead, I met the eyes of a woman who’d been there.

She pointed across the table. “I’ve got four. I’ve seen it, honey,” she said with a laugh. “Doesn’t phase me a bit.” I wanted to reach across the aisle and hug her neck, but I smiled and gave an embarrassed laugh. We finished cleaning up, boxed up what was still edible, and headed home.

As we rode away in stunned silence, my thoughts raced back to a time two years ago.

My daughter and I were in a local coffee shop, rubbing elbows with techies and businessmen typing away on their lunch break. She was just starting to walk and every time I briefly looked down or away, she was off, always approaching this same older gentleman in a dark suit.

He was plugged into his laptop and looked every bit the part of Very Busy Professional. But she tottered up to him anyway, gave him her little grin and found her way back to me.

After about five times, I walked up to the man myself.

“I’m so sorry,” I apologized, like moms tend to do. “She’s just learning how to walk.”

He looked up and then back down. He took off his glasses. “Oh, she’s not bothering me,” he replied. “I have one of my own. She’s 25 now. I think your daughter can tell.”

He looked down at the floor for a long time, gave me a kind smile, and got back to work.

When we arrived home that night from the barbecue restaurant, we cleaned up our son. His clothes went into the laundry room and he went directly into the bath. As I scrubbed him, I thought about the understanding woman and that patient man, and I scribbled a question on the back of a Mickey Mouse coloring sheet.

What if we were real? What if we didn’t try to hide, or apologize for, what makes us human? What if we embraced vomit and interruptions and messiness and uncombed hair with a little more grace and a little less judgment?

What if we all changed our Facebook picture away from that one great angle? Instead, what if we replaced it with our embarrassing passport photo or an image of us in all our fledgling middle school glory, oversized sweaters and stirrup pants included (just me?)?

Chances are, we’d be ashamed for a solid three seconds, until we saw that everyone else was as uncomfortable and clumsy as we were.

Because they are. We are.

We filter our Instagrams and delete perfectly good pictures of our children off our phones because we don’t look right in them. We edit our statuses to sound polished, then read them again to make sure they sound good the second we press “post.”

I read somewhere how strange it would be if our own mothers handled parenthood like most of us Millennial Moms do. If there were always a selfie cam in our face, staged play dates, and forced scenes of joviality.

I spent my childhood for the most part disconnected. Dial-up was still finding its footing and car phones were the closest thing we had to mobile communication. Save for those times I needed to plug in my handy Microsoft Encarta CD to research some homework, I wasn’t behind a screen at all. I especially wasn’t behind my mama’s screen.

Maybe it’s late and maybe I’m tired after a long day of being “on” but I’m here to tell you I’ll take five minutes of honest conversation in my stained leggings and bare face over any forced interaction or pretentious parenting any day.

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses. Give me your frizzy hair, your under-eye bags and your breakouts. Give me your soft, life-giving belly and those thighs that don’t gap. Give me your awkwardness, your embarrassment, your deeply held anxiety.

And I’ll take your hand and tell you, “I’ve seen it, honey. Doesn’t phase me a bit.”

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