A few months ago, after picking my four-year-old up from school, we stopped at Aldi to get some shopping done. I should have known it would be a disaster from the minute I picked her up. She was exhausted, hungry, thirsty, and probably had to go potty. But, we desperately needed groceries.
I knew a meltdown was coming. I could feel it. I tried to buy some time and make it a less stressful shopping trip by letting her walk (Less stressful? Why did I think that would be less stressful??) and reminded her that she had three strikes before she would need to sit in the cart.
She was all over the store, running into people and making her own decisions on what groceries she felt were mandatory. She tossed in some chocolate candies. I took them out. She grabbed a box of donut holes. I took them out. She got all bug-eyed and goofy and then grabbed a box of wine to toss in the cart.
I kept that in.
When we turned the corner, I had had enough. She was on her last strike, and she knew it. I told her the time to sit in the cart has come, and she lost her privilege to walk solo, that is when the impending meltdown ensued.
She kicked. She screamed. She punched me and spat in my face. She scratched her arms out of frustration until her nails drew blood. With all the patience I could muster, I whispered instructions into her ear, “You need to take a deep breath. We can’t have you hurting yourself or me. I won’t let you hurt us. You are safe. Take a deep breath. Try to calm down.”
I recited all the gentle parenting words I could think of and plastered a calm smile on my face while attempting to hide the mortified blush that was creeping up into my cheeks. I rubbed her back and kept reminding her to breathe deeply while I rushed through the final aisles. I avoided making eye contact with everyone. I knew what they were all thinking. I noticed a woman with cool glasses, and I was sure that I was completely ruining her day.
I probably should have just ditched the cart and left, but I didn’t want to leave all that for the staff to put away after me.
Plus, at this point, I really needed that wine.
I finally reached the register to check out. The cashier couldn’t even hear me over my darling daughters’ incessant screaming. It was completely embarrassing. Getting her into her carseat was even worse, as you can imagine. I felt eyes on me, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the parking lot observers were placing bets on who would win this battle – me, or the preschooler.
I did everything I could to just stay calm.
After getting her buckled, I plopped myself into the driver’s seat and took a deep breath. I had started to text my husband an “FML” message when someone knocked on my passenger window. It was the woman with the cool glasses.
I thought, “Oh crap. I did ruin her day, and now she’s come to tell me all about it.”
Cool glasses lady slapped a Starbucks gift card on my window, pointed to me, and nodded while mouthing, “FOR YOU.”
I covered my face with my hands and burst into tears. I sobbed uncontrollably as I released all of the stress and tension I had been holding in for that whole shopping trip. I jumped out of the car and was met with the warmest hug, and most kind and caring face.
I kept crying and somehow sputtered the words, “I’m so embarrassed!” into her tear stained shoulder.
She looked me dead in the eyes and said, “There’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Kids are really hard.”
I blubbered, “I think everyone inside thinks I’m a horrible mom!”
She held my shoulders and said, “Well you’re not. And not everyone does, because *I* think you’re an awesome mom and you deserve this. Go get yourself a treat.”
I asked if I could give her another hug and we held each other again. Two complete strangers, embracing there in the Aldi parking lot.
When I got home, I wrote this story out and posted it as a Facebook status. It quickly received over a thousand “likes,” and people from everywhere shared it. Then, one of the local radio stations shared the story on their program. I wondered if cool glasses lady knew she had gone semi-viral.
It inspired a lot of people to start carrying gift cards on them and pay it forward to a person who seemed to be having a hard day.
A few weeks ago, my girl had another meltdown at The Building For Kids. This was not surprising to me; she has these struggles every day. I sat down next to her and rubbed her back. I told her she was safe, and that I was here when she wanted to speak to me calmly and non-violently.
A sweet, young mom came up to me and told me that I was doing a great job. She said, “This is really hard, but you’re doing a great job with her, and you’re saying and doing all the right things. Kids are just hard.”
You’ll never guess what she did next.
She handed me a Starbucks gift card and told me to treat myself because I deserved it.
My mind was blown. How on Earth could this happen to me twice, in a matter of months?! Now, I have a Cool Glasses Lady and a Building For Kids Lady in my life.
There are two women out there encouraging people and arming them with much-needed coffees. Two women doing simple things to make Appleton a better, more loving place. And every time those two women react to others the way they did to me, they spread a ripple of kindness out further and further.
They are out there in our community, letting other moms know they are doing a good job when it can be tempting to share our disapproval with each other instead.
About a month or so ago, I ran into cool glasses lady at Woodman’s. We both started crying as we saw each other. She shared with me that she had felt frustrated with herself that she hadn’t said enough to encourage me when she saw me that day at Aldi. She said she left feeling like she had wanted to say more.
I assured her she had done exactly what I needed at that moment. I needed to know I was doing an okay job. I needed to know that not everyone was silently, or outwardly, judging me as I assumed.
We hugged again and exchanged names this time. Then we parted ways with a wish that we’ll meet again.
I don’t know if Building For Kids Lady somehow saw the story I shared about Cool Glasses Lady and if it inspired her to encourage others in a time of need and to be ready with a gift card around to bless another person having a rough day. If so, I hope Cool Glasses Lady knows the impact that one simple, kind gesture had on so many people in this community.
Or maybe it’s just that the Fox Valley is really an amazing place to live and we have so many people willing to lift others up in hard moments.
My daughter struggles with something big inside her tiny little self. Something I don’t quite understand and we are waiting for help and guidance for. Whether it’s something lurking undiagnosed or simply an extreme form of big emotions for a child her age, it’s a challenge, to say the least. Sometimes, I feel trapped and unable to leave the house. I have guilt that my older daughter bears the brunt of the meltdowns most days. I feel completely helpless, but at the same time, completely willing to do anything to make things easier for her: if only I knew what to do. I feel judgment and shame that I’m not doing something right, all while ultimately knowing deep down this isn’t my fault and it’s not hers either.
Me and my girl, we’re a team. We’re fighting something big, and we’re in it together. No one on the outside knows. Before these women, when she was melting down in public and kicking me, hitting herself, scratching, screaming, turning red from lack of oxygen because she can’t catch her breath, I always thought that those around us were thinking, “Spoiled kid. Pushover mom.”
But, maybe they’re not. Maybe they are thinking, “Kids are tough. Big emotions are hard. You’re doing a good job, and I support you no matter what.”
Inspired to grab some gift cards to brighten the day fellow community members in tough moments?
Consider supporting these small, local businesses in your quest to spread kindness through Northeast Wisconsin!
107 E College Ave, Appleton, Wisconsin
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