Seeing the need

So, there we were last Saturday, hubbs and me, seated at a corner table facing the rest of the restaurant as we waited for friends to join us for supper.  A perfect vantage point for people-watching and hubbs could check college basketball scores on the flat screens if he chose to. We chatted back and forth but soon found ourselves paying attention to the next table’s occupants.

We saw them when they first were seated: a young woman, in her thirties I think, and with her, three young boys.  The oldest faced me, his young face kissed by a smattering of freckles.  He was tall and lanky, maybe 10 years old at most.  To his left was his younger brother, who we guessed to be about 7.  The mother had her back to us and to her right was sat the littlest, a cute little boy between 3 and 4.  The boys settled in and seemed happy to be there.  Mom began texting  and perusing her iPad immediately, only raising her head to offer a scolding.  Frequently she left the table and went outside.  We couldn’t help but notice the oldest as he shared his pizza toppings with the littlest , and how he comforted him when asked for Mommy.  Mom came back and forth to the table so many times that we lost count.   A cluster of club-dressed women appeared and we soon learned that these ladies were Mom’s friends; the ones she couldn’t go out with that night because she had the kids.  She said it with such contempt that both hubbs and I recoiled.

It wasn’t long before Mom handed the boys her beloved iPad and let their pizza smeared fingers get busy.   This gave her the opportunity to grab her drink and sneak away to the bar, where she stood with her girlfriends for at least 30 minutes, her back to her children.  When the littlest one scored points on the game, he raised a chubby arm and gave a triumphant cry.  Bar Mom spun and shot a caustic look at the oldest, who clearly was failing the parental responsibilities she’d thrust upon his slim shoulders.

Eventually, and only after settling in the younger two, he warily approached the Mom.  At first, she put her arm around him and smiled as she introduced him to her friends.  But it wasn’t long before she tired of that and turned away from him and back to her friends; he stood where she’d left him, shifting his weight from one foot to another for a tortured forever.

To my right I heard Hubbs deep voice whisper, “You know, I’ve been that kid.  I’ve been that boy trying to get his parents out of the bar; I feel so badly for him.”

There comes a point in circumstances such as this when your heart scrambles to see what you might have missed.

When you hope there’s another truth besides the one being played out in front of you.

There’s comes a point when you realize how it’s possible to feel empathy and anger at the same moment.

There comes a point when you sadly realize that not every child enjoys the luxury of being wanted.

There comes an understanding, too, that there’s little an outsider can do.  We were strangers after all. Stranger danger.

We are parents.

We get it.

It’s demanding, stressful, and sometimes not that rewarding, quite frankly.

Sometimes you need a break.

But here’s the thing, sometimes you don’t get one. Why take it out on the kids?

I heard my mother’s words ringing in my head, “Children don’t ask to be here; the least they deserve is love and attention.”

Creating an opportunity, I walked past their table and, as I passed,  tapped the oldest on the shoulder.  When his brown eyes looked up into mine, I smiled and said warmly, “You sure are a wonderful big brother; what a nice job you’re doing!”   He beamed and shyly said, “Thank you,” and off I went.

Just because he doesn't raise his hand doesn't mean the need isn't there.

Coming back a few minutes later, I noticed he’d changed positions and was facing me. And when his eyes locked on mine, I smiled and winked; his grin back told me he understood what I was doing.  Hubbs and I enjoyed several shy smiles cast our way for the rest of the time he sat there.

My efforts felt small and days later, here I am still  thinking about him.  I am thinking of him and hoping those few words of encouragement will sustain him the next time this occurs.

“Children don’t ask to be here; the least they deserve is love and attention.” – my Mom

  * * *

Have you ever found yourself in a similar predicament? 

How did you handle it? or What do you wish you’d done?


Categories: Faith, Family, Life, Mom, Personal, Thoughts, Women | Tags: , , , , , , , | 37 Comments

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37 thoughts on “Seeing the need

  1. What you saw was heart-breaking. What you did was absolutely wonderful. Hopefully, that boy will always remember that moment.

    • It was heart-breaking and I am haunted by it. I knew enough not to waste and effort on the Mom, but like to think that a few kind words might have given that young man some hope. I hope so anyways.

  2. Tears in my coffee MJ. It takes a village indeed, however hard it is to witness the village idiot out with children. Your sweet connection and approval will definitely leave a good mark on that boy. I’ve been there, interacting with stable adults in a positive affirming manner is GOLD.

    • It’s really hard to witness the village idiot with children – Amen Anna! There was nothing to be done with respect to the Mom and that’s too confrontational anyways. I think it made a difference and I hope it buoys him. Sad.


  3. “You sure are a wonderful big brother; what a nice job you’re doing!” You spoke words of pure gold and your light touch on his shoulder was wonderful. This makes me want to cry. Mom is clearly addicted to “what’s happening” when all she has to see is “what’s happening” sits around her.

    • It made me want to cry watching it and I cried writing about it. So incredibly sad. Let us be the change we want to see in the world. I’ve been in similar situations before and didn’t do anything and always regretted it. I couldn’t do nothing, but there was that moment where I really wondered what the _ _ _ _ to do! So frustrating!

  4. What a story. I find that when one person says a positive and affirming thing to another person, it is remembered forever by the person on the receiving end. I hope that you were a light in his life when he needed it, and that it is one good thing that will lead him down the right path.

    • We sure hope that’s the case; I was fortunate .. I was wanted and loved and lived in a community with lots of support and affirmation. (( lots of judgement if you goofed up, too)) It’s a defining moment when you realize that someone should do something but 1) you don’t know what that is and 2) no one is stepping up.


  5. Someone I know is in the process of a divorce, and I hear comments about “I have the kids this weekend.” I know she doesn’t really feel like they are a burden, but it comes across as that a little bit. Children are suddenly pawns, pushed back and forth between two adults, and it sometimes seems to me as if the one who has the kids is the loser of the two. The one without the kids for the weekend has a life. The other one is babysitting. How does it happen that you begin to feel like you are babysitting your own kids, that you are “stuck” with them?!
    Bless you for giving encouragement to that child, and for having eyes to see. If only the mother could see as well! ~ Sheila

    • And imagine if that person just rephrased their words – within earshot of the children — to how excited they are to have them, how nice it will be together, etc. So simple, so underutilized.
      This momma Grizzly was ready to scoop up those cubs and give idiot mom a swipe with her paw … grrrr.


  6. This woman is making choices effecting not only her childrens’ lives but hers. When she is old and finds she needs her children, will they be there for her? Praying God will intervene!
    Keep the Faith!

    • I said a prayer for them, too, and one for her. May she learn the foolishness of her ways and soon. Maybe her iPad will visit her in the nursing home?? MJ

  7. cooper

    we require a test to drive a car…
    we have to fill out an application to get a library card…

    but the single most important job on the planet is left open to any moron with a pulse…

  8. This is a beautifully written but heart-wrenching post. What you did was truly beautiful, and I’m sure it gave him a much needed boost. My heart goes out to him and his brothers – I’ve seen others suffer in such a way and I always try to do anything I can to help, even if sometimes it feels so small and insignificant. Sometimes the smallest actions or words have the biggest impact. The world needs more people with your kindness!

  9. Yes Yes Yes – I have been in the same position
    I try to sneak a chance to say something uplifting to the kids
    Their little faces haunt me and I pray for them
    Very dis-heartning when that’s the best I can do for the little ones
    God Bless

    • “Haunt” is the most appropriate word for this. I’m glad I did something, I wish it could have been more. ~~ Sigh ~~ MJ

  10. Wow, MJ. I’m having chills. It’s always so sad to see children neglected or verbally abused in public; makes me wonder just how difficult their life at home must be.
    Good for you for giving this young man some encouragement! It may likely be the only encouragement he’s gotten in a long time.

    • The thing was, it was pretty clear what this little guy’s life at home was like.

      On the positive side, they were (mostly) well mannered & fairly polite so they had to have learned it somewhere – that gives me hope. Maybe she’s only a part-time parent? And as shocking as this sounds, I’ve learned – to my horror – that not all women who are mothers have a maternal instinct. It’s something I’d rather not see too often, that’s for sure.

      People are put in our paths for a reason – to teach us or for us to teach them. I think this was a little of both and I will never, ever, forget.


  11. Oh, MJ, this makes me want to weep, but thank God for your encouragement. I know when I was a kid how much the affirmation I received from adults other than my parents meant to me! I love you for doing this, my friend!

    • It makes my heart hurt to think about it. I’m fairly naive, I guess, I thought everyone loved and adored their kids.

      If I am ever in the same situation, I know this, I won’t hesitate to reach out again…. to the child. Friends that I’ve shared this with have asked why we didn’t say anything to the Mom — and my answer is that the person who most needs to get a clue is the one least likely to understand why you’re handing them one. Grr.

  12. I’ve never witnessed it to this extent. Those poor boys! Your kind gesture meant a lot to the oldest boy. I’m sure of it. You boosted his confidence. You showed him that SOMEONE noticed that he was growing up to be a good person. It’s just too bad his mom couldn’t affirm him in at least some small way.

    • I hope so, Terri. I came home and hugged our son and he didn’t understand why I was emotional. He asked, “Mom? What’s wrong? Did something happen?” And when I told him the story – with his Dad interjecting – I could see his jaw hardening, too.

      What I wanted to say to that slope shouldered little boy was “it’s not always going to be like this” but of course I have no way of knowing that. It might be worse and that, in itself, breaks my heart.

      I tried to be supportive and encouraging while still talking to him like the CHILD he was (shame on that woman).

      Selfish people make me mad .. MJ

  13. When I was young I was on the receiving end of the kindness you showed that little boy. Trust me when I say it does make a difference and will not be forgotten, ever.

  14. Heartbreaking, but all too familiar 😦
    MJ, your words to that little boy will last a long time. One simple phrase, said to me 5 years ago by my friend Janice, changed my whole outlook on a crappy situation I was going through… Her words still ring true and stay fresh in my mind… Yours will, too!

  15. You are a life-giving woman! Something I strive to be, in public and in my home. Lovely post.

  16. MJ, you told this so well that I felt like I was there. I even recoiled with you. I want to scoop these wee ones up and give them attention. Even my puppy gets a warm smile and loving expression from me. I’ll keep a good thought for these children and one for their mother. I hope she sees her reflection before it is too late.

    • How did I know that Gretel gets that from you? Just knew it. Like you, I hope the mother in this story learns from her mistakes before too much more time passes by. MJ

  17. You are so kind and thoughtful, MJ. I think you did just the right thing, as much as you could do. I know I will remember it if I am in a similar situation, because as I was reading my first instinct was to give that Mom a swift verbal kick. But you are right. It would have done no good and likely would have caused more grief for the boys. But you found a way to give the oldest boy an ally to remember in the future and a positive image of himself to live up to. Really good job, MJ.

    • Believe me, that was my initial response as well .. but I knew she would have to care to be impacted by my words, and it was apparent she didn’t. Only through reaching out to the young boy could I even hope to make a difference. I hope it did, I’ll never know.

  18. This breaks my heart, MJ. Thanks for noticing that young fellow, you’ll never know the impact you possibly made on his life.

  19. Pingback: On Mothering | Emjayandthem's Blog

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