I was out with my four kids last week for our second round of school supply shopping. It’s as awful as it sounds, but even worse when you haven’t been able to find the blank index cards, 1.5 inch binder, and the purple-has-to-be-purple-not-blue folder anywhere.
There’s no quickly whipping through the store to find what you need because there are children involved, children who really need that cool iPhone case, and those headphones, and that Sam and Cat notebook pleeeeeeeease, which really, I would be more than happy to get you the Sam and Cat folder, child, but your teacher requires a purple folder and that is what you shall get even if I have a panic attack in the middle of Staples.
Of course, then the smartypants tries to kidsplain you about how the folder has purple in it and you kind of love them for it but the rule follower in you must have a folder that is entirely purple and so you squash their creative spirit just so you can check an item off your to-do list.
And so, we searched, or really, I searched while they tagged along, making the best of their boredom, which appeared to me as being a bit disruptive to other shoppers. No, they we’re being destructive, but they were wandering without looking in front of them, laughing loudly at poop jokes, and well, just having fun.
Then my son sped in front of a nice woman looking at the piles of crayon boxes, which compelled me to apologize and give her the knowing look all moms have that is a cross between “Oh, kids!” and “They’re actually pretty awesome when we’re not in a huge store with a ridiculous amount of people and stimuli. You’d like them, really!”
She looked up at me rather sternly and said “Never say you’re sorry,” and wow, it caught me off guard.
I expected the “No problem!” or “Don’t worry!” or maybe even a heavy sigh and an eye roll. But a thoughtful, insightful statement like that? Well, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
It came on the heels of me intently trying to adjust the expectations I have for my children when I’m out. With less help and the need to get out and do more, I’m relegated to take them places, like the grocery store, Target, the dreaded second round of back-to-school shopping that I’d usually save for when they were in school or with a sitter because trying to wrangle them exhausts and frustrates me.
But when I took a closer look at what was happening when we were out, most of the wrangling I’m doing is unnecessary, and more importantly, is about my own beliefs about how kids should act in public and not necessarily how other people think they should.
There’s a bit about lack of preparation as well, which when I’ve got activities, and snacks, and bubble gum I pretty much win the outings hands down, however there’s no denying the presence of a shared value that children need to act like adults when they’re out, and anything less than that is unacceptable. And worse, a reflection on the parents. And we all feed into it because when someone says your kids are so well-behaved it feels good. Like you’ve done something right in a job in which you often feel like a failure. Or at least, like you have no idea what you’re doing.
I totally get it.
But what this women reminded me is that kids are kids, and their aptitude for outings and shopping trips and waiting rooms is vastly different than adults. And so while I don’t want them jumping on couches or tossing items off shelves, I think it’s fair that they might want to play and laugh and run around.
Sure, I’ll still be setting limits that consider their safety as well as respect for people and items in a store. But I’m going to try to let them be kids more. And never apologize for it.
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