“I Watched… But I Didn’t See You”
I had arranged to meet you in the parking lot of the building where your children take various artsy lessons. You’re an artisan yourself, and I was meeting you to pick up and pay for a piece I’d ordered.
We’re both on Facebook. It isn’t like I don’t know a little bit about your life. I know you have six young children, and that your husband works during the day. You’re a stay-at-home mom who educates her kids and does amazing, fun things with them. I know your days don’t always go as planned, and that your kids don’t always behave as expected – they’re kids, after all. It’s not as if you don’t make us laugh with the stories online nearly every day.
That day, I got to the meeting location a little early. See, I wanted to be sure that I could get home in time to walk my dog at noon. He’s new, he’s from an abusive former home, and he’s just now learning to “hold it” and go outside. It was really important, and I didn’t want to mess up his schedule.
I know your vehicle. I watched as you got to the drop-off area by the door. But I didn’t see you.
… it was maybe the most kind part of our interaction, on my end.
I waited nervously as you struggled to help your older children get the younger ones inside. I was nervous because I wanted to come over and help, but I didn’t want to intrude, and still have trouble being around kids your youngest’s age. She’s just a little older than my Charlie would have been, and I was afraid I’d cause myself a little discomfort.
Your kids seemed so helpful, one of your older daughters making an extra trip to get a sibling. I paused my podcast, deciding I’d wait until you parked your car to go ahead and get out. I had to time it just right – I didn’t want to have to actually go inside and face all the “dance moms” and people I don’t know. Plus, I looked a mess – I’d been painting and just changed into clean sweats to run this errand. So I watched for you to pull away from the curb. But I didn’t see you.
Once the kids were inside, you didn’t pull away to park. You grabbed your phone, and all I could think was that you were calling me, because I hadn’t let you know I was here. In my head, I had done something wrong. I was keeping you from being inside! Sure, you could have been calling your husband, checking Facebook, or reading a devotion. But all I could think was that I needed to be doing something I wasn’t, and that I would cause you additional stress.
I got out of my car and walked toward you. Your attention was turned inside the vehicle, and I waited a few feet from the car so I wouldn’t scare you. That part I’d do again, because it was maybe the most kind part of our interaction on my end. Within a few seconds, you had noticed me, and began to collect my order. I watched and made small talk, but I didn’t see you.
“I just thought you looked a little… harried. Stressed. Whatever, I still didn’t see you”
I was a little surprised by your appearance. Please don’t misunderstand – I, too, was in a state that isn’t my “public face”. There was no judgement in my inner reaction, just idle curiosity. Your outer appearance should have told me a little about your day. But because my outer appearance was similar, and I had a good reason for it, I really didn’t think about it too much. You’re a mom. Sometimes moms look like they’ve spent more time on their kids’ appearance than their own. I don’t have any idea what you were actually wearing, I just thought you looked a little… harried. Stressed. Whatever. The fact is, I still didn’t see you.
I felt a little rushed. I’d felt that way since I left the house, because I needed to walk my cute little dog. It’s valid – no one likes pee in their house. I’m allowed my life and my loves, too. But also, I was really intent on making this transaction, and not disrupting your schedule. I had exact change ready, even if that had meant digging a few dimes out of my car. We said some polite words, thanked each other, and said “goodbye”. I went back to my car, never having seen you.
Before bed that evening, I opened my Facebook app. The first status to appear was yours. It read something like, “Parents, in case you ever feel like a failure, you should know Joshua went to piano today with one shoe. It was all he could find.”
The status update was followed with some sweet emoji, indicating laughter and love. A large number of your friends, including me, took your cue and laughed, commenting about similar “failures”. Joshua is a unique and wonderful child, and updates of his adventures are always a hoot. When you post, you craft your statuses in such a way that people fall in love with your family – and it is not undeserved. You don’t say, “Joshua couldn’t find his damn shoe, these kids are driving me crazy”. You find the joy, and people appreciate that.
But in that moment, I saw you. Maybe you didn’t want me to. Probably you didn’t even think about it.
“In case you ever feel like a failure, you should know Joshua went to piano today with one shoe. It was all he could find.”
I saw you writing that status on your phone. I saw the word, “failure”. You said, effectively, “If you think you’re a failure, take heart! I am a bigger failure and my failure shall make you feel better about yourself.” You felt worse than a failure! And the status was posted hours after I’d seen you. How must you have been feeling in the moment we were together?
I saw that moment in the car, this time in a new light. I don’t know if it happened, but now it looked more like when one kid couldn’t make up his mind about whether to go inside or stay with you while you ran errands. A decision re-made made, and you call another child back to get him – again. If it happened like it did at my house, it went something like: “Ok, stay with me. Say goodbye to your brothers and sisters. OK, go ahead. Hey, can you come back and get your brother? No, you said you wanted to go. Nevermind. No, wait! Fine, stay. Fine, go!”
I saw the drive to the art center. “Seriously? You have four pairs of shoes!… When we get home, you’re cleaning your room and finding your shoes… Please stop crying. There’s no need to cry. You’re going to wake your sister… We’ll find your shoes. You’ll find your shoes… But, really? You knew we had classes today!… Please don’t laugh at your brother… Please don’t cry, your brother is fine.”
I saw the minutes before you left your house. “Why didn’t you tell me you couldn’t find your shoes before we got in the car?… You said you were ready to go, but you’re only wearing one shoe!… No, you can’t wear your sister’s flip-flops, it’s raining and they’re way too small… Where could you have left your shoes?”
“I’m sorry that my worry about how you’d see me kept me from seeing you.”
I saw prior to that, at the moment you realized there was not going to be time for you to “look your best”. It might have happened at 6am, but at some point you’d said, “Today is not about me looking like I just got back from vacation. Today is about doing what needs to be done, and I am a beautiful woman even when I appear tired and stressed.” At least, that’s what I hope you thought. Probably you didn’t think about it – you had everyone out the door on time.
I’m sorry I didn’t see you sooner. I’m sorry that in the moment I had available, I didn’t take the time to make your day a little better. Sorry that I was so wrapped up in how you’d see me and in respecting your boundaries that I didn’t notice. That my worry about how you’d see me kept me from seeing you.
What could I have said? I could have told you what a wonderful life you’ve made, and listed all the ways in which you are a great success. Things you already know, and are far too cliché. I could have asked for a hug if I’d seen you needed one. If I had seen you, I could have called up your best friend to say, “Hey, I saw our friend today and she looked stressed. Give her a call.” I could have given you the chocolate bar I had in my purse – it wouldn’t fit your diet plan, but sometimes that’s not the point. I could have just said, “I hope your day has been OK”, leaving you the choice to cry on my shoulder or to say, “Great, thanks!” But it doesn’t matter now. The moment is gone, I didn’t see you.
I can’t have that moment back. You’ve long since moved on, leaving it as a funny memory for next year’s Facebook reminder. Today is a new day, and you’re busy living it. Maybe you’re glad that I didn’t try to pry, or that my being brief gave you time to accomplish another task. I’m still stuck there, learning something about myself.
“I needed to see behind the status…”
I have social anxiety. So do many people – most people, if you include rare moments or that which is more easily overcome. I’ve always been an introvert, much preferring to read or learn than to socialize and party. But you weren’t asking for me to be social. You hadn’t asked for anything but to meet at a certain time. My own thoughts and feelings changed what could have been a more positive interaction. I wasn’t rude, didn’t say anything insulting or make some distasteful comment, just a little less kind than I’d like to be.
I won’t promise that this won’t ever happen again, with you or someone else. When a person tries to be more aware of their life and interactions, change can sometimes be slow. I’d like to ask you to please tell me when I don’t seem to notice, and never hesitate to say, “I need a hug” or “Please help me”; I’d be happy to do either. But that won’t help the other interactions, and definitely doesn’t make me more aware and conscious in my own life. It puts the responsibility on you.
So I’ll thank you for showing me grace, for continuing to love and interact with someone who is frequently “odd”. For being real, even when reality wasn’t what you’d prefer the world to see. Even when you had no plans to teach a lesson or be some sort of mothering hero. When you weren’t “being real”, just being. I needed to see behind the status update, to appreciate the joy you find in life, so I can better find the joy myself. I needed to better understand my social interactions from both sides. Thank you for helping me see.
(And probably a whole lot of other people who feel like failures at social interaction from time to time.)
PS – Inconsequential details have been changed to protect your story and your kids. I do know their real names and those other details that seem wrong. If you can be identified, it becomes your story, and since I didn’t ask, I didn’t figure I’d tell it. Plus, I’ve filled in “details” of “your life” from my imagination, because this part is my story, and I’d hate for someone to get confused.