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I take play dough play time pretty seriously.

My sister, Lindsay, and I took the kids to Chick-Fil-A for lunch the other day.

Before I go on with my story, could I just take a moment and tell you how passionately I feel about that eating establishment? I mean my goodness. The way the crispy chicken sits on its soft bed of enriched white bun, the delightful balance of the sour pickles and hint of sweet Chick-Fil-A sauce. Oh, the waffle fries that catch the ranch across themselves, letting it drip into every salty potato crevice. That first bite of sandwich and then the first crunch of of fry, sweet – salty – sweet – salty – sweet!  It is greasy good sandwich eating perfection.  From the first bite to the last wipe of my mouth, every moment spent with Chick-Fil-A is one I would like to spend again and again and again.

And again.

(I know what you are thinking. Wow. Fried chicken sandwiches really get this girl going. And you are right. They really do.)

 

Excuse me, I have to catch my breath.

 

Where was I?

 

Oh yeah, lunch with the sister and the kids. We bundled the munchkins up and drove them the fifteen minutes to fried food happiness. The moments from the car to the table were full of all the bumps and bruises any outing with toddlers contains. Bonked heads, spilled drinks, untied shoes and jackets that just would not come off no matter how hard those three year old hands pulled at the buttons. Once everything was unpacked and sauced, the fun really began. First, they wanted to go explore the play area and then they needed a nugget and “where is my drink?” and then the play area and then one dip of the chicken into the honey mustard along with two dips of a little hand. Through it all, Lindsay and I talked, wiped faces, held open doors and pulled out chairs, while smiling, helping and occasionally taking away. (No, Viola. Babies can’t drink ranch dressing. No matter how thoroughly I understand the urge.)

The table next to us was occupied by a fresh faced family full of cardigans, ruffled dresses and red cheeks. Just the cutest mama and papa I had seen all day. Their children were infinitely better behaved than our own. They ate sitting down (!) and not one of them threw a nugget across the table.

I was in the middle of my fifth bite (CHICK-FIL-A!) when I heard that pretty little mom say some things in a not so pretty voice.

“What are you doing? Did you just get your finger in that ketchup? Are fingers supposed to go into ketchup? No. They are not. Oh, I am so mad at you. Just really angry. If you do that again, I will be even angrier. Wipe your finger off. Honestly. You are way too old for this.”

The child with the offending ketchup fingers could not have been older than four.

I spent the rest of the lunch frustated with that pretty little mom with her pretty little family. If she was so concerned about the cleanliness of her children’s hands perhaps she should not take them to restaurants where the primary foods are eaten without utensils. And didn’t she know that four year olds are generally just doing their best? My goodness, if this is how she reacts to ketchup finger how will she react to the things that really matter? Didn’t she know that little girl still thinks her mommy lit the sky? Didn’t she know how quickly that would end? That this time was precious and a huge part of laying the foundation for the relationship they will have for the rest of their lives? What a waste of energy on a non-existent problem. Wipe her fingers off and get on with the day with a smile. Why become a mother if you are just growing babies to cut them down?

And then I went home and got mad at Margaret for using too much toilet paper. Like almost put her in time out mad. Whispered angry voice mad. Over toilet paper.

Yikes.

So, maybe we all get upset over spilled milk once in a while. The hours of motherhood are long and it is okay if not every single one is lived perfectly. When we are less than we could be, we should simply hug our children, say sorry, forgive ourselves and move on. They won’t remember the moments that broke amongst all the ones that sparkled.

That said, I will try to keep the memory of that mother and child with me as my days go on. Not because I judge her, but because in so many ways I am her. I understand the tired, the frustration, the uncertainty. I know the temptation of quick snaps and dismissive language. But I want something more for my babies as often as I can give it to them. In the years ahead, the messes my children make will be bigger, and sometimes longer lasting, than the spilled contents of a ketchup package. And I want them to know that I am their advocate just as fiercely as I am the enforcer of rules. I want them to know they are not their mistakes. I want them to feel confidence in their ability to do better.  I want our home to be a place of understanding, laughter and an effervescent joy they drink up in dancing gulps.

And I want another Chick-Fil-A sandwich.