After 6 years of work, my boys were finally ready for their Black Belt test. We were so excited, and they had worked hard. We had all worked hard. I felt like the Black Belt accomplishment was for me too…for every class I sat through, every month I paid for, every uniformed I ironed, and every piece of equipment I purchased. For my sons, it was validation for every form they learned, every board they broke, and every wound they received.
At our school, all the belts test the same night so the newer students can see the older students achieve their upper ranking belts. It is an amazing display of endurance and technique. When my boys first started Taekwondo, on testing nights, they would watch in awe as the Black Belts demonstrated forms, broke boards, and sparred. I told Philip often during those early years, “I hope the boys never have to do that.” Watching them fight has always been exceptionally difficult for me. Eventually, my boys learned the forms, broke the boards, and sparred...and I endured most of it with grace (and a few times with my eyes closed).
The night of their Black Belt test, there was a new family present with a small child. Most of the evening, this little boy ran around the room loudly talking. The family was asked several times to keep their son quiet, but the parents continued to let their son run. Their family was new to the school and I honestly don’t think they understood how important this night was for our family.
All students testing for their Black Belts are required to write an essay. This essay is an opportunity for the student to describe what earning their Black Belt means to them. It is also an opportunity to thank the school, their instructors, and their faithful and selfless parents. When it was time for Elliot and Mason to read their essays, the new family moved next to us on the mat…ironically so they could hear. During the entire time of essay readings, their toddler made so much noise I was unable to hear. I asked the mom if her son could be quiet and she rolled her eyes and shrugged her shoulders. Eventually the family took the child out of the room, but it was too late, my sons were done reading their essays.
I was so upset. Yes, I could read their essays at home, but that wasn’t the same. For 6 years we sat through test after test listening to Black Belts read their essays and I missed the entire reading for both boys. I tried to be gracious, but I was so disappointed. I felt like this family had stolen from me something I would never get back. In truth, that is exactly what happened.
I left their test like I had left many other events and performances for our children...disappointed. Not disappointed in how my kids performed, but that I wasn't able to see or hear.
I would love to say this is the only time this has happened, but it isn’t. It happens so often that it is considered the norm. If you speak up...you are seen as unreasonable or intolerant. So we sit quietly, sometimes close to tears, because we silently allow others to rob from us.
This past winter, my daughter was in a dance recital. The recital was over two hours long. There were signs posted everywhere for families to leave their children in the dressing rooms during the entire performance. There are reasons for rules. During intermission, the two young moms in front of us decided to get their little precious gems and bring them into the auditorium. When they came back to their seats, they allowed these two little girls to sit on the top of the seats in front of us so they could see. I can’t tell you how many times their moms looked over and exclaimed how cute their little princesses looked. They were all so happy. The girls were talking loudly, looking at the recording of their dance on their phone, and repeatedly getting up and down from the top of the seats. Of course, Jennifer’s 30 second routine was right after the intermission. I looked at Philip and he could tell by my face that I was going to lose a little bit of my peace…so we moved seats to the other side of the room.
At first, I felt guilty for moving. I remember what is was like to have small children. I know how nerve-racking it is to follow the rules when it isn’t your preference. I also don’t want young moms to feel bad for their children being loud because children are loud…that is just part of who they are.
BUT my problem wasn’t with the girls. My problem was with their mothers and their decision to value their girls over our family. They were stealing from me. They were stealing the money I paid every week for Jennifer to learn the routine. They were stealing the $60 I spent on the costume she would never wear again, the $5 on the miracle bun, and the hour I spent putting on her make-up, doing her hair, and looking for the darn footless tights. Dance moms…you know what I am saying here!! These outfits don’t just happen. They were stealing the time I spent driving her back and forth to class and to the recital. They were stealing the joy I would have watching my little girl in her very first recital. They only had eyes for their two little babes and had no regard that I wanted to take a picture of my daughter’s crooked cartwheel too.
Your kids are cute. I promise at any other time I would “ooh & aah” over your little gems, BUT in the middle of a dance recital where my daughter is about to twirl…I wasn’t there to drool over your beauties.
Motherhood has been a series of growing moments for me. I have made more mistakes than I can count along the way. I can look back and recognize times when I put my children before my friends and my community, and it makes me cringe. Slowly, I began to recognize the impact my children were having on those around me and I knew I needed to make a change.
We refer to the more mature generation as “grumpy” because they don’t love being with our kids…but as I have risen in years, I have realized that the older generation is not the problem. Our kids are loud. Our kids are running in the halls. Our kids don’t have an awareness for other people and when they are told to slow down or be quiet...everyone's feathers get ruffled.
We let our kids cry in church services and movie theaters. We let our kids run around in restaurants and auditoriums. We roll our eyes if an adult asks us to quiet down our children…and we are stealing from our community. We are stealing their money, their time, and their joy because we think our precious babies are that cute and should be enjoyed by all. But they aren’t that cute.
I promise, I am not an anti-child-hating-woman. I love children. I love to hold and rock babies. I like to play cars and watch Elmo with little ones who hold my hand. I love coloring and playing with Play-Doh. There isn’t anything more wonderful than a child running across the room and leaping into my arms. Nothing is more precious than love from a child.
BUT… I also want to hear the movie I paid to see or hear the message I went to church to hear. I want to enjoy my dinner at a restaurant on a Friday night and participate in grown up conversation without children running around me. That is why I left my tribe at home.
I want to see your child break a board or dance a jig, but I want to watch mine do it too. I want to watch your child win their event, twirl like no other, and rock their solo. I will celebrate with you. Will you celebrate with me? Can you stay until the end of all the performances even after your child has played their part?
We have to be better at this. We need to teach our families about community and what it looks like to have eyes for other people. One of our repeated parenting phrases is, “You have to see the people around you.” Are you being too loud? Did you hold the door for the person behind you? Did you look the adult in the eye when they spoke to you? Children are not born with an awareness of others, it has to be taught. It is our role as parents to model it for them.
I believe in obnoxiously loud children’s programs where they can run and laugh and play. I love Chick-fil-A’s play land and the ability to sit on the other side of the glass and watch a little boy lick the glass. That is the best. I love watching little girls giggle and build relationships…all within the space adults create for them.
Children are a gift to all of us. They should be loved and cherished, but not at the expense of others. We need to teach our children to be a part of a community and sometimes that means we will have to sit in crying rooms at church, walk the halls with fidgety toddlers, put our kids in time outs in public spaces, and leave a party early. It is so easy to look at these parenting moments as parenting fails, but these moments are a sacrificial win...because we are honoring and preferring those around us.
Parenting is the most selfless thing we will ever do. It is exhausting and just when you think you have nothing left to give, parenting requires a little bit more. Occasionally I will look at Philip and jokingly ask him, “Whose idea was is to have so many kids?” He will smile and respond, “Yours.”
As we enter into the season of concerts, graduations, plays, and recitals…we need to keep in mind that it isn’t all about my child. There are other parents around us who are just as excited to see their little gem twirl and sing, walk across the stage, or say their one line in a 2-hour play. Commit to value those around you. Decide to follow the rules. Stay until the end and clap loud…not just for your shining star, but for the community of little people who will one day be cheering on your grandchildren.
Let’s do this well. Let’s do this together. Let’s prefer one another…and be sure to bring an extra tissue for the mom close to you who is just so flippin’ excited she got her child there on time to be on stage.
I am a girl passionately in love with Jesus, my husband, and my children. I am forever learning how to live a life completely undone for my God. This blog is about my journey and a few funny stories in between.