Being a gracious gift receiver. It’s something mom taught me at a young age: “Smile and say thank you, and don’t announce it if you already have one at home. Just smile and say thank you.”
Yesterday, a girlfriend and I met at Cracker Barrel with our two tots for lunch. Upon our arrival, Miller and I spent some time in the gift shop, or Old Country Store, as it’s technically called, looking at – you guessed it – the candy display.
Miller discovered these tubes with characters on the top – Spiderman, Thor, Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Nemo, Dory, etc… A propellor was affixed to each of the tubes that spun at the push of a button. These were a real hit with Miller. As he tested tube after tube to watch them whir, I noticed a man, I’m guessing somewhere in his eighties, standing a few feet away with a huge smile on his face as he watched Miller enjoy the propellor toys.
My girlfriend arrived, and the greeter seated us at a table in the middle section of the restaurant. We finished eating, I boxed up our leftovers, and Miller must’ve decided he was over it, because he got up from the table and started walking toward the gift shop.
He’s never done this before – just gotten up and started walking. “It’s okay, you have a clear view of him,” I assured myself while shoving items in my purse as fast as I could.
I noticed a couple, somewhere in their seventies, eyeing Miller. He stopped near their table, in the entryway of the middle dining section, and turned toward me. He was people watching. The couple saw Miller, and noticed he was sans parent. They craned their necks in search of the adult in charge. All the while, I was watching Miller.
I grabbed my coat and purse. I hollered for him, but was afraid of shouting too loudly in the restaurant. I’m most concerned about him going into the kitchen offered my Snarky side. “Nice,” I thought while getting the to-go boxes and speed walking toward Miller.
By now the couple was nearly beside themselves. They had yet to spot me, and were growing more and more concerned, not for Miler’s safety, but for the lack of a “responsible” party. I could see them muttering under their breaths to one another. She shook her head as her husband looked at her and said, “Stupid.”
It’s an odd thing – being that close to people who are hating on you. Who are judging you fiercely with complete disgust. It’s as unsettling as being called stupid.
Had this scene taken place a year ago, I would have nearly died of embarrassment. I would have questioned myself as a mother because of their judgment. I would have avoided eye contact and gotten out of there as quickly as possible. I would have obsessed over it the rest of the day.
Only, this scene didn’t happen a year ago. It happened yesterday, to a me who’s learned that my intuition, including my motherly intuition, is one of my greatest gifts; who’s stopped apologizing for being me when it doesn’t meet the approval of others; who’s even willing to own who I am in the face of disapproval. Shit, it’s scary just thinking about it. And exhilarating too.
As I neared the couple’s table mere seconds after the man called me stupid, I looked him straight in the eye. Without breaking stride I announced, “I’m watching him. That’s my son.” I caught him off guard, but he rallied in time to say, “Thank you” with as much disdain as he could muster on such short notice.
If that doesn’t sound like much to you, listen a little more closely. That’s the sound of a woman who, after decades of apologizing for herself, stood up for who she is. Who didn’t cower in the face of disapproval, but stood firmly. That’s the sound of a major personal victory.
I caught up with Miller and we went straight to the candy display. Back to the propellor toys. My heart temporarily relocated to my throat and my cheeks were flushed with fury. In the moment, I was furious. Just then, someone tapped on my shoulder.
The eighty year old gentleman from when we first arrived, extended his hand toward Miller and said to me, “Can he have this?” He was holding a dollar bill. “Yes he can. Miller, this man has something for you.”
Thank yous were exchanged for the folded George Washington. My conscious dismounted from the spinning rage machine located somewhere around my temporal lobe and said, “Jamie, focus on that. Focus on him, not on the couple.”
A few seconds later I saw that the man hadn’t left. There he stood, gazing at Miller with complete adoration. He looked like the metaphorical kid at Christmas, being in the presence of youthful, happy, innocence. He was getting a high from watching Miller. I was calming down watching him.
He turned back to me and said, “Can I buy that for him?” “Of course. Thank you,” I responded, and together we headed to the cash registers. After the transaction was complete, I said to Miller, “What do you say?” To which the gentleman responded, “Oh, he already said thank you. He said it with his smile.”
In less than five minutes, I witnessed two extremes: hateful judgment and loving kindness. For as much disgust as the couple had for me, the gentleman had even more adoration for Miller. Throughout the day, when my mind wandered back to “stupid”, I redirected it first to that moment of victory, and then to the generous stranger.
Within a country restaurant, I was on the receiving end of gritty contempt. Within a country store, I was the recipient of a gift that can’t be bought. Sure, I felt the sting of disapproval, but more importantly, I noticed the gift.
Walking out of Cracker Barrel with to-go boxes in one hand and holding on to Miller with the other, I smiled and said, “Thank you.”
A day later and I’ve identified another gift in all this. Had the couple not dished out their opinions of me, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to stand up for myself. But they did, and I did, which makes for yet another (big) gift in this story.
What about you? Are you focused on the grit or the gift?