What do you see when you look at this photo?
I see a mom (me) who had a long and stressful day at work yesterday and was too tired to cook.
I see three kids I would call (though I shouldn’t, because I know you’re not supposed to label your kids) “extremely picky eaters.” Especially if I tipped the bag and revealed the two barely eaten burgers because…well, I don’t actually have any clue why, but apparently last night’s Shake Shack burgers were in some teeny, tiny, infinitesimal and unidentifiable way, “different.”
I see a mom (again, me) who lets her kids eat French Fries for dinner sometimes. A mom who didn’t even order a third source of protein because she knew Miss S wouldn’t eat it. And a mom who didn’t even try to convince any of her children to add a vegetable.
I see a parent (or two) for whom nutritious eating is unfortunately ranked pretty low on her list of priorities.
I see a fast food chain (@Shake Shack) that follows good food allergy practices and is a place we feel safe eating out with our highly nut-allergic child.
I see the rotten bananas I haven’t thrown away because we keep thinking we’ll make banana bread, and then we don’t.
I see our messy apartment that I swear was clean yesterday, or five minutes ago. It’s all the same. It will be messy again in no time, so why bother keeping track?
In case you ARE keeping track, you might have realized that I see, in that picture, several ways in which I am falling short of my parenting goals.
And I see, in that paper bag, all the guilt and shame and frustration I feel due to what I have deemed my greatest failing as a parent: the fact that our children do not have a healthy and well-rounded diet because we do not prioritize one.
But that’s not all I see. Because this bag tells two stories: the more blatant, obvious, surface-level one that I fed my children Shake Shack last night and all that entails (including, perhaps, the assumption that I feed them Shake Shack often…which is not exactly untrue even if there’s hardly enough evidence here to support that conclusion) and another, far less obvious one about who these kids we are raising really are.
Spoiler Alert: they aren’t
what they eat.
Because this bag also tells the story of my three kids who, as we were leaving the restaurant, said, “Mom, can we buy a burger for the homeless man outside and then give it to him?”
So you see, this bag is simultaneously a source of my greatest self-criticism and my greatest pride as a parent.
It’s true, we need to work on their nutrition. And please know that I do am not pretending that what they put in their bodies is trivial. But their hearts? That’s what really matters to me. And these hearts? These not-yet-six-year-old hearts are very full. So full of love and kindness that it’s overflowing. And they are looking for a place to send that love, and they are not only willing, but eagerto send it out into the world for strangers.
And that’s why I pick my battles. I cave about food ALL. THE. TIME. But the messages about love and kindness and generosity? I don’t ever get tired of teaching them that. And it never ceases to amaze me how much we grownups have to learn from them.
The homeless man had moved on by the time we got outside with his burger. But wouldn’t you know that this trio was ready to wander around the UES looking for the next person in need. It didn’t matter that it was nearly their bedtime. It didn’t matter that they’d put in a full (I’m talking ten hour) day at school and after school programs. It didn’t matter that it was freezing, and they were tired, and we’d missed the bus so we’d already walked a mile to get where we were. And you know what else didn’t matter? For those few minutes while my children led with love? How tired and stressed and sick this mama felt.
She was fairly easy to find. One of our three has been keeping a catalogue of the men and women in our neighborhood as we pass them on our way to and from school each day. We knew exactly where to look because our kids, our quiet, don’t-look-you-in-the-eye kids, may not say much, but they see everything. And everyone.
Anyone who has ever met our kids knows they don’t like talking to strangers. In fact, they’re often not too keen on talking to people they recognize. But they didn’t need to speak to this woman last night to let her know they cared.
It’s true what they say, you know: actions speak louder than words. Their actions spoke loudly last night. And I couldn’t have been more proud of the message they were delivering.
So this greasy paper bag on our messy kitchen counter? It’s a reminder that we may not be doing everything right, but I am pretty sure we are doing some things right. And I am pretty sure you are too.