The bride walked down the aisle, a flowered headband in her short, black hair. As everyone watched expectantly, I shhhhed my yammering three-year-old son. While the readers recited statements from the couple’s grandmothers, I struggled to hold him on my lap. As a member of the wedding party read a passage by astronomer Carl Sagan, I finally hauled my kid down the aisle. The two of us spent the rest of my friends’ wedding in the back of the building. I alternated between trying to catch bits of the ceremony, grabbing him as he sprinted out the door, and whispering to him about how disappointed I was. It was a pretty low moment in my parenting career.
It wasn’t supposed to go like this.
We arrived in Philadelphia the day before, with just enough time to see the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. Despite having been cooped up in the car for hours, Sprout was a dream. He was genuinely excited to see the Bell and listened attentively to the park ranger as she talked about the first Congress. He only spoke out once and promptly dropped his voice to a whisper when we corrected him.
The morning of the wedding, we visited the Please Touch Children’s Museum, where I hoped he’d run around and get out some energy. While we waited for the ceremony to start, I prepped him for what was going to happen. We talked about how we needed to listen quietly because this day was really important for our friends. Most importantly, I promised that as soon as the ceremony was over, he could go play on the nearby playground.
Unfortunately, kids live to destroy your expectations. The excitement of the children’s museum left him wound up instead of calm. The 95 degree heat combined with a un-air conditioned building meant everyone was a bit antsy as sweat dripped down their faces. From the moment he saw the playground, the pull was just too strong. All of the stern tones and dirty looks in the world weren’t enough to overcome the circumstances.
Thankfully, people extended such grace to us.
As the bride and groom walked out the door, I shook their hands and said, “Congratulations! I’m so sorry.” Good friend that she is, the bride smiled and responded, “I totally understand.” Later in the evening, the groom told Chris and I, “You’re such good parents.” That little comment warmed my heart so much.
Later on, during the dancing, one parent with tweenage girls came up to commiserate. Gesturing at Little Bird, she said, “At least he was great during the ceremony!” I smiled and shrugged, saying, “Thanks. But he despises car rides.” She nodded and pointed to her middle daughter. “When she was little, she was great out, but would cry and cry at home. My husband would hate when strangers commented how great she was. He always wanted to invite them to bring her home.”
It was so reassuring to hear that people knew this was one little snapshot of our relationship. And that’s what everything we see is, good and bad – just one single snapshot. You see the kid yelling out at the wedding, but not how they sat quietly through a historical lecture the day before. You see the photo on Facebook of them smiling at the children’s museum, but not them screaming two minutes later. You see the parent scowling at the child, but not how they smile at them as they scale a gigantic spiderweb on the playground.
Receiving that grace and reminding myself that it was just one incident allowed me to let go of it, forgive my son, and enjoy the rest of the evening with him. If people had judged me, I would have taken it personally, mentally reliving it over and over. I would have had to fight my worst perfectionist tendencies from dominating my mental space.
Instead, we spun on the playground, chased each other around the dance floor and shared his first (and second!) cotton candy together. All because of a few kind words.
Before the ceremony, I explained to Sprout that a wedding is a celebration of love between two people who want to spend their lives together. Little did I know how that love would touch our lives in return.