After our class time yesterday morning, Riley and I ran out to do a few errands together before dad came home. Michael and I have been gradually re-decorating the house, so I decided to make a trip to Home Goods with hopes of finding some good deals. Riley was being so incredibly patient and just an all around joy throughout our whirl around the store, which was quite the surprise because keeping a six year old happy and attentive during a shopping trip (that doesn’t involve toys) can be quite the challenge.
We finally found ourselves in the checkout line, and were called to the next available register where the disaster unfolds. As I placed my array of plates and hand towels onto the checkout counter, I couldn’t help but notice the wide eyed glare our cashier was giving us. And then, she asks something; something that puzzles me still. “Is that your mommy?” directly Riley’s way. Is that your mommy?
Now of course, I’m not Riley’s mom. Nor would I ever try to claim that role. This is the first time I think Riley and I have ever been out and anyone dared to ask such a question, so of course he did not take the inquisition so well. “Uh no! No! She’s not my mom! She’s just my parent!” Although quite loud and startling to those around us, it was an answer I was satisfied with. It’s really heartwarming to know he thinks of me as a parent figure to him. But it didn’t stop there. Oh it could have, but it didn’t. Because one of the next words our cashier was about to mutter was a word Riley detests. Now we’re not quite sure how he grew to loathe this word so much. We actually aren’t even sure where he heard it from because it is not a term that has ever been used in our household. But she said it. Right then and there. “Oh I see! She’s your step mommy!”
It was like a bomb went off. Riley does this thing sometimes when he’s attempting to get his point across. If you don’t respond immediately or he thinks you can’t hear him, he’ll repeat whatever it is he’s saying over and over again. If you have kids you understand. This is what happened. Four minutes worth of “Uh she is not my stepmom. Just my parent, okay? She’s not my stepmom.” At the top of his lungs he said it. Of course I’d purchased stacks of dishes that needed to be safely wrapped before being placed into their plastic shopping bags. At this point our cashier looked extremely uncomfortable, and people around were staring. The woman at the counter finished bagging our items, I paid and we exited the store. My head hung low.
It was really important to me to get to the root of what really upset Riley during this event so that in the future we might be able to avoid it. After a long talk with him, I discovered it was the “mom” word that bothered him so much. In our house, we don’t need titles to describe who I am to him. To him, I’m Courtney and I’ll always be okay with just being that. In reality I’m not his mom. I’m not even his stepmom. I’m just a person who has chosen to love him and his father and decided to become a full-time fixture in their everyday lives. But the episode that occurred yesterday really got me to thinking-this scenario could have easily been avoided.
My first thoughts about ways this could have been avoided revolved heavily around others. What if others were more sensitive about the things that they said? Why don’t people just stop asking questions like that? And they are fair thoughts, but at the end of the day-they aren’t realistic, and they place blame on everyone but myself. Was it an odd question? Sure, but was it spoken with any kind of malicious intent? Of course not! The reality is, not everyone knows your family’s dynamic. Strangers don’t know you. That’s why they are strangers. We can point the finger at those who don’t know us for their accusations all day long, but in the end these scenarios can only be avoided by YOU. If Michael and I would have sat down with Riley and explained to him that a scenario like this might eventually happen, and had developed a plan with him on how to react to it, it all could have been easily avoided.
Kids are creatures of habit. They thrive on structure and regularity. So when someone throws them a curveball, it freaks them out. They don’t know how to react. It’s our job as parents to prepare them for those curveballs. I’m really happy now that this has happened because it’s really helped me to understand what my responsibilities are and how I can help to make this huge transition in his life much smoother. It’s shown me the bigger picture and helped me to see that theres so much more to parenting than taking care of them here and now. It’s about preparing them for whatever will come their way tomorrow, and the next day.
Anything similar ever happen to you? What did you take away from the situation? Tell me all about it in the comments below!