Earlier this week, I had a rare treat.
My daughter went to bed early, but that wasn’t anything special–she typically goes down by 7:30 p.m. It was that after we tucked her in and kissed her goodnight, I didn’t feel like collapsing into my own bed. I had energy. I wanted to do something.
Maybe it was the springtime sunlight starting to extend into the evening hours. Or the benefits of second trimester and being in my 17th week of pregnancy. Regardless, I was in the mood to get out of the house.
“Hon,” I said to my husband. “I’m going to Target.”
Ahhhhh, Target: the mecca for moms. Something about that Red Bull’s Eye just draws you into its magnetic embrace, a sense of euphoria sweeping over you as you step through the automatic sliding glass doors. So much to see and do awaits you there: Starbucks. Accessories. Home goods. Shoes. Clothes. Toys. Snacks. And the most wonderful place of all: the Clearance Racks.
Plus, the chance to go without kids in tow?? Pure bliss.
With a tall coffee frap in hand, focused only on myself, I set out. But what was intended to be a relaxing trip to Mommy’s Happy Place, sadly, went dark. And it’s been haunting me since.
I was pushing my cart through the aisles of the toddler girls’ section, when my path crossed with a young couple and their daughter. I won’t give all the specifics, but it was clear the mom had some health issues and perhaps was pregnant herself. Dad pushed the girl, who looked between two and three, in a stroller.
As I perused on the opposite side of a display, the peace was suddenly broken by something you don’t expect to hear in the kids’ section of a family store: an angry yell and a string of filthy expletives from the dad. It was clear his wrath was directed at his daughter.
“Stop messing around, Ava,” he exploded. (And that is the scrubbed clean version of what he said.) The girl had slid forward out the front of her stroller … because she hadn’t been strapped in. He shoved her back upright as the mom nonchalantly passed by, saying something about needing to get her shorts. The girl said not one word.
The slap of the man’s words directed at the innocent girl stung my eyes with tears. I stood in shock, as extreme anger and deep sadness at once filled me up. Perhaps it was the pregnancy hormones, or a memory from the past. My heart broke for this little girl.
By the time the rage and sorrow began to subside and I could move from the spot I was frozen in, the couple was nowhere in sight. I said a quick prayer, “Lord, thank you for giving my daughter a daddy that does not speak to her like that. Protect this little girl, who you love,” before continuing on.
I thought that was the last time I would see them, but as I entered the jewelry section about 30 minutes later, I heard a woman’s voice screaming and cursing from around the corner. The dad and girl, followed by the mom, came into view.
As they got closer, her words got clearer.
“She shouldn’t be making fun of me. It’s not nice,” she spit out. “All I said was, if my daughter ever acted that way, I would (expletive) punch her in the face.”
She continued her tirade as the dad pushed the stroller past me. The daughter, head full of thick, golden curls, looked up at me and smiled. I smiled back, masking my anger.
As the mom went on, the words “can you please not use that language?” raced to my lips, but I bit them back. Though I hadn’t heard the incident that preceded her outburst, it was clear that this couple wasn’t afraid of a confrontation, and I didn’t think that response would do any good. I fought the urge to compulsively scoop the girl out of the stroller and run for the doors. My mama heart throbbed.
Again, I was frozen, as I struggled with what to do. By this time, the couple was heading for the exit.
As I went to bed that night, I couldn’t get the incident–and precious Ava–off my mind. I wish I could’ve come up with some way that would’ve showed this couple Christ. I wish I could’ve wrapped my arms around Ava and shielded her from the ugliness of this world.
I also thought about how I am far from perfect in my response and reactions, and I recalled the (many) times I have failed to control my temper and lashed out in anger and impatience. At David. At Olivia. About how without the grace and help of God, I am no different. About how words can cut deep and leave behind scars. About how this world, in its imperfect form, is filled with pain and hurt, absent from the redemption of Christ.
Though I’m sure what I had wanted to say in the moment would not have been profitable, I am not convinced my silence was the right response either. As I tossed in the darkness, I prayed that the lessons of the night would not be lost. That the next time, God would give me the right words to say.
As for the couple and their little girl, I pray that God would send His transformative light into their lives. He is our hope. And at my next seemingly innocuous trip to Target, or anywhere else, He’ll allow a little of it to shine through me.