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  • Janyne McConnaughey, PhD

My First Tattoo: The Pear of Kindness

We sat down under the umbrella at a local restaurant to enjoy our breakfast. It was a sunny day after days of rain, and the air was warm and dry once again. I was watching a small girl at the next table when she suddenly lost it. Hysterical. Pulling at her blouse. Inconsolable. It was something about her pancake.

Scott and I looked at each other with the instant memory of when a fly landed on our daughter during lunch at a theme park, and she began screaming, “BEE!!!! BEEE!!!!!! BEEE!” Again and again her screams echoed through the park as the whole outdoor restaurant went into a respectful hush—and shame washed over us for having a child so completely out of control in a restaurant. Every parent has experienced this moment.

This child was beautiful with brown eyes and curly hair to match. I loved her instantly. Children always look at me in restaurants. I wonder if they see the child in me. Usually I can start a conversation and calm them, but when I asked her what happened, she yelled, “NO! YOU DON’T LOOK AT ME!” I had unintentionally made things worse. Her mother was apologizing but it wasn’t her fault. Now we were all bound in mother/child/stranger shame together.

I was so relieved when the mother picked up her small distressed child and held her. She looked at me and said something about her daughter being such a happy child most of the time, but she wanted Burger King pancakes instead. Made sense to me. I smiled in understanding and the small girl occasionally peeked at me around her mother’s shoulder. I smiled and told her that her eyes were beautiful. She hid again. Slowly the wave of emotions passed.

Then, the waitress took her pancakes away and a new wave of emotions began. “I wanted my pancakes!” Sometimes it is just not possible to know what to do. But her mother held her. She didn’t chide her. She didn’t punish her. She just loved her as we exchanged knowing glances and I said, “Some days are like that even for adults.”

I reflected on what had happened. She lost it. She knew she was losing it. In that moment, even as adults, we are aware that this is not the direction we should be taking, but we can’t stop the emotional wave that washes away all logic and reason. I believe in those moments we are at our most vulnerable and we need others to prevent us from falling into shame. I thought about the safety I found with my therapist when the emotional waves overtook me and she created a safe space for me to release the pent up emotions. That is what this mother’s arms did for her child. She created a safe space.

Before long, the small exquisite child climbed off her mother’s lap and began to chat with them. Then to my wonder, she picked up a pen and gave herself a tattoo. Then she proceeded to give her mother and grandmother a tattoo. To just add to this absolutely delightful moment, the waitress arrived with fresh pancakes ‘to go.’ The entire world seemed to be on a mission to take care of this small human being who had unexpectedly come apart.

As they packed up to leave and passed my table, I smiled at the child and she smiled back. She felt safe again. I stopped the mother and did ‘the thing’ I do. I said, “I am a early education professional, and I want you to know that you were an amazing mother today. You held her and let her emotions pass in your arms. It was beautiful.”

The look of gratitude I received renewed my mission to tell mothers when they are being amazing mothers even under the stress of awkward public meltdowns. We can make a difference in small children’s lives by encouraging mothers! The small child was looking at me now. I said, “I saw you giving tattoos. That was wonderful. I wanted a tattoo too!”

She looked at her mother and they agreed I should have one. As she started to draw on my arm, the grandmother leaned over to me and said, “I have three daughters. You don’t know what you did for my daughter today.” No, I don’t, but I think I do.

I looked down at the odd shaped circle the small charming human was drawing on my wrist and she said, “It is a pear, it needs a stem.”

“Oh it is! It is perfect!” I exclaimed as we smiled at each other.

It was my very first tattoo. God sent a very small human to give me a tattoo.I wish this tattoo would never wash away. It symbolizes so much that I believe in as my mission. It was the pear of kindness. This child will forever be my inspiration to speak encouragement to the young mothers following behind me. It isn’t about controlling our children; it is about loving them.

Love your children. Hold them when they cry. Help them come out on the other side of the emotional waves in which they are drowning. Then let them know everything is OK—maybe by getting them more pancakes and letting them draw tattoos on a kind lady’s arm. It is how we make a child's world better one kind moment at a time.

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