Say something nice.

Here’s this week’s column, pulling double duty for both papers. Love to all.

“It’s here. The twinkle lights, the holiday cards, the waistline devastation–there’s no escaping the good will.

The best thing about the Christmas season is the onslaught of charitable acts. From food banks to giving trees, the holidays have a way of encouraging material generosity. But what about the other kind of charity?

I have four children under the age of eight. All four of them excel at making messes, dirtying laundry, being hungry at inappropriate times, backtalking, and crying loudly in public places. There are days when I think about how awesome it will be to turn sixty, wrinkly knees and all. (There are also days when I’m horrified to discover that one of my babies has grown into a new shoe size.)

Last week I took my three youngest children to Costco for milk, eggs, and a new DVD player. Before entering the store, I laid everything out for my two and five-year-old. Hey, our child therapist says that an ounce of prevention is worth seven thousand fits.

“Here’s the deal, kiddo’s. You will both ride in the cart, do you understand? No walking, just riding. Your feet will not touch the ground, your bottoms will stay sitting, and if you’re really good you’ll get a hot dog when I’m done. Got it?”

They smiled and nodded like good little chicks, climbed into the cart with the baby carrier up top, and we headed into the store.

At first things went relatively smoothly. Sure, we had to stop at every sample station, and get a good look at the dead fish, but nothing out of the ordinary. We even managed to bypass the Christmas toy aisle before they knew what they were missing. Just as we were coming up toward the check out lines, Junie (2) decided she’d had enough. She wanted out.

“Mom! I wanna walk!”

“Sorry babe, that’s a negative. Let’s go get a–”

“NYOO! I WANNA WALK! LET ME OUT! LET ME OUT!!” At this point she stood up and dove, head first, out of the cart and onto the concrete in a race for certain freedom. I caught her three inches from skull cracking.

Let me tell you, there’s nothing more embarrassing than a toddler with astronomical vocal chords. This girl is loud. She’s brassy and bossy and can scream the monks out of meditation. And of course, I was surrounded by grandparent-age shoppers, all giving me that, “So what are you going to do about it?” look that every mother dreads.

I did the only thing I could think of; I yanked her behind a big crate of soap, knelt down, and pinned her arms to her sides. Then I quietly and emphatically demanded that she apologize before I let her back in the cart.

It took two and a half minutes.

By the time she calmed down, I wanted nothing more than to drop my items and run for the car. I was humiliated, horrified, and despite my now obedient daughter, felt like the whole world was staring at us. I put her in the cart and started for the front when I felt a tap on my back.

“Excuse me,” said an older gentleman. I gulped. There he was, a witness to my horrible offspring, coming in for the kill. I steeled myself for what was sure to come.

“I just want you to know that you are a good mother. I watched what just happened with your daughter, and I’m impressed. I wish there were more mothers out there like you. You have a good day now.” He patted my shoulder and walked away.

In that moment, all the frustrations and anxiety and struggles that come with being a young mother were validated. Being a parent is hard. We doubt ourselves all the time, worry that we’re not teaching them right, or letting them eat too much sugar. There’s TV to police, friends to be wary of, potty training to tackle. It seems like every time I turn around there’s a sticky little three foot obstacle just waiting to trip me up.

Maybe this man didn’t shovel my walk, or donate a lung, but he gave me a type of charity that no amount of gift cards could match. He reached out and touched a stranger who really needed a word of encouragement. I walked away from him holding my head up a little higher, and trying not to leak mommy tears all over my infant’s car seat.

Reach out this holiday season. You might not have the money to offer someone a charitable donation, but what we lack in finances, we can make up for in friendship.”


  1. It is so difficult to be a parent of young children, and I understand your frustration completely. I’m closing in on my 60s now, and am embarrassed for our culture in general that becomes more and more intolerant of the antics of little ones. We all need a little more patience and understanding of parents trying to control their little ones. It’s a tough job. And at least us onlookers get to go home to a quiet house. 😉

  2. Yes, there are so many days we need this and then there are days that we need to give it. I wish that man had been around when my daughter tried to kill me with a shopping cart. 🙂

  3. Wow. I’m a little choked up. That was incredibly nice of him. It’s crazy what a kind word can do for someone.

  4. OH, what a wonderful man!! Too many times, when we are overwhelmed, people just avoid eye contact and move on. What a blessing your received that day. I hope we all remember to pass it on.

  5. For every woman like that lady at the tire place, there is a guy like him. Bravo to him! And you.

  6. Awww that made me get all teary eyed! I’m so glad he did that!

    That has been my motto ALL year: I may not be able to give tons of money to charities, but I CAN be a friend! 🙂

  7. That was incredible, Annie. I’m so glad he said something, so glad he shared that truth with you–because you are a good mommy. Merry Christmas, Annie!

  8. What a great story!(minus the parts about being humiliated by your toddler…it happens to the best of us!) That is a nice reminder that a few kind words can go a really long way!
    BTW the poop problem Junie is having, we just got over it. I’m talking 6 months of asking to poop in a diaper but never a number one accident. SOOOO frustrating! Hang in there! She will only do it when she is ready. Positive reenforcement, negative reenforcement, doesn’t matter. If she’s anything like my girl, SHE will decide when she wants to do it!

  9. I want to give that man a big hug. Great reminder to speak up. We can all use a bit of a pat on the back–you never know when someone could use one.

  10. I wish more people would do these seemingly small acts of charity. It means a heck of a lot to the recipient…more than we often know.

  11. I had a sweet lady tell me something like this when I was in a store with RJ and he was whining for a new toy. It gave me more confidence and energy than I’d felt in days. Kindness is an amazing adrenaline rush.

  12. Just thought I’d let you know that after I read this today, I went to church and the lady doing a talk in sacrament used this very post as part of her talk. I recognized it right away and was very excited. I loved this story and apparently others did too!

  13. Camille Fox says:

    That was really nice Annie. Merry Christmas my friend.

  14. Awesome. I’ve seen your mothering skills in action and I agree. Your little Junie is going to be the most confident girl ever because of how you speak to her and ABOUT her. I knew she was amazing before I ever met her just because of the way you talked her up. You’re a great mama. And a great friend, too! Love you tons!

  15. Don’t know if you’ve heard about this yet
    thought it went along with your story. More often than not our parenting can be viewed by others negatively. Too bad it had to happen to this mom.

  16. That was so sweet. You’re right that it’s the little things that can make ours & just as importantly, other peoples days. Thanks for the reminder.