I spend a lot of time at parks. In fact a lot of life’s lessons have happened to me while at a park. I think I have been to every park in Petaluma at least two dozen times. I know which ones have shade and which ones don’t. I know which parks only have baby swings and which ones are better for bigger kids. I know which parks have bathrooms and which ones don’t. I know which ones are generally clean and I know which ones my kids are libel to eat cigarette butts at (yes, that really did happen).

There are parks that are smaller and easier to manage the kids on and then there is that one park in particular that scares me because of its massive layout. At that park, unless I bring my “A game”, manning the zone, I will lose one or more of my kids. I often swear that no one consulted a mother of four when designing that park, but we go there because it’s a great park and my kids love it. There is also the park that scares me because of its steep drop-offs on all sides of the slides. I knock on wood that none of my kids have fallen off (yet). I even know which parks to avoid because for sure there is going to be a battle with my kids when the ice cream truck rolls by.

I judge myself a lot when I go to these parks. I worry that if I’m not on top of my kids monitoring every thing closely someone will get hurt and parents will give me the stink eye for not being there. I know I have always cared too much what other people think of me, but I wouldn’t want other people criticizing me because I can’t monitor my kids or worse..having someone ask me “Why did you have so many if you can’t control them?”

Truth is that I rely on other parents to help me get by when I’m there. I don’t take advantage of them on purpose but how else does one woman push one kid on a baby swing, one kid on a big swing, and make sure the other two don’t fall off the slide? Many wonderful Petaluma parents have come to my aid giving my kid a push or stopping a swing in motion to prevent the baby from getting knocked down. I recently got the stink eye from a grandfather pushing his grandchild on the swing. He had to stop the swing from hitting my child. I was embarrassed and I thanked him for it, but I swear he just grunted at me.

I was at McNear park the other day when one of the most profound lessons I have had in awhile occurred. I was there with three of my four children (which seems like a vacation). Harper was toddling about, Georgia was running around independently, and Rocky was on the swing wanting to be pushed. There was a woman there, pushing her daughter on the swing too. As I ran back and forth between the jungle gym and the swings pushing my kid and following Harper around, I felt like a fool. I felt like she was probably thinking I looked like a fool too. She didn’t say anything to me but I felt bad that she had to help my daughter with a push on the swing. Mostly I was judging myself and wished that I didn’t feel so frantic chasing around after them. It’s impossible, but I wish I could have been there equally for all of them.

Soon enough Rocky got off the swings and played closer to me where it was easier to monitor the action. A few minutes went by and the woman’s daughter, right in front of her, fell off the swing and started to cry. The woman scooped up her child and held her close while she cried.

I saw it happen and felt compassion for the little girl, sometimes even when you are right there they can get hurt. I usually don’t react when my children fall; I scoop them up put them on their feet, dust them off, and send them on their way. “You’re okay!” I quickly say. I generally have a low tolerance for discomfort and I have always been afraid of hearing them cry for too long.

I went on about my business monitoring my kiddos only to look back maybe 15 minutes later and saw the woman still sitting near the swing in the same place holding her daughter. Rather than scooping up her child and dusting her off and pushing her along, the woman let time pass by as she held her daughter until she stopped crying and until her daughter felt like she was ready to move on.

Now, this may seem like no big deal, but to me witnessing that moment was life changing. I’m always in a hurry, rushing to scoop up the kids, brush them off, and send them on their way. I always let go first without them telling me when they are ready to move on.

What a concept! To actually hold a child and provide them comfort when they need it and encourage them to process through the feelings rather than insist they move on before they are ready.

Since this happened, I have been thinking about that mother almost daily, and I have actually been taking the time each day to hold my children more. When one of my kids has hurt themselves, which has probably happened twenty times since then, I have held them, let them shed their tears, and I acknowledged their feelings. What has resulted has been an incredible change in how I am feeling as I parent these four little beings. I have felt closer to them, they have felt listened to, and we all have been getting along so much better than before.

I didn’t know if I would ever see that woman at a park again. I didn’t know if I would ever have cause to tell her how much watching her with her daughter changed how I am parenting my children with more tolerance for their feelings. Then today, while at a park for a birthday party, I saw her. I introduced myself and told her that I think I saw her at McNear the other day. She had remembered me and I told her how moved I was witnessing her with her daughter and how much it had done for me in the weeks since that had happened. She smiled and thanked me and then she told me that she had similarly been in awe of me because I had seemed so calm and patience with my girls despite being pulled in many different directions.

I was so grateful to share that moment with this mother on a different day in a different park. Sometimes life has a way of completely blowing my mind in the most positive, simple, way. I am so happy that my lessons don’t always have to come to me so harshly and that parenting lessons can come to me while standing beneath a jungle gym, at a park, on a sunny day in April.