by Christy Gualtieri
“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” – His Holiness The Dalai Lama
He hadn’t eaten for hours, poor guy, and my three-year old was ready to lose it. We were three hours into a six hour car drive, and I couldn’t tell you how relieved I was to see the Golden Arches looming ahead of us on the highway.
We’d been visiting my parents back in New Jersey. It was my mom’s birthday, and I’d found out on the way there that she has decided to stop her chemotherapy treatments. They weren’t working, and were seriously cutting down her quality of life. It was a decision I respected and would even have made myself, but it all just made the imminence of the end of her time here with us that much more real. It had been a good weekend – my brothers and parents and I were together for the first time in three years – but it was emotionally taxing. And with three hours of a preschooler kicking the back of my seat and screaming for us to drive faster, I’d just about had it, too.
We unloaded into the restaurant and I quickly started nursing my three-month-old, who had been quiet thus far but was also beginning to get equally fussy. My husband took my son to the counter for ordering our meals, and that’s when it happened: the meltdowns to end all meltdowns. Full-on tantruming ensued, and from where I was at the table, infant attached to me, there was little I could do about it.
“That is unbelievable,” an older woman sitting two tables next to me said loudly to her husband. “When so-and-so was a baby, I would take her out just one time and that would be the end of it. I would never allow her to be rewarded with McDonald’s for such bad behavior.” She continued talking about her exemplary parenting skills, from which I could only deduce she had given birth to Earth’s most angelic, non-problematic children.
It’s not a reward. We have to eat here – one, there’s no other restaurant in sight, and two, it’s a safe bet because we know what’s in the food to accommodate his food allergies. Yes, I know that he’s melting down, but well, he’s three years old, and he’s been cooped up, hungry in a car for three hours. He’s also been away from his home, and his routine, and yes, it is horrible behavior, but he’s not always like this. Even if he was, that’s hardly any of your business.
…I didn’t say any of that out loud to her. I just sat there in total shame, cheeks blazing, feeling dejected. I knew my child wasn’t on his best behavior – and he was suitably disciplined and was actually quite behaved for the rest of the trip – but what I needed most at that moment wasn’t judgment – it was compassion.
That part of the trip helped me understand how important practicing compassion is to others, and how even one small gesture of it can lift someone’s spirits and make such a difference to their day. It really can. I felt horrible about what happened for hours, when I could have been encouraged to hang in there and know I wasn’t alone.
When you’re faced with moments like these, I hope you try to exercise compassion, too – and most of all, I hope that when you need it the most, you are able to find it.
Until next time, be well!
Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and son, blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com, and tweets @agapeflower117. Follow PghPsych on Facebook and Twitter for daily updates, inspirational quotes, articles, and different events and causes related to good mental health!