A few weeks ago I took my kids out to breakfast at a casual, family-friendly diner. As we were waiting for our food to arrive, a toddler burst into the diner and headed for the life-size cardboard Santa Claus next to our table. He was clapping, jumping up an down, and hugging the Santa. I could tell his mother was embarrassed as she tried to get him to be quiet. Of course, he was too lost in his own world to hear anything she was saying, as he should have been — Santa was right in front of him!
She picked him up and leaned over to me and said, “I am so, so sorry.”
I pointed to my three kids (who were not even phased), and told her it wasn’t that long ago that my children (ages 11, 12, and 14) were the same way. It was actually really nice to experience that kind of excited innocence again.
I wish that I had also told her that moments before her adorable boy burst into the restaurant, it was clear that I was torturing my children by trying to get them to talk to me. That they probably didn’t even see the Santa propped next to our table and it made me feel sad. That my kids (especially my eldest) used to react the exact same way, and I miss those days terribly.
It was clear that she was a wonderful mother who was concerned about disturbing other people while they were eating their meals. I felt bad she felt she had to apologize, but I understood why she did it. I remember when I was concerned that my children were disrupting others in a public place, and I would leave feeling exasperated.
Looking back on those times now, however, I can see that most of the time they were just really excited, not misbehaving. There is a difference. We all know there is a time and place to get silly, and sometimes as parents it can be hard to take our children’s overzealousness for what it is.
When your children stop reacting to things with that type of wonder and passion, as I’m discovering, it leaves a void. To me, seeing a child express joy is a gift. It’s a reminder of how precious life is and how the little things really do mean the most. I bet there are many people out there who wish they felt half as happy about something in their life as that little boy does about Santa.
I know there are times when we are exhausted and we feel that wherever we go we come in like a raging storm and disrupt everyone. I’ve felt it many times before, and it’s not a good feeling. But it breaks my heart to see parents feel like they have to apologize for their joyful children. I know I am not alone when I say that seeing a happy child is one of the most beautiful sights in the world. I just hope people don’t forget that.