When I was a mother to just one child, and after he had passed the tiny newborn stage of being easily over-stimulated by sounds and smells and lights, I took many, many walks with my son. I would strap him into the baby carrier I wore on my chest, and we’d set out–sometimes multiple times a day, sometimes miles at a time. Often, I’d walk on a sunny day with an umbrella over us, shielding him from the sun’s rays.
We’d walk to our bank, to the grocery store that opened across the road from our house during my pregnancy with him. We even walked a little further one day to a different grocery store. I had not brought my purse on that trip, and I had no plans to shop, but this store was a destination. Someplace to go and cool off and look around and be around other people, even in the most indirect way.
A friend gave us a second-hand stroller around the time our first son came into the world. I didn’t use it as often as I used the baby carrier, preferring to “wear” my little boy. But once in a while he did go into the stroller for a walk.
One particular hot afternoon, I waited until enough time in the day had passed so that we didn’t need to wear sunblock and loaded my boy into his stroller. We set off on our walk and, after a mile or so, turned around to go back. We arrived at the crosswalk leading us to the street that would take us home, where we waited for the “walk” sign to indicate when we could safely cross this four-lane road. When the white lights in the vague shape of a bald human appeared on the sign, I double checked that the intersection was clear, and then we set out.
As we neared the other side of the road, I noticed a big truck waiting to turn right, waiting for me and my little boy to finish crossing. By this time, the white human-shaped lights had begun to flash a red open-palmed hand. I knew that we could make it all the way across before the hand stopped flashing, showing the “don’t walk” sign. But at the moment, while the driver did have a green light, we still had the right-of-way and the right to finish crossing. Then the driver of this truck, inching his way into the lane, leaned out his open window and shook his head at me in disgust and said, “You have a child!”
Although he didn’t say more then these few words, I believed his meaning to be clear: that he felt I’d blithely stepped out into a dangerous road, carelessly choosing to cross in the midst of traffic, and even worse, doing that while pushing a baby in a stroller.
As my feet hit the sidewalk near our neighborhood, and I heard the truck rumble behind me, I felt the wave of that driver’s judgment wash over me. I felt an overwhelming impulse to explain myself, to point out that my actions had been correct and that my choice hadn’t been dangerous. In my spirit, I felt myself stuttering, “But, but, but…I didn’t endanger my child!” I knew, intellectually, that this was not to be taken personally. That allowing those thoughts to grow in my mind was pointless. That this person just didn’t understand, and that I was simply misunderstood–but, oh, how I wanted to be understood!
I felt no anger or frustration toward this truck driver–and, oddly, as I consider this experience 9 years later, no judgment toward him for not being patient as I crossed the road with my baby. I just wanted–fruitlessly wanted–to explain myself and be understood, to have this person respond,“Oh! I see. Now I understand.” And my insides were churning and unsettled because I knew I couldn’t get that resolution.
Why did this matter so much to me? Why did a passing comment from a passing driver carry so much weight in how it impacted me, my heart?
Nine years later, this is what I think. This took place during a time in my life when I felt acutely confused, misunderstood, and doubtful of my own instincts. Not so much instincts about mothering (although I doubted those, too, at times) but instincts about my understanding of circumstances going on around me. I struggled with doubt that the very real things I observed in a relationship of mine were indeed very real. You know those thoughts of, “Is this just me? Am I crazy to think this?” I daily had reason to wrestle with those questions. And the truck driver misunderstanding about my crossing the road? Just one more instance in which I wanted to say, “Wait! I’m not crazy. It’s not just me. It really was our turn to cross the road, and you really were supposed to wait your turn.”
But here’s something that God has shown me recently that helps, that helps soothe the engulfing desire to make myself understood and to be understood…There is nothing to prove. God knows me, knows the truth about me, has already called me lovely and love-able and His own. Nobody else needs to acknowledge that for it to be true. And nobody else is required to treat me that way in order for it to be true. It’s possible to be dismissed, ignored, and misunderstood and yet never have my certainty that I am worthwhile and wanted be shaken.
I can surrender that truck driver’s estimation of me–and anyone else’s, for that matter–because the ultimate estimation has already been settled, by none other than the God of the universe who loves me and gave His Son for me.