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Mall Employee's Small Act of Kindness Goes a Long Way for One Mom

Photograph by Heather Michelle Photography

I hate the mall. As an introvert with sensory-processing issues, the mall is too loud, too bright and usually too crowded for me. But this past Saturday, I drove there anyway, on a mission for kindness.

I wasn’t going to hug strangers in the food court or help carry bags for the elderly. My mission was far more selfish. I was jewelry shopping for myself.

Before you stop reading or toss a label my way, let me explain. My biggest parenting flaw, by far, is my temper. My dad is a master yeller who screams at everyone for just about anything. Since I almost never yell at my husband, friends, coworkers or strangers, I assumed I wouldn’t yell at my children. After all, I know first-hand how traumatic it can be for a child.

I parented my first daughter with my mother’s gentleness. Then, I had my second daughter and gave birth to my very own dragon’s mouth.

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The harsh words that spew from my mouth frighten my kids. They scare the shit out of me.

I flip my lid regularly with an intensity that leaves my vocal cords strained. The harsh words that spew from my mouth frighten my kids. They scare the shit out of me. Sometimes, I hear the exact phrases my dad yelled re-screamed at a higher pitch. Hear, not say. It’s almost like an out-of-body experience. Even while I’m yelling, a voice in my head urges me to stop. This is wrong, it whispers above my roaring. This is not the mom you want to be. This is not the mom you want the girls to become.

When school began earlier this month, the transition back jolted everyone. My daughters acted out. My patience thinned. One morning, as I rushed to get them out the door for the hourlong drop-off routine before work, I nearly lost my mind. I was so hoarse afterwards that a colleague noticed.

Sometimes, parenting is my metaphorical mall: too loud, too bright and too crowded. Everything happens so quickly. Everyone wants me at once. I need time to regroup, but time is a luxury few parents have.

I’ve given a lot of thought to the reasons I yell—like feeling rushed—and ways I can prevent it. While this has helped, I continue to lose my cool. The morning I referenced above happened, in part, because I didn’t do enough the night before and ran out of time. But no amount of planning can prevent the surge of anger that courses through me when my daughters don’t listen.

Yelling, while awful, is sometimes the only way I feel heard. However, when I take a minute to breathe, to kneel down eye-to-eye and speak gently, my kids do listen. But in the heat of the moment, I forget to take that breath. I forget to be kind.

So, I decided I needed a reminder. I considered tattooing the phrase “BE Kind” on my wrist. (“B” and “E” are my daughters’ first initials.) Because both my husband and my employer aren’t too thrilled with permanent ink in prominent places, I opted for an engraved bracelet.

After sitting in traffic and circling the parking lot for a space, I finally weaved my way through the crowds into the Things Remembered store.

The first sales clerk to help me was a young guy, who showed me the jewelry section and left to help a couple select groomsmen gifts for their upcoming wedding.

In addition to hating the mall, I hate shopping in general. I’m terrible at making decisions, and I hate spending money on things. I’m all about food and travel and adventures and Kindle downloads, but I wear my clothes until they fall apart and decorate with a simplicity that borders on boring. (OK, it is boring.)

Even the limited bracelet selection at Things Remembered left me reeling. After a while, the store manager gently approached me and asked to help.

“Well,” I said, somewhat embarrassed. “I’m buying a bracelet for myself, and I think I need one that will clasp.”

She looked at my tiny wrists. “Yes,” she agreed. “I think you do.”

“It’s to remind me not to yell at my kids,” I blurted. “It’s to remind me to be kind.”

My throat started to tighten and my contacts floated a bit on the tears I was trying so hard to keep in.

“I think you should go with something a bit sturdier than that,” she said, pointing to the bracelet in my hands. “If you’re wearing it every day.”

She was all business, directing me to a bracelet exactly like what I had imagined when I thought of the idea. Then she said, “It’s OK, you know. We all yell sometimes. I have a toddler, and I yell more than I should.”

I looked at her and nodded, too upset to really speak. I went to the mall looking for a reminder to be kind to my girls. I never expected to find kindness for myself.

The experience of buying it will serve as yet more proof that kindness, even in the smallest doses, can have a profound impact.

Then I thought about the concept of this store. People come here to engrave things with names and dates that are so important they have no fear of being forgotten: graduations, weddings, births, deaths—the big, important events that make life meaningful.

I’m sure the store manager had seen people cry tears of joy as well as pain. She’s inscribed words on glass and metal that meant nothing to her and sometimes the world to someone else. She handed me over to another clerk to finish the transaction so she could continue the engraving work she had stopped to help me. I was able to repeat the story to this new helper without bawling. She gave me a sweet smile, and together we selected a font I could read clearly.

I hope the simple act of putting on this bracelet every single morning will teach me to approach each day with kindness. I pray the weight of this tiny silver bangle will press against my skin from time to time when I need to be reminded of the mother I want to be. But if it does nothing else, the experience of buying it will serve as yet more proof that kindness, even in the smallest doses, can have a profound impact.

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The steps I’m taking on my own may never be enough to silence my dragon mouth. Perhaps I need therapy or more sleep or less caffeine. But I will keep trying to be the mother my kids deserve. I will keep trying to find kindness in myself. In the meantime, I will celebrate finding it in the most unexpected places.

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