To the older man at Inniswood Metro Park tonight–
This evening you saw us playing with our four children in the algae filled pond and in the woods at the back of the park. I know because I noticed you before you saw us.
You were there alone, walking on the path with your hands held behind your back and I briefly wondered about you. My grandfather loved to walk too. It was something we did together often, walking several miles and chatting about the nature we passed, discussing all kinds of stories from his youth, and sometimes just walking silently enjoying the time together.
You saw our children tonight in the woods laughing, happy, carefree.
One of my children picked a bouquet of flowers for me. He hid them behind his back and then bashfully presented them to me.
This is him, holding the flowers out of sight, just before he gave them to me.
You remember him, right?
To be honest, I’m not sure what you were thinking. You stormed up to my little boy with his sweet grin and twinkling eyes. He was so pleased that he had given me a gift. He had accepted my hug and kiss on the cheek, and he glowed with pride, but you didn’t seem to notice that.
You were very angry that my boy picked a few of the wildflowers growing in the brush at the edge of the woods and then added one flower off of a tree to make a pretty bouquet. You furiously told us all that we would be in trouble for picking flowers, and that flowers were for everyone to enjoy. Then you glared, stared at us with what seemed like complete loathing for a long moment, I guess waiting for our response.
You wanted me to put down the flowers. My boy was watching to see how I would respond. My other children were also watching.
We said absolutely nothing to you because it would make no difference. We simply stared back at you in shock and confusion.
To be frank, I immediately felt like punching you in the face, and at the same time I felt very sad for you. Only people who are unhappy inside feel the need to be rude and frightening to happy children.
I looked straight into your eyes. They were hard. Angry. Your entire body was stiff. I suppose you felt very passionate about the wildflowers. Or maybe you were just having a bad day and needed to take it out on someone smaller than you. I don’t know. I will likely never know.
After we failed to respond to your scolding you turned your back and stormed off towards the entrance of the park, which was also where we were headed. You knew that because you were watching and listening when I told my children we needed to head home.
You thought you knew exactly what was happening, you thought you saw a child destroying nature. But there was something your sharp brown eyes missed when you were watching us tonight.
What you didn’t see clearly was my boy. What you didn’t see was his confusion, because he doesn’t speak a single word of English. He had no idea what you were saying when you hovered over him and yelled at him, but he knew you were angry and pointing to the flowers he’d given me.
What you didn’t see was the bonding and connection my boy offered me over a bouquet of wildflowers. You didn’t know that he was abandoned by his mother, or that he lives in an Eastern European orphanage with two hundred other children. You didn’t know that he struggles to trust women, and that from the moment he stepped off the airplane for his summer visit with us in America my goal has been to show this tiny little boy what it means to be loved unconditionally so that he can start to heal from his past.
He gave me wildflowers. But it was so much more than that. You couldn’t know.
You have no idea that we love nature and typically don’t pick every flower we see, or that it’s difficult to explain things like this to a child who hasn’t yet learned English. But more so than that, you chose to react with anger and disdain rather than kindly remind my boy that we should leave the flowers for the bees.
After you stomped off you didn’t see my little boy’s slumped shoulders and dejected face. You didn’t see how he stopped making eye contact with me and walked ahead, alone. You couldn’t know that he was remembering past traumatic experiences that your anger brought back to his mind.
But you were still watching us, with your eagle eyes. I saw you stop and pretend to look at a bush near the parking lot, waiting for us to walk past you so that you could further scold us, or maybe alert the park ranger that my boy had picked wildflowers as you threatened to do earlier, because I had refused to put them down.
I wasn’t holding any flowers though. Your watchful eyes didn’t see me, I waited until you had your back turned. I tucked the bouquet of flowers into the waistband of my skirt, bugs, itchiness, and everything. Then I pulled my shirt over them.
Not because I enjoy putting insect-ridden flowers in my drawers. No. And not because I really wanted to take home the wilted flowers that badly.
It was because I couldn’t think of any other way to salvage the connection that you ruined with my brand new boy. When you weren’t looking I lifted the edge of my shirt and showed my sad little boy the hidden bouquet and winked at him. He flashed me that grin, the one with the dimples, and he took my hand in his again. The literal ants I got in my pants were totally worth the restored connection.
I watched you get into your car. You saw me watching you. Then you drove away. Hopefully I will never see you again, because I don’t have the emotional energy to deal with people who are filled with anger. However, I do wish I could send you this letter.
You’re much older than I am, and I’m sure you have quite a bit more life experience. Yet it’s frightfully obvious that there is something you’ve missed along the way. I now have a blue mason jar of wildflowers sitting on my kitchen counter as a reminder. Life is short, and years pass quickly. We live in a world that rushes to react with judgement and anger, and never compassion. I pray I raise my kids to continue being the ones that pick pretty flowers with joy, and that they continue to respond to others with compassion rather than rage because the world clearly needs a lot more love.
Otherwise they may end up bitter like you. Thank you for that life lesson for my children. We discussed it tonight as I tucked them into bed, and they’re worried about you.
The Mother From the Park Who (THANKS TO YOU) Now Probably Has a Tick or Three in Her Unmentionables.