For the past few weeks, every so often, one of my boys might look at me with a goofy grin and say, ‘Hey, Mom. Remember when you karate chopped that guy at Target?” And I’ll give them a kiss and say, “That’s right. No one messes with my kids.”
It’s a very strange story…
My three children and I were at the Target near our home. It had been a fun and relatively chilled shopping trip and after paying for our few items, we made our way to the escalator that would take us down to street level. Like many children their age, my two boys love escalators. Big, moving, mechanical stairs—what’s not to love, right? The descending stairs in front of us were empty so, while Ella stood beside me holding my hand, I let Jake and Josh carefully walked down the stairs ahead of me. Though not far away, they wound up stepping off the escalator while Ella and I were still only about halfway down.
Now before I go any further let me just say this: there are many times when my kids might be hyper and active, or even outright misbehaving. But in this instance they were not. They literally walked off and stood to the side, quietly waiting for me.
An older man probably in his early sixties had been walking toward the escalator and, when he got near the boys, abruptly and for no reason turned to 4 year old Joshua and in a loud, angry voice pointed a finger in his face and yelled, “You need to stand still and start behaving!” Alarmed, and still a few feet up with Ella at my side, I spoke firmly but pleasantly, “Sir, he’s with me. He’s not doing anything wrong.” Though hearing me, he looked back at Josh, leaned forward, roughly grabbed his shoulder and yelled, “You need to start listening!”
This all happened in mere moments. I was still a few steps away. A whole bunch of different thoughts flickered across my mind all at once: I realized this man might have a mental illness and deserved my compassion; I realized he might not be intending any harm and might just be a gruff old man; I was aware that there were several other people around and my typical instinct is quiet, social appropriateness.
But when you’re a parent, there’s this instinctive almost uncontrollable thing that happens when a child you love is in danger: all other thoughts fade into a hazy, unimportant background and the only thing that matters is that your child needs protection. As I watched this man grab my son’s shoulder, a voice I barely recognized, almost a growl, escaped from my lips. “Sir, you get your hand off my son right now.” He jerked upright. The people around us stopped and stared. By this time I was at the bottom beside my sons and, without thinking about what was the right thing to do and only following instinct, said, “Boys, walk beside me right now.” My heart was pounding with fear and also with the weirdness of what had just happened. Glancing at my sons’ faces I could tell they were scared, too.
We walked for a few moments in silence and then I saw Josh look up at me with a hint of smile. He reached over and took my hand. Then Jake looked over and simply said, “Wow, Mom. That was awesome.” Josh, starting to relax now, added his thoughts. “When he grabbed my shoulder and you yelled, I thought you were going to karate chop him, Mom!” And without slowing his stride he demonstrated a few fierce kicks and karate chops with some karate yells to boot.
The conversation then quickly degenerated as my sons brainstormed about various other quasi-violent things I could have done to this man. Gently stopping them, we wound up instead having a sweet conversation about loving others and showing compassion, especially to strange characters, but how protecting children from harm comes first.
This probably seems like such a weird incident to want to write down and remember, but in the weeks since, there’s a whole bunch of things I’ve grown to love about this strange little story.
~ I love that my children were proud of me and were reminded that if their Mom’s around, they’re safe.
~ I love that God took what began as a creepy, dark moment for our family and within moments transformed it into something joyful, something beautiful.
~ I love that as a parent, I’ve been created with this protective instinct that mirrors the instinct of the One who created me.
~ I love that my boys were able to clearly witness that if they’ve not done wrong, I won’t condemn them based on another adult’s accusation.
~ I love that as a frail, imperfect human parent, my instinct to love and protect points to a perfect, protective Father.
~ I love that God writes little stories like this into our bigger story to remind us of His fierce love for His children.
~ I love the reminder that even as I would do anything to protect my children God already did everything to protect His.
And so every time I smile and playfully say to my boys, “That’s right. No one messes with my kids,” I’m reminded that though in this life we’ll go through incredibly difficult stuff, in the most ultimate sense, God has said that very thing to us.