applauseSo the other day my friend, Meredith and I were riding the bus home after picking up our four-year-olds from pre-K. In fact I think we had our four-year-olds and a couple of other people’s four year-olds. Not an uncommon occurrence. The 15 minute commute is often spent making sure the seating arrangements are fair (everyone is sitting with whom they want to sit near a window that is to their liking), soothing snack envy by making actual fruit seem as inviting as Tommy’s fruit snacks, and/or encouraging kids to share the amazing plastic treasure Suzy happens to pull from her pocket. As you can imagine, this doesn’t leave a lot of time for other conversation, but Meredith and I work pretty hard at it anyway. This particular day the kids had worked out their own seating arrangements, enjoyed their own snacks, and freely shared their treasures, so we found ourselves deep in important conversation regarding a fantastic vegetable cobbler I’d made the night before. (Yes, vegetables, fall vegetables, mmmmm. The cobbler involved cream and butter. Turns out these are a winning combination-quelle surprise!)

The conversation hadn’t started there. We’d discussed other meaningful things, like what kinds of vegetables our kids would and wouldn’t eat, how no matter the parenting techniques some kids just won’t be persuaded to try new things. (Important slightly related side-note: we concluded it’s generally not a failure on the parent’s part, but merely an incredibly strong-will on the part of the child.) We had also shared freely the types of vegetables that do and don’t agree with our digestive systems and some of the not-so friendly side-effects. Though I believe and will hold to it, that we discussed this in an entirely appropriate and lady-like manner. All of this had transpired while the children happily rode along.

As we approached the bus stop a couple of blocks before our destination a woman who had been sitting several seats away gathered her cart, jacket, scarf, purse, and stood up preparing to get off. As the bus slowed to a stop she turned to me and began to slowly and deliberately clap her hands. CLAP . . . . . CLAP . . . . CLAP . . . .CLAP . . . .

“BRAVO!” she said, “WONDERFUL, AMAZING PERFORMANCE!” Now I liked my vegetable cobbler a whole lot too, but the look on her face and tone of her voice dripped with sarcasm and disdain, so I was pretty sure she wasn’t applauding my culinary efforts. I looked around me to see if someone else was meant to be the recipient of this praise. Nope, she peered directly at me, shaking her head as if she’d just eaten a raw turnip, no cream or butter involved. The eye contact didn’t lie, but I still felt baffled and had to ask, “Are you talking to me?” That sent her over the edge, or perhaps she’d already left the edge and my ridiculous question brought her back to the ledge long enough to return and berate me.

“AM I TALKING TO YOU? YES I’M TALKING TO YOU! I W O U L D N E V E R SPEAK TO MY CHILD IN THAT TONE, OR ANY CHILD FOR THAT MATTER!!” Now I hope I’ve brought you along on this journey in such a way that at this point in my post you are thinking, “Huh? What the heck is she talking about?” Because here is exactly what was going through my head, “What the heck is she talking about? Okay, she is in fact talking to me, but I have absolutely no idea what she means.” I looked to Meredith who had a puzzled expression as well. Our kids, our friends’ kids, the other passengers nearby all stared at the woman with alarmed attention. The angry expression on her face caused my heart to start doing that nervous anxious thing that sends way too much blood to your head and neck so you feel tense and hot really suddenly. I muttered, “I’m not sure what you mean. What tone?”

“OH, OH! WHAT TONE? THAT IS THE WORST PART OF ALL. YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT YOU’VE DONE WRONG! PSSST, BLECH, PLEEHHH!” (I’m not sure how to type exasperated, irritated sounds, but that’s what I’m trying to do there.)

At this point one of the other passengers looked to us and said, “Just ignore her, she’s crazy.” I was hoping she’d go ahead and get right off the bus, it had stopped and the driver was looking in his rear-view mirror waiting for her to disembark. She just kept standing and looking at me with disgust, so he started to drive away. “STOP THE BUS! I’M STILL GETTING OFF HERE!”

Meredith finally said, “I’m sorry, I can only assume that you’ve misunderstood our conversation, but if you really want us to learn something then you’re going to have to be more transparent because we have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“I’M NOT EVEN GOING TO TELL YOU WHAT IT IS. IF YOU DON’T ALREADY KNOW THEN YOU’RE BEYOND HELP. IF YOU WANT TO LEARN SOMETHING THEN YOU BEST GO BACK TO SCHOOL!” After several more angry phrases telling us of our horrific inabilities to be socially appropriate parents she finally exited the bus, all the while shaking her head and rolling her eyes. One passenger leaned and asked another, “What were they saying? What happened? What were they talking about before she started that?” She answered her back, “They were jus’ talkin’ ‘bout vebetables.”

Meredith and I looked at each other, half-chuckling, half-cringing, still stunned. Her daughter asked me, “Why was that woman clapping for you?”

“That’s a good question. I’m really not sure.”

“Maybe she thinks you are in a show and she wants to tell you you did a good job or something.”

“Well, yeah, maybe that’s it.” We got off the bus and combed through all the past topics of our conversation. “Were we being too loud? Was that obnoxious? We did talk about how some vegetables make us gassy? Is that inappropriate?” One by one we ruled out everything we’d done and said on the bus as something deserving such disgust and anger. I chuckled nervously, as the anxious feeling in my chest let-up. It all seemed absurd, and yet I couldn’t get her out of my head. I was on my way to a friend’s house; I immediately told her what had happened, “That is so bizarre. I’m positive you didn’t do anything wrong!” I came home later that evening and told my husband about it, admitting that I kept wondering if I had done something unkind to the children or said something too rude to be shared in public. “She was just crazy! You’re fine. Don’t be ridiculous,” he assured. “She didn’t really look crazy,” I argued. I didn’t want her to be right, but it had all been so unsettling, that I had a hard time letting it go. People don’t criticize and yell at you out of the blue for nothing do they? Maybe there’s something I should be doing differently.

It took me several more days of replaying the experience in my head before I had a realization; I’d even call it a revelation. I felt a calm assurance that I’m doing a great job as a mother. I felt sure that if I needed major changes then the Lord would help me learn that and speak to me in a much different way. He would use his spirit. The spirit whispers, caresses, enlightens, and is gentle. Elder Boyd K. Packer taught, “The Spirit does not get our attention by shouting or shaking us with a heavy hand. It caresses so gently that if we are preoccupied we may not feel it at all.” (“The Quest for Spiritual Knowledge.” New Era. Jan. 2007) It is easy to become preoccupied, but the fruits of the Spirit are much more desirable than the alternative, “ . . .love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness,” (Gal. 5:22-23). I am going to seek more for those fruits. Somehow it is easier to put stock in the things that others tell us about ourselves than it is to be sensitive to the things the spirit is trying to teach us each day. Well, you know, they are much louder.

Do you put more stock in what others (whether they be clapping or shouting or not) tell you about yourself than you do in the things you learn and feel from the spirit?

What helps you tune out the shouting around us and listen to the Spirit?


  1. Melissa

    December 8, 2009

    How horrible. I can’t ever imagine yelling at someone like that. We live near Disneyland and visit the park often. I’ve seen and heard tired parents act and speak in ways that makes me so irritated, but I have yet to say anything. It just takes a certain personality to scream at a total stranger, no?

    Anyway, I can be working with 100 people who love and appreciate what I am doing and who are fully supportive, but the one person who complains is the one that sticks. Why is that? I think their voice is amplified by the adversary. It really shouldn’t be loud enough for me to hear, but when amplified by self-doubt or discouragement, it might as well be screaming. I don’t know any better way to handle the naysayers than what you did. By looking for the truth and listening to the Spirit, we can feel the peace that we need to to overcome the type of negative thinking that can drag you down.

    Good for you for not being sucked in!

  2. Heidi

    December 8, 2009

    It is hard for me to ignore what other people say about my kids/parenting/life, although I find it’s much easier to brush off obnoxious comments from strangers, who have no context, than those from close friends and family members who know me and understand my struggles. Likewise, praise is more meaningful when it comes from someone who appreciates my situation. However, sometimes validation can only come through the spirit. I appreciate the reminder that God can help me filter the messages I receive and come to the best conclusion. My standing with Him is the only one that really matters!

  3. jendoop

    December 8, 2009

    Recently I had a very moving experience with the Holy Ghost. I was attending a meeting where Sister Dalton (general YW pres.) was speaking. She wasn’t speaking about motherhood, or parenting, or housekeeping in any way, but the Holy Ghost was so strong that I felt prompted to make changes in those areas of my life. The most profound part of it for me was the strength of the Spirit and the utter lack of guilt! I knew I needed to change, but I didn’t feel guilty! I just felt a hand, a gentle and overwhelmingly loving hand, pushing me forward, telling me that I can do a little better than I have been. It gave me a vision and motivation to meet that vision.

    Since then it has been hard to hang on to that feeling, to stay motivated and not feel guilty. But I cling to the memory of the strength of the Spirit I felt at that time and I now also have a greater desire to be worthy of that level of the Holy Ghost every day.

    So yes, I agree with your post totally. But I know I would have felt the same way you did about the yelling woman, I might have even cried as I picked over myself to find the error.

  4. Heather H.

    December 8, 2009

    Thanks for sharing jendoop. I find that sharing those experiences helps solidify them in my mind and it becomes harder to deny them, because every time you share it the Spirit testifies again.

    Heidi, it’s true that if someone I love and whoh erally knows me had berated me for something I had done, it would have taken a lot more to get over it. And yet, the end conclusion would have had to be the same, I would have had to seek for the spirit to know how He feels about what I’m doing.

    Melissa, thinking about those voices being amplified by the adversary is so helpful. If we can clearly identify him, then we can more easily say, “Get thee hence!” Or as my daughter used to say, “Go away Satan!” I still remember a story my dad sent to me when I was a missionary about discouragement being his most used tool. So true.

  5. Leslie

    December 8, 2009

    Leave it to the city to provide experiences with bizarre belligerent strangers!

    It’s funny how ever those experiences however irrational can shake you and make you question yourself.

    There is a peace though that we get that confirms to us our steps in the right directions and gently reminds us when we need to change course.

    It kind of try to tune out the messages around me. Sort of keep your head down and keep running is my approach. While these messages can give good feedback at times(and I might miss some of those) I think they can also cause unnecessary energy, stress, and make us lose focus.

  6. Mindy

    December 8, 2009

    I had a similar experience on an airplane. During the whole flight I had been congratulating myself in my head for my better-than-normal reactions to what I judged to be my relatively well-behaved children. After the flight the woman in front of me stood up and told me I was doing a terrible job controlling my children and teaching them common courtesy. It was a huge slap in the face, and all I could say was “I’m sorry” and get out of the plane quickly before everyone saw my tears.

    I love your constructive conclusion to the traumatic experience. So hard to tune out the loud feedback from all the people around us in favor of the wholly true and quiet feedback that can come from the Spirit. I find the single most important thing I can do as a wife and mother to get that valuable feedback of the Spirit is to wake up before everyone and study the scriptures and write in my journal. It’s almost magical how well it works when I make it happen.

  7. Claudia

    December 8, 2009

    Not all seriously mentally ill people can be identified by the way they look. Try and imagine what this woman who was eaves dropping might have heard as your conversation mixed with the racing thoughts in her head. She didn’t know what you were talking about. She didn’t understand its context because the only context she was aware of was the noise in her brain.

    Some years ago before we had satellite television in our home we would go to the Stake center to listen to general conference. One time a women sat down behind us. As the meeting progressed my husband leaned over and said something to me. I responded in a whisper. Shortly thereafter she tapped me on the shoulder and demanded that we move. She said we were making a disturbance and that she had a right to enjoy the meeting without our irreverence disrupting her worship. We slid down to the center of the bench while she gave us dirty looks. It was tough to take. We hadn’t really been talking the entire time. But, this woman was living with serious mental illness.

    What I am trying to say is some seriously mentally ill are around us all the time. We just don’t know who they are. I’m glad the spirit spoke to you in a reassuring way. It is unpleasant to have these kinds of experiences. Responding in a quiet non threatening way is undoubtedly the best way to handle things when such a situations arises.

  8. jenny

    December 8, 2009

    I find situations {w/criticism} like you described to be tremendously unsettling. The ones where you TRULY do not know where they are coming from or what they are talking about. It’s like I’m walking along a smooth road and looking around at the scenery, enjoying the view and all the sudden I experience a sudden and painful jolt as my foot catches on something completely unexpected. I falter and trip and wonder, “What just happened?”
    Experiences where friends, family or aquaintances give criticism I find can be hurtful *and* sometimes helpful– even though it’s hard to admit it, but criticism out of the blue tends to shake me the most. It really makes me pause and wonder if I need a big reality check. Am I doing something wrong that I have no idea about? Am I missing something huge?
    Sometimes, it can be dismissed as easily as, “the person didn’t have all the information, OR the person clearly has some mental problems.” But it still makes me catch my breath and wonder.
    It sounds like your in situation, the woman really may have been dealing with some mental illness issues. I am glad you have since had the sweet reassurance that you are doing a great job as a mother.

  9. Giggles

    December 8, 2009

    I regularly ride the bus to and from work. If I don’t have one interesting experience with a stranger on the bus at least weekly, my week seems a little off.

  10. Angie f

    December 8, 2009

    My worst stranger criticism experience was on a long plane flight (DC to Vegas) with five kids. They were well behaved, but the complaining woman didn’t seem to think there should be children within two rows of her–she actually demanded a “buffer”. Even though I knew she was out of line, the experience shook me for days. I like Melissa’s adversary amplification idea. I totally agree. Motherhood is difficult, but essential to God’s plan. I think it helps to remember that if Satan can get me paralyzed into inaction, or worse destructive fearful mothering, he has won a battle.

  11. corktree

    December 8, 2009

    Just last night, I lay in bed feeling like a horrible mother because of something my DAUGHTER said. That might sound silly, but I took it to heart and was actually trying to reconcile what she said with all the things that I thought I was doing WELL. I didn’t want to believe I was failing as bad in this area as she made me feel I was. So I turned to my husband and expressed my frustration, expecting to have him reassure me and help me feel better about myself as a mother. I wanted to hear “no, honey, you’re doing a great job…don’t feel bad”, but instead, he calmly and lovingly told me that maybe my daughter was right and that I should focus on changing the area that seemed *off*.

    I blustered and wanted to cry, but then I realized that he was right, and it was more important for me to listen to the truth, gently spoken, however hard it may be to hear. I listened and I am going to make changes. Sometimes, I think we also have to turn off our OWN inner dialogue in order to hear what the spirit is telling us through others.

  12. Rose

    December 8, 2009

    I’ve had similar experiences, some that bothered me and angered me for quite some time after. But I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t know what others are going through. I have no idea their struggles and trials. And their reaction to something I’ve done may simply have been offensive to them because of their situation. So I try to stay calm and look at others as Christ would. Or at least try to make up an excuse for them for why they would behave the way they have. For example: the woman who all but yelled at me after I drove through a yellow light (it had NOT turned red yet) She followed me and then berated me to her children so I could hear. I figure maybe her husband was killed or hurt in a tragic running a red light accident. Or the girl who criticized me for bringing my baby daughter to a hockey game and called it child abuse (my daughter loved the hockey game, by the way, she didn’t cry at all and she watched the game intently). Maybe the girl really didn’t want to be there and had been dragged along against her will. The point is you just never know what others are going through.

  13. Johnna

    December 8, 2009

    Wow, so unnerving! Especially how she just stuck to it.

  14. Tiffany W.

    December 8, 2009

    Once I was at an airport with my best friend. Between us, we had five children. I was trying to help her by watching her kids while she checked in and got her boarding pass. The kids were playing happily, albeit rambunctiously. I was attentively watching all the children, when this woman began raging at me for being such a poor parent who couldn’t take care of children at all. I was stunned. Then my son tripped and she really let loose. (Because, you know, good parents don’t let their children trip.) It was incredibly upsetting. Even now, the whole exchange remains burned into my memory.

    It puzzles why I remember those moments so vividly when I forget the many compliments on my parenting I have received over the years by strangers. I am resolving to remember those compliments.

    Also, I do believe that the Holy Ghost does whisper to us when we need to change, but my experience has been that we need to seek for that guidance, that it doesn’t always just come.

  15. Velska

    December 8, 2009

    Well, firs of all, I’d like to say, that we’ve had some people come berate us out of the blue, but not quite that theatrically. You just have to live with the fact that some people won’t like what you do, no matter what.

    Another thing is, that this kind of behavior doesn’t have to be a sign of serious mental illness. Just a lack of social abilities; eccentricity or just misunderstanding and poor social skills. Something very uncomfortable happened to her that day. I dunno.

    I think eccentricity should be more tolerated; yea, even celebrated. Without it the world would be full of cookie-cutter people. I hope someone thinks I’m eccentric, with my penchant for wearing something red everywhere except the temple, where everything’s white.

  16. Velska

    December 8, 2009

    Well, that’s not all, folks!

  17. Emily

    December 8, 2009

    I know Heather and she is an excellent mother who knows not only her children and their needs, but sets a visceral example for them by nurturing herself, finding joy in life and serving others.

    All these comments lead me to the conclusion that we can all benefit from more encouragement. Let’s receive it. Let’s give it. Let’s treasure up the good things and let the rest sift out of our lives.

  18. mormonhermitmom

    December 8, 2009


  19. m&m

    December 8, 2009

    I love how you ended this piece. Learning to lean on the Lord for truth about ourselves is huge. It’s the voices in my head that have been some of the hardest to learn to tune out in my world.

    My favorite scripture on that is Moroni 7:11-18 (or 19). And Elder Andersen’s recent talk about repentance was wonderful, too…that the voice of the Lord and invitations to repent are rarely the voice of chastisement.

  20. Katie Lila

    December 9, 2009

    Hooray for Emily’s comment! A full-hearted Ditto. Treasure up the good, give and receive encouragement…I’m on it.

  21. Katie

    December 9, 2009

    Recently I went to the store with a mildly grumpy toddler. Usually I let her hold the things I pick up as I move through the store, but if she starts to get destructive with the item (trying to tear it, throwing it on the floor) I calmly tell her no and it goes into the back of the cart out of her reach. This particular time this happened, and of course she started to cry a little bit. When I looked up a woman across the store was giving me the most vicious dirty look I have ever received from a stranger and shaking her head. The rational, healthy part of me knew that I had done exactly what was right in the situation – that letting my daughter misbehave just to keep her quiet would be bad parenting – and that I had done quite well at keeping my calm. However, the doubting part of me still feels really bad about the whole situation and when I think back I still wonder what exactly about the situation so disgusted this woman. It’s really hard not to let the criticisms of strangers go to your head, or even the criticisms of friends and family. I try to remind myself that they do not know the full facts of the situation, so their opinion is not valid. But, it’s still hard to let them go.

  22. ~j.

    December 11, 2009

    Your last paragraph made me cry. Thank you for sharing those words.

  23. Tamara

    December 16, 2009

    That has got to be one of the craziest things I’ve ever heard.

    You reacted exactly as I would have. She was crazy! I’m glad you found peace and can get her hateful words out of your head.

  24. Chrysula Winegar

    January 9, 2010

    I remember walking across E. 57th St one day with my then three children. A woman walking in the other direction was staring at us. I had the baby in the stroller and the older two holding on to either side. That’s pretty much how we went everywhere.

    She smiled slightly and then as we were about to cross past each other, she shouted at me, “When are you going to STOP having children?”

    But you know, for every one of her (I lived in Manhattan for 9 years), there were at least 3-4 people who had tears in their eyes when my girls sang “Amazing Grace” on the M3 bus all the way up Madison Ave. People like the lady in the fur coat with bad plastic surgery who shared her deep sense of loss at not being allowed to breastfeed her babies 50 years before. Or the quiet “you handled that beautifully” in Duane Reade after a spectacular check-out line tantrum by my then 3 yr old.

    The spirit does indeed speak softly, and sometimes through others. But usually directly to us as we embrace our humanity and that of those around us without judgment. Great post. Enjoy my city, I miss it so.

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