It shouldn't be so hard, should it? To say something nice to someone? It should be the easiest, most natural thing in the world for kind words to roll off of our tongues and sparkle into the heart of the recipient.
But it's not always so easy or natural...or kind, to pay a compliment.
I read an article the other day titled "Stop Calling My Baby Cute" or something like that. I had to click on it, of course, because I'm sorry? What? Where is she going to go with this? Is her baby not cute and she's sick of people lying to her? Impossible. Fact: Babies are cute.
I had to read it. I had to know.
This new mom was tired. She was exhausted and overwhelmed and all used up. When out in the world interacting with Other People in the days and weeks that followed her baby's birth, she kept hearing the same thing: "Your baby is so cute. He is just perfect." And he was...of course...until he wasn't. He was cute, sure, but he was also needy and demanding and kind of a mystery, as first babies (and most brand-new babies) tend to be. She felt guilty when her baby received these compliments because it made her feel like she wasn't appreciating his beauty, his perfection. She was only feeling, only recognizing, the hard parts of parenthood.
I get it. Kind of. But not really. I mean, I can understand completely feeling like I'm not always experiencing the Best my kid has to offer. Parents are often the ones on the receiving end of the worst sides of their kids because it is in front of his parents that is the safest place for a kid to show his less-than-shiny sides. We're the unconditionals in a world full of judgement and optional relationships.
It's why Parent-Teacher Conferences are so great for parents: We get to hear from someone who spends a LOT of time with our child what a clever, funny, cooperative, and responsible kid we have. And yes, hearing about all of his amazing attributes from his teachers makes me feel a bit guilty that I don't take more time to recognize his helpfulness or his wit. (Maybe if I didn't have to spend so much time recognizing his disrespectful tone of voice and the way he bosses around his brother, I would be able to, amiright?)
But, come on. Stop calling a baby cute? It's not going to happen. Learn to accept the compliment with grace and gratitude, Mom, because "Your Baby is Cute" and "Babies are Hard Work" are not mutually exclusive.
But it's easier said than done. I had to practice this Grace and Gratitude for a wayward compliment the other day. It wasn't easy.
For Max's March Mommy Date, he chose to go shopping for his spring wardrobe. After spending an hour in the neon and glittery world that is the Target Girls' section, we headed to the in-house Starbucks for some well-deserved cake pops and a cappuccino. While in line, a couple approached us. They were, maybe, in their 50s and had a decidedly unimpressed teenager with them.
The woman reached out and touched my arm, which was weird in itself, and said, "I'm sorry, but I have to ask..."
To which, I responded by bristling because, no, you're not sorry and no, you don't have to ask.
I prepared myself for the impending rudeness that was sure to follow a lead-up like that.
She gestured toward Max. "Where, on Earth, did you get her hair cut?"
I put my hands on Max's shoulders to steady myself, as I have had to do many times since he shared with us his preference for wearing skirts.
"His," I said, pointedly. Her hand flew to her chest in classic church-lady, pearl-clutching gesture of shock and awe.
"I cut his hair," I continued, smiling broadly. "Just yesterday, actually. Doesn't he look great?"
She looked him up and down before meeting my steely gaze.
"I am So. So. Sorry," she said, the look of disgust on her face (directed at herself, I can only allow myself to imagine) unmistakable.
"Don't be!" I assured her in a sing-song voice. "I'm not!"
And I turned my back on her, directing Max's attention to the different flavors of cake pops he had to choose between.
Here's the thing: she was trying to pay Max a compliment. I'm sure that what was to follow "Where, on Earth, did you get her hair cut?" was going to be "it is just adorable!" It had to have been, right? There's nothing wrong with that statement. Except the pronoun.
So here's where she went wrong...talking to me instead of to the person she was actually trying to compliment. Talking over the head of a child clearly old enough to understand words and to respond in some way to the words directed at him. She should have walked over to us, looked at Max, and said TO HIM, "I have to tell you, I LOVE your hair cut."
He would have beamed. I would have smiled, genuinely, and she would have gotten out the words that so desperately needed to leave her mouth.
But she didn't. So instead, she walked away, probably mortified, while I faked grace and gratitude on behalf of the little, listening ears standing beside me.
And then I bought him two cake pops, so he wouldn't have to choose.
Just be nice to each other. Don't use pronouns when you don't have to. Accept compliments, even when they're misguided or skewed (clearly a work in progress for me). And for God's sake, let people call your baby cute. Sheesh.