Strawberries and Snap Judgement

Let me paint you a picture:

photo copy 8

seriously check out his shirt. It was so juice covered that it was unsalvageable

The kids and I were out picking strawberries at one of West Michigan’s most popular U-Pick spots, DeLanges Redberry Farm.  The strawberry picking was fabulous and the kids and I enjoyed time with family as we ate berries straight from the field and quickly filled our box with 14 pounds of sun ripened sweetness.

They brought me their best finds and ran up and down the rows, all while staying close by and declaring: “I love berry picking day!”

When we’d filled our box with bright red berries, we grabbed a green wagon and headed to the shed to pay.

As I pulled the wagon through the grass I surveyed my children, they were giddy and sticky beyond belief.  Caedmon was nearly dyed pink from berry juice and as I approached the shed I wondered if his clothes were salvageable.  What a way to go… a t-shirt lost to a morning of sunshine and berry juice.

As I paid for our haul, and asked the farm worker about pectin while the kids ran around, engaging fellow pickers in line.

Just as I was finishing up, I noticed that the kids were getting into the flags that were used to mark the rows which had already been picked.

“Guys!  Put those back and leave them alone!” I called out as I walked toward them.

Noelle started to obey, but Caedmon grabbed two flags and started running away from me in defiance.  (Defiance is his thing lately, he’s two)

I chased them down and made them help me put all the flags back, or at least I tried.  Honestly, I was tired and ready to get back to the car and a tall bottle of water.

As we headed to the car, a middle aged man approached me.

I was trying to keep the kids close, my hands full of berries while when he spoke up:

He shook his head at me as he told me: “You know, your kids are misbehaved.  Very misbehaved.”  

I was shocked.  I said the only thing I could think of which was a confused and sarcastic: “Thank you.”

strawberries and grace

My shock quickly turned to a line of painful questioning:  Do I have poorly behaved children?  Was their excitement over flags the result of bad parenting or just a normal kid reaction?

I had no idea as I was standing in line paying for strawberries that someone was using that three minute window to evaluate my parenting, and find me lacking.

I loaded the kids into the car and drove them home in tears. I knew that I shouldn’t let the words of a random stranger impact me in the slightest but they played upon my biggest fears.

Am I doing this parenting thing poorly?  Not striking the right balance between discipline and grace?  Will they fail at life because of the start we’re giving them?

I called my Aunt who had been with us at the farm and asked her if we had really made that poor a showing at the berry patch.

She assured me that my kids were sweet and that I was fine, yet still it took the better part of the afternoon to get over the unsolicited words of that random a-hole.  (lets call it like we see it, eh?)

He had no place to judge me, lacked the necessary data to pronounce judgment on my parenting.  One can’t take a three minute window of children’s behavior and use it to pronounce parenting failure.

Snap judgement sucks, but the more I thought about it the more I wondered, how often do I do this?  Do I take chance encounters and turn them into opportunities to judge and brand random strangers?

Of course I have enough tact to keep it to myself, but that doesn’t excuse the my inner bad behavior.

Don’t we all see each other out and about and think that we know so much more than we really do?

Don’t we paint big pictures of each other in our minds based on a square inch of information?

I’ll be honest, I do.  I judge people, in my mind, all the time.  Constantly really.

Gag… I’m sick of it, I hate it, I want to weed out judgement and replant grace.  Fields of sun-ripened grace all juicy and sweet.

Perhaps the best way to identify my own nasty thoughts is to to find myself brutally and unfairly judged.

It’s like a bucket of cold water you don’t want to pour on anyone else.  This awful incident is cause me to blossom into a more graceful stranger myself.   So I suppose… thank you random jerk.  I guess.

Have you ever been completely and unfairly judged by someone who knew nothing of your life?

Do you struggle with judgmental thoughts as well?  What is helping you implement grace?

  • annevermeulen

    Here’s your Florida Twin moment for the day: we went strawberry picking at the local U-pick strawberry farm back at the beginning of our strawberry season (March) . Kids had a BLAST and were giddy, running up and down the aisles of berries, completely filthy and sticky. We had more adults than kids that day (me, Jason, my mom) and STILL could not properly contain them. As we were trying to check out, one or both of my children 1) found a pile of fresh mulch and dove in 2) completely upended a display table and all its contents and 3) ran out into the parking lot, oblivious to moving cars attempting to park. Yep. That dude who judged you would have probably had a heart attack had he seen my kids.

    Also, this story made me so sad, partly because he told a complete lie to you – your kids are being KIDS, not being badly behaved, as he was being (ironically) – and also… what a MISERABLE childhood he probably had, or foisted upon his kids/grandkids, if he has any. Imagine the unrealistic expectations! I would much rather have a parent like you (and I did, thankfully) than him.

    • Leanne Penny

      You are so right! I’m sure some where along he was associated with misery and childhood.

      And your strawberry experience? That which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.

  • Michelle Woodman

    I find all kinds of judgmental, booger-y thoughts popping up in my brain like tenacious weeds. I’m working at remembering we’re *all* works-in-progess and that we all are in need of grace and mercy. Plus, as you said, there’s a lot more to our lives than what someone can see in 3 minutes.

    • Leanne Penny

      Amen. And Booger-y? Fun word… graphic 😉

  • Amanda Hall

    Oh judgement, what a horrible thing and most of us can’t escape it. As much as I want to I do the same thing, judging people quietly in my head. How do you just stop that? I would love to know!
    I can’t believe someone would actually speak up with their judgement. Who cares if that’s what a stranger thinks, but most people just keep it to themselves. Even if I saw your kids run into the street and you laughed it off…….I would still keep my mouth shut.

    • Leanne Penny

      If you learn the secret of eliminating judgement let me know and I’ll return the favor 😉

  • Natalie Hart

    It is quite something to see something you keep private manifested out there in the world — I had a moment like that a year ago and it has changed how I talk to myself about other people in the privacy of my own mind. Stopping the automatic judging is hard, really hard, and I’m nowhere near doing it, but I do tell myself off frequently and immediately reframe my internal comments, replacing them with words with more grace and compassion.

    And, of course, your kids’ behavior was entirely normal, especially normal for a 2-year-old. They weren’t being cruel to other kids, they weren’t putting anyone in danger (i.e. they weren’t picking up the flags and attempting to stab people with them). Although, how could you not be psychic and forbid them ahead of time from pulling up those flags? Yes, you need to work on being more psychic. 😉

    • Leanne Penny

      I really do try to prepare them for situations before we go into them… but Psychic I am not! But you’re right… how dare I?

  • Mark Allman


    I am tempted to judge that man severely. I think as one matures one learns that judging anything is difficult. It is especially difficult when one only has a snapshot. A snapshot gives so little to go on to judge and when we attempt to do so we can do a horrible job. It takes hard work to not judge someone or something. To refrain from passing judgement either out loud or just inside our minds is something that is a struggle.

    It is also difficult to not let someone else’s judgement affect us. That takes work too to make ourselves let it go knowing they do not know the whole story and even if they did their judgement is of no concern of ours.

    Let’s take a pass on passing judgement and even on those that do so.

    • Leanne Penny

      It’s all hard work but the not judging frees us up indeed. Mark you always know just how to put it. :)

      • Mark Allman

        I love that top picture!! And I love strawberries…a favorite of mine.

        • Mark Allman

          And if I had been there what you might have heard me saying would have been…. ” Run Caedmon Run!!!” :)

  • Andy Murden

    Your children sound amazing – loved, secure, and totally normal!

    • Leanne Penny

      They are pretty amazing, I’m with you on that. Thank you Andy.

  • Chris Theule-VanDam

    Leanne – Sadly – this is a part of living in West Michigan. Our origional Dutch sin is arrogance, and it overflows from some, including this guy you ran into. I have it too and must confess it often. Let’s keep bringing this to light – or better yet – light to this darkness.

  • annette skarin

    I struggle with thoughts of judgement when I see or hear any abuse. Kudos to you for not ruining a “hilariously fun” day with your children. You applied the appropriate kind of “corrective teaching,” by asking them to put the flags back.

    If only our minds had a giant eraser like they have in paint programs, we could erase the “muck” and make a beautiful picture. That’s how I implement grace, with that “magic eraser” to erase all the times I’ve “mucked up.”

  • Kim Murden

    My husband and I sat in the kitchen for a while last night and talked about your post. I had felt cut-up and hurt for you when I read it, my husband was furious with that man.
    We dug up some old memories of times with our young family when we were daily overwhelmed with our ADHD son and the times when the pain of being judged stopped me from even going out of the house.
    Remember this, one day you’ll be in a restaurant or the library and a school treachery looking lady will approach you and say, ‘my dear, I just needed to come over and tell you what a beautiful family you have. So well behaved’.
    To my mind this is one of the best posts I have read from you, so thanks for writing it out. Always love reading about Noelle and Caedmon.

  • Pingback: What I’m Into- June 2013 Edition |