Last week, everyday mom Amy Beth Gardner earned a new title, “Toothpaste Mom”—and some internet fame, when she posted this photo and Facebook post about using a tube of toothpaste to teach her daughter the power of words that you can’t take back as she entered middle school. Gardner’s amazing mom advice and words of wisdom soon went viral—her post has been shared over 717,000 times in just 8 days!
While most parents (myself included) are praising Gardner’s illustration, there are, as always, Internet bullies who have to make mean comments to a complete stranger. Unfortunately, Gardner has had a few of these as well, who attacked her parenting rather than seeing the good she had done here. Complete strangers did everything to mock her child’s name to scold Gardner for not teaching her child this lesson BEFORE middle school. But Gardner had an AMAZING response to these bullies, and she touchingly wrote them to her daughter Breonna in a letter, which she also posted on Facebook. In it she details that the strangers who wrote those hateful comments “don’t know our story”—including the fact that they adopted Breonna from foster care, first welcoming her into their home when she was already 9 years old. The letter reads:
It’s well after 3 a.m. and you’re asleep upstairs, just as I should be. Instead I’m sitting at my desk trying to fight the urge to skip teaching you this next life lesson, the one that has to follow our conversation about toothpaste from a few nights ago.
When I posted the toothpaste story to my personal Facebook page, I never imagined how far it would reach. I am told that over one million people have now read our story of a simple Sunday night conversation between a mother and daughter. The response has been overwhelmingly positive and I have saved the articles and interviews that have followed for you so that one day we can laugh together about our unexpected and undeserved fifteen minutes of fame.
What I have not saved for you, however, is the 1% that was awful. It is the percent that my friends have told me not to read, advice I heeded until a few hours ago. I am embarrassingly sensitive by nature so I have been pleasantly surprised to find myself not hurting as I have read negative responses to our story. But I am up writing this to you in the dead of night because I cannot sleep knowing that, one day, you will read that 1% and you will likely hurt. Before you do, I want you to remember this.
They don’t know our story.
When they mock your name, saying that I did not choose my words carefully when I named you, they don’t know that you were not born to me. They don’t know that instead you came to us at age nine when a Child Protective Services vehicle pulled into our driveway close to midnight with you and your baby sister in the backseat.
When they say that a good mother would have taught you to be kind long before you entered middle school, they don’t know about the sorrow your father and I have waded through as we have grieved every moment missed with you before you came to live with us. They don’t know that I would trade every possession I own to have a photograph of you as an infant or to have been the one to have taken you to your first day of kindergarten.
When they ridicule how heavy-handed the toothpaste lesson was, they don’t know the sense of urgency a parent feels when they realize that, unlike other parents who have the luxury of eighteen years to raise their child with values and ethics, life only gave us nine years with you before you will likely fly from our nest. They don’t know how many nights you and I have gone to bed feeling utterly defeated as we have worked together to sort through the chaos that was your childhood before you came to us.
They don’t know that we fostered you and your sister for over 500 days before a judge’s gavel gave you our last name. They don’t know that we took you both to Disney World because your sister has a rare heart condition and that, before she goes into another operating room, we wanted her to know what it felt like to ride Splash Mountain. They don’t know that being your mother is the answer to my wildest dreams; they don’t know that you are the bravest person I’ve ever met. They don’t know our story, Breonna.
And you won’t know theirs.
That is the lesson I have to teach you now: you will not know everyone’s stories but you can choose love anyways. I know you are capable of this because, despite life’s best effort to crush your little spirit, you have not just survived — you have thrived. When hurtful words come your way throughout life, there will always be a reason behind the hurt. You may be able to discover the source of hurt, but many times you will never know what pain someone has endured. You must go back to the toothpaste lesson then and remember that, while you cannot control others, you can control yourself. I want you to grow up to be a woman who is kind and brave and strong. When you are tempted to lash out in response to others, remind yourself that you do not know their story yet. They have walked a particular road in life; so have you and now your roads will intersect. You alone will choose how you will respond to the hurt others will inevitably carry down their road as they approach you; I will not get to make the choice for you.
But I can tell you this. You will never, ever regret choosing kindness.
So in the end, though she’s been verbally abused by bullies, this mama teaches her daughter the right thing, once again, “You will never, ever, regret choosing kindness.”
Thank you, Amy Beth Gardner, for teaching us two amazing lessons in one week. God bless you and your beautiful family!