I know it’s a part of the human condition to judge. Still, it’s a loathsome trait I abhor, probably all the more so because I’m guilty here too.

Motherhood has softened this tendency immensely, tapping into a pool of compassion and wacky humor in me that I’d never before had reason to explore.

On the well-rested days with stress triggers calmly in check, this kind of c’est la vie attitude comes naturally, no matter what the kids dish out.

On other days, like the late-night flight home, travel weary, cabinets and fridge are pitifully stocked and everybody needs something from me with a deadline of yesterday days, I have to dig a little deeper.

Such was the case a few weeks ago. Sixteen hours home, embarrassingly behind on laundry and facing a weekend of non-stop commitments, I picked up two hungry, school week exhausted children and headed to the nearest walk-in hair salon.

Having just endured back-to-back chin stitches with them both (first her, then him), I had a firm grip on each one’s shoulder, guiding them from parking lot to snack store, where of course they didn’t have kid-friendly cups for the giant Powerade I’d just bought.

The salon was bustling, my daughter quickly picking up on its energy. Grabbing the latest issue of Highlights for Children, she clambered up in the chair next to her brother, gamely chatting up the stylist laid back enough to let my son gnosh on his Cool Ranch Doritos.

“Remember your inside voice.”

“Please sit still.”

Restless and thirsty for her Mountain Berry Blast, E climbed down, grabbed her cup and snack, and made a beeline for the product wall.

More patrons arrived, quietly settling into their chairs as I doled out motherly reminders.

“No ma’am, do not touch that. Your drink belongs over here. Sit down. Now please.”

As she turned, so did her half-eaten bag of Cheetos, leaving a spray of orange from the reception desk to the front door.

Surprising even myself, I calmly asked her to clean up her mess.

Despite the receptionist’s assurances that it was no big deal and that E didn’t need to help, she grabbed the dustpan and did so anyway, until not a trace of processed powder remained.

In my peripheral vision, I felt the man two seats to my left turn to speak up.

Oh geez. Here it comes.

“You know you’re not supposed to bring food or drinks in here.”

“Maybe if you weren’t looking down at your phone…”

“Is she even getting a haircut today?”

I turned toward him, an older man with a kind face. He held my gaze for a moment and smiled.

“Good parenting,” he said. “Most people would have just yelled.”

It had been one intense week, and I was quickly nearing the end of my graceful mama reserves.

After bracing myself for stranger snark, for parenting advice I hadn’t asked for but expected to be fed anyway, for Boomer generation commentary on all that is wrong with the parenting philosophies of Gen X, his eight words were a refreshing dose of kindness.

In the many moments since when I’ve felt less than perfect at the whole parenting thing, I’ve thought of him and recalibrated my response.

So to the gentleman in Tangles who last month made this harried mama feel just a little bit more together, thank you.