I remember it like it was yesterday: picture it, Sicily, 1922…oh, wait, wrong story. Old age, I tell ya.
Let’s try that again: A few weeks ago, sunny Marietta, GA – all 3 kids and I were standing in line at the ice cream shop. No small feat since 2 of my 3 are walking allergy-magnets, which usually cuts down on edible alternatives on the go. But I was feeling (uncharacteristically) generous for a change, so I’d called around, found one of the more trendy gluten-free, dairy-free, taste-optional locales nearby and we set out on our frozen-themed adventure.
I’d already threatened my kids with military style punishments if they acted out spoken to them in depth about using their manners before we entered the restaurant. So it happened that I found myself with three (temporarily) well-behaved children on an outing. While I waited to place the order, I watched from the corner of my eye as my 4-year-old approached another boy who was gleefully hopping from foot to foot in front of the window.
Roman, my only boy, has a knack for seeking out other high-energy humans. I figured as long as I was wearing my Nice Mommy cloak for the day, why not let him make more friends. The two chatted, their volume rising quickly to a few decibels lower than a sonic boom. It was mildly distracting, but this was ice cream day – balls to the wall, I say!
I carried on with my mobile Facebook lurking, pleased that the kids were preoccupied as I stood in line. No more than a few chuckles in, did a woman swoop in and grab hold of the other child’s shoulder. Speaking to him closely and tensely. Her face was tight, brow furrowed as she bent toward his ear. When she finished, the boy frowned but closed his mouth abruptly. His hands clenched and unclenched quickly as he attempted to control them. He looked around, toward the other families but never made more than a lingering bit of eye contact. Some of the traits echoed those of the Special Needs kids my mom taught when I was younger.
I took a deep breath, scooting toward the very still woman and said lightly, “Sorry about that. My boy probably got him all riled up. My kids like to start a party.”
“No,” she said flustered, turning away, “it was mine. He’s too loud.”
I didn’t push since I’m not the greatest with small talk and figured perhaps she was deep in thought. I could see her son behind her talking, more now to himself, as Roman tiptoed toward him attempting to resume playtime. Two youngish girls, anyone wearing a One Direction shirt in public is a week out of diapers as far as I’m concerned, looked on disapprovingly when the boys’ volume again reached a louder plateau.
With the business of passing out ice cream suddenly upon me, I corralled my crew and headed to a table in the distance. I could see the child from earlier slowly grow agitated as adjustments were made to the mother’s large order. Seeing no reason for him to wait as well, I headed toward her again, hoping to offer him a seat at our table. The place was crowding and while the boy seemed excited, he didn’t appear to be any more trouble than my own as he bounced from display to display. Before I got close enough, she abruptly grabbed his hand and left.
“This is ridiculous – stop making a scene!”
This was said under her breath as she pulled him from the restaurant, averting her eyes from the other patrons as his cries grew louder and his head turned from side to side angrily. It all happened so fast. Upon her departure I caught a glimpse of the Zayn Malik fans, they looked relieved. Though they hadn’t been outright rude, they did seem particularly bothered to be in the presence of a less than well-behaved kid.
I held my breath and thought about how alone that woman had looked, so frustrated and on edge. I wondered if there was anything I could’ve done to help her. My own children sat around me arguing over who could eat the quickest. I realized that, amidst the mess, I was still able to count today as a victory. Sorbet-smeared chins and shredded napkins littered the table, but we’d been ok today. The day prior, found me crying silently over a pot of steamed broccoli. That day there had been too much noise, too many arguments to fix and too much touching. A day when my own children were simply too much and my feelings were too strong. So I understood how the pendulum could swing.
The girls in the ice cream shop had never looked my way but I could see them clear as day. Because they looked just like me.
I remembered the times I’d turned away when I was younger. Unaccustomed to dealing with others’ inconveniences. I remembered being most concerned with looking “together” and bristling when the people around me didn’t look as picture perfect. How I refused to catch another woman’s eye if her child was causing a fuss in public. Or talking to a friend years ago about what she “should” do regarding a serious problem with a long-term boyfriend. The advice I gave as I had no significant other on the horizon. Or how I was the smartest, most knowledgeable parent around…up until the day I gave birth. Oh, how times change.
Honestly, I don’t think people judge or, on the flipside, overlook your struggle with malice. I think it’s just easier to talk about or speculate on The Thing without actually being in the moment or Doing the Thing.
Doing the Thing is so much harder. It’s lonely and all of those wise words you’d somehow come up with in advance (when you watched someone else) don’t always work. Being an adult is full of Things. Scary job Things, angry marriage Things, setting out on your own like never before Things. And how-am-I-supposed-to-raise-another-human-being Things. Deep stuff that can leave you drowning.
Parenting itself is such a big crazy Thing. It can spin you around and upside down if you’re not ready. That’s an overwhelming ride to take. I certainly didn’t know that before. But as the days go on, I’m working on figuring out my Thing. I wish that for all of the mommies I come in contact with too. I’ve found that if you just stand back and watch, instead of just talking about (or frowning at) The Things, that you can learn a lot.
So my vow, to you, ice cream shop lady – or grocery store checkout lane lady who’s kid threw down the bread, or dad who’s trying to figure out how to take his daughter to the Women’s bathroom – is even if I mean well, and even if I think I know another way, I’ll support you as you do your Thing. I’ll give you a word if you need it and only if you ask, but if you don’t I’ll try my hardest not to judge.
But if all else fails, know this, you don’t ever have to turn away from me, I’ll be there to let you know that I see you and it’s okay. We’re all just trying to do our Thing.