I’m trudging through the aisle, an overloaded cart of food in front of me and one million and one notes on my to-do list running through my head. Will two oranges be enough? Do we have an extra bag of flour or did I buy the brand that’s been recalled? How many Oreos does it takes to satisfy the cravings of six hungry tweens?
Then I heard them. They were babbling about video games. Loudly. And clearly running.
I cringed. It’s a Saturday night at the grocery store, I thought. Shouldn’t someone tell those kids to calm it down a notch?
And then I remembered. After attending not one but two birthday parties together, consuming cake at each and countless other sugar-laden snacks, my daughter had invited her friend for a sleepover. And somehow, in a moment of weakness I can only blame on having been running kid-related errands since 8:30 that morning, I’d even promised them ice cream.
That’s right. The loud running babblers were my kid and her friend. I was the someone who was supposed to tell them to calm in down a notch. And just as soon as it dawned on me, I did.
They weren’t being bad kids. They were just two little girls brimming with the excitement of a sleepover spontaneously agreed to by their mothers, two little girls who’d spent the day swimming and stuffing their faces with sugary goodness.
But in the approximately 30 seconds it took my exhausted brain to go from “loud kids, someone should do something” to “oh right, that someone is me,” I can only wonder how many other adults had taken note of the same noise level and immediately jumped to the conclusion that they were wild animals, their mother neglectful.
It happens every day, doesn’t it?
We judge parents based on a split second in time.
The mother of that child with a snot bubble forming just below his nose doesn’t bother to wipe a tissue across her kid’s face. The mother of that child throwing a tantrum in Target just needs to discipline him better. The mother pushing the cart brimming with toys is going to spoil her children right into brathood.
We look. We judge. Then we move on.
We aren’t around to see the snotty-nosed kid insisting “Mommy, I do it,” when she brandishes a tissue, to see that snot bubble is what’s left behind when a proud 3-year-old with seasonal allergies tries to “help” clean up his own face.
We aren’t in the doctor’s office the day the mother of that tantrumming child was blindsided by an autism diagnosis.
We aren’t there when the mom running a daycare takes those bags of toys out of her trunk and refills her kids’ toyboxes with everything destroyed by her charges.
We aren’t there for that mother’s sleepless nights and devastating accidents. We aren’t there when that mother’s babysitter cancels at the last minute or her kid comes down with lice and the flu at the same time. We aren’t there on the evening when her boss kept her late and there are cupcakes to be baked for tomorrow’s class party and her child springs “I need an entire poster on the ecology of rare African bats by tomorrow” on her at 8 p.m. on a Thursday.
It’s why it’s so much easier to be an awesome mom … of other people’s children.
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