I don’t always want to physically assault someone while their child looks on, but when I do it’s because they’ve been incredibly rude and deserving of a roundhouse kick to the trachea.
When I was out on one of my first solo outings to a store with my newborn daughter, a passing comment from a stranger left me super pissed. The baby, only 7 weeks old, started crying, nay, screaming, really. It was that urgent, out-of-the-blue wailing that infants are wont to do without any forewarning or provocation. Not one to ignore my baby’s obvious unhappiness, I maneuvered my shopping cart to the side of the aisle, out of the way of other shoppers. I began to unbuckle the straps of the infant carrier so that I might hold and console her.
The sound was shrill and unnerving for all of the approximately 10 seconds it took for me to scoop her up. A man, pushing his own son in a cart, passed by. The boy, maybe 4- or 5-years-old, asked, “Why is that baby crying?” I looked at the kid and gave him a little smile—his brow was furrowed and he seemed genuinely concerned about my girl. “I don’t know, but I wish it’d shut the hell up,” the boy’s father responded. The bristly man with a mullet never looked my way but commented at a volume comparable to the roar of a jet engine just to be sure I’d heard him.
What did he think he’d accomplish by making that statement? That I’d hastily negotiate with my infant so that his precious, waxy eardrums weren’t assaulted? That I’d shove a gym sock in her mouth? That he’d shame me into staying home and doing all of my shopping online so as not to offend the tranquility he sought in a public retail establishment? I wonder what his little boy must have felt about that comment. It seemed so contrary to what his intrinsically empathetic little heart was feeling.
I realize that there are just insensitive, mean-spirited people in the world. While this was my most recent encounter with one, it certainly wasn’t the first time I’ve found myself on the receiving end of shade-throwing when one of my kids isn’t being angelic. But, you know what’s hard? Being a parent. You know who should understand that better than anyone? Other parents.
If you see a mom or dad struggling with a kid in the midst of a mighty meltdown, consider this: Save the stink eye and hold off on the admonishing comments, wouldya? If my kid is acting like an asshole, trust me, I know it. There are all sorts of personality quirks and behavior issues that parents are trying to navigate. Sometimes it takes a minute—or 10—to get our bearings so that we can successfully defuse a half-pint bomb.
Unless a parent is completely ignoring abhorrent conduct and that conduct is directly affecting you and yours, please try a little tenderness. Cutting eyes and critical words just add another layer to the cyclone of suck already happening in whatever store, park or restaurant you are in. As if I wasn’t already stressed and embarrassed enough, go ahead and top the tantrum salad with some “infuriated,” because now I’m dealing with my kid and fighting the urge to kneecap you. If you can’t be merciful, at least be quiet. A decent, more humane reaction is always preferable, isn’t it?
The gig of parenthood is sometimes oppressive and often demoralizing. We need cheering on and props rather than judgements or unsolicited opinions. You don’t even have to say anything. Toss me a sympathetic smile. Give me an encouraging pat on the back or a nod that lets me know you’ve been there and that it’s going to be okay. Have a lollipop in your purse? A funny cat video on your phone? The willingness to bust out into an interpretive dance so my kid forgets why he’s freaking out? I’ll take it. Just throw me a lifeline. It means more to me than you’ll ever know, and I promise I’ll pay it forward.
As fate would have it, I ended up right behind rude dude and his boy in the checkout line. Baby Marigold had stopped her banshee-like shrieking and was much more agreeable. “Is her happy now?” the kid asked me. “She is, buddy, yeah. You sure are sweet for checking on her. I wish everyone was as kind as you,” I replied in a voice louder than necessary. The dad never acknowledged me or the concern his kindhearted boy had shown for a baby. I chose to hold off on the throat chop because I’m a lady and wasn’t wearing a great shirt for a mugshot that day.
Instead, I like to think the universe was high-fiving me when the callous man with an exceptionally unfortunate haircut had his debit card declined. Thanks, universe!