“You are so patient,” admired a friend. She was watching me deal with yet another 6-year-old ADHD meltdown in a calm, people-are-watching-me voice. “It’s okay to feel that way, baby,” I was saying. “Do you need to be hugged really tight? Let’s have a snack together.”
“I don’t know how you do it,” she sighed.
I laughed in her face. “I parent better with an audience,” I said.
When you see me in public, you see Public Mommy. Public Mommy always has the proper organic snacks. She brings teensy water bottles (reusable!) not juice boxes. Her kids’ clothes always match in some vague way, circled around a color or theme or pattern. The children are required to carry things and help mama. Their lifejackets are cinched before they hit the sand, and one of them is holding the youngest one’s hand. Public Mommy stops and listens intently to her unintelligible 4-year-old. She utters phrases like “I understand,” and “I am so sorry you feel that way,” and “That must be really hard.” She can ignore tantrums like a zen master.
You probably hate Public Mommy.
What you don’t know is that to channel Public Mommy, my other side — Private Mommy — had to stop and buy fast-food chicken nuggets on the way to the playdate, then leave the trash on the floor of the minivan, along with all the other refuse and debris it’s accumulated since her partner shamed her into cleaning it. Chicken nuggets and milkshakes assured a minimum of compliance from her wild brood. Hey, at least they had protein, right?
At home, Private Mommy doesn’t bother with fucking reusable water bottles. Her kids start out with juice in cups, and when they ask for more, she hollers at them to go get themselves some water, because she’s too busy doing whatever it is that moms do when they’re busy momming (cleaning, picking up toys, cleaning, teasing gum out of someone’s hair). They do not eat organic snacks. They sneak into the kitchen and cut the Fritos open, autopsy-style, with a pair of scissors. They snarf these, scattering crumbs all over the couch, while watching Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, because even their choice of Star Wars movies is shitty.
The children do not help Private Mommy like they help Public Mommy.
When asked to clean, the children fall to the ground like dead wildebeests and screech that they hate cleaning and it is a waste of time. Private Mommy sort of freaks out with that “waste of time” line. Gone is the soft voice of Public Mommy.
Gone are her “I know how you feels” and “let’s talk togethers.” Private Mommy gives a blistering lecture, aimed at small children, about how I-do-so-much-for-you-and-do-you-think-that’s-a-waste-of-time? No? Then-you-need-to-shut-up-and-clean-now-before-I-really-and-truly-lose-my-shit. This is ineffective.
She threatens to take their toys away. This is also ineffective.
Finally she stands there and helps them, which is not something she has time for but somehow they manage to pick up enough to keep her from stabbing her feet on LEGO shards.
Private Mommy does not have time for their tantrums. Public Mommy urges kids to take deep breaths, and they scream in her face, “I HATE TAKING DEEP BREATHS!” and so she takes one herself and says, “Then let’s pop mad bubbles,” but they scream in her face, “I HATE POPPING MAD BUBBLES!”, so Private Mommy knows that shit’s not worth it.
When tantrums start, Private Mommy walks the fuck away. They follow her because tantrums require an audience, duh. She keeps walking. Eventually she is watering her plants outside while some small person screams incoherently behind her and she is praying the neighbors don’t hear. Public Mommy has a calm voice. Private Mommy has a voice like the lady no one messes with.
Private Mommy lives in yoga pants and does not get dressed, put on makeup, or do her hair unless she will be viewed by the public. Her kids think her black pants are some kind of special outer mommy skin. Public Mommy is that woman who always wears lipstick and never has chipped toenail polish. It’s possible her sons and/or daughters also never sport chipped toenail polish. Her kids have cute haircuts that require product.
Private Mommy’s kids are not polite. They screech things like, “I WANT CEREAL!” and “BRING ME A DRINK!” and “PUT ON OCTONAUTS NOW!” Public Mommy’s kids are schooled to death that they must say please. If they don’t, she asks in a sing-song voice, “What do we sa-ay?” Private Mommy either ignores all ill-formed demands or just gives in with a beat-down mental shrug. Public Mommy would never stand for this shit. There would be a whispered talking-to and an apology, all of which will end in a hug and a high-five.
Public Mommy is far, far superior to Private Mommy. We all parent better when we know someone else is watching us — okay, judging us. Sometimes other parents’ judgment is a bad thing — like, you know, when they get all up in your business about how you should deploy your tits in feeding your baby, or how you’re going to maim your child with that baby carrier. But maybe their presence, sometimes, isn’t that bad. Maybe sometimes it helps to have an audience.
An audience that says you look like a rock star when you deal with tantrums.
An audience that admires your kids’ manners.
An audience that says, “Damn, I wish I remembered my kids’ reusable bottles.”
Yes you fucking do, Public Mommy thinks. Because she’s awesome. She’s capable. She’s not beaten down or tired. She’s energized and ready to beat the day.
Maybe the presence of other adult humans has something to do with it.