Shopping on a Thursday morning at the outlets was a nice break in the monotonous life of stay at home motherhood. With my eight-month-old in tow, I thought he would be distracted enough by the large fluorescent lights on the ceiling or the stylish, patterned clothes hanging on racks around the room (oh right, that was me) that I would be able to get 20 minutes out of him before he started getting fussy.
I grossly underestimated his patience. He barely made it two minutes past the entrance before his wails broadcasted from the front of the stroller and echoed throughout the store.
I got the message loud and clear.
The shopping excursion had now entered express mode as I weaved through the racks of clearance shorts and tanks snatching multiple sizes of anything that caught my eye.
I high tailed it to the checkout where an older woman began ringing up my purchases. As she removed the sensors and hangers I took the opportunity to pop a bottle of formula into my son’s mouth.
When it came time to pay, I put the bottle down and his cries erupted all over again.
“Aw,” the woman said, looking down at the stroller. “Maybe he’s tired.”
I opened my mouth to explain he probably wasn’t considering he had just woken up from a 30-minute car nap right before entering the store, but I stopped myself and replaced it with a quick “Yeah” from behind my mask.
This person had no prior knowledge of my son’s sleep schedule. Why did she feel compelled to insert her opinion?
As I made my trek back into the warm summer air, I suddenly remembered … I used to say things like that, too.
Prior to having my son, seasoned mothers would talk to me about people who offered parenting “suggestions,” or “advice” — code words for, “You’re with your child every spare moment, but I know what they want.”
It looks something like this:
Maybe she’s hungry.
“I just let her suck my boobs to death for the past hour.”
Maybe he wants to play with his toy.
“Okay, but he’s going to chuck it at your face.”
Maybe she needs to go for a car ride.
“She’s going to scream the whole time.”
Maybe he wants a charcuterie board while being serenaded to sleep by Mozart.
Mothers would look at me and say, “You’ll get it when you’re a parent.” Now, not only have I been initiated into the club, but I realize how ridiculous and possibly hurtful I may have sounded before I had kids.
For the most part, people mean well with their comments, and I certainly did, but even the simplest ones have the potential of making you feel you haven’t been the one taking care of your child since they plopped them in your arms.
I’ll be the first to admit there’s a lot of things I don’t know about parenting yet, but babies and sleep was something I figured out pretty quickly. I know my son needs naps. In fact, I’m always trying to get him to take longer ones because he’s high octane when he’s awake.
In the middle of public meltdown sequences, you don’t want help in the form of advice or suggestions. You just want people to acknowledge how hard it is (well, unless that suggestion is to go on a two-week vacation to Barbados while they watch my child — then that suggestion would be well received).
Many times since becoming a parent I’ve looked for solidarity from strangers when my son was having a similar meltdown or trying to propel himself over my shoulder like a pole vault athlete, and have rarely gotten it. Of course, I’ve had help from relatives and close friends over the months, but sometimes when you’re out in public you just want a random person to put their hand on your shoulder and say, “Sorry, it doesn’t get much better, but here’s some Ben & Jerry’s.” Moms need that public validation now more than ever because unless an individual says otherwise they just look like a judgmental pair of eyes behind a mask.
“I didn’t survive The ‘Rona to have your child scream bloody murder during my shopping spree.”
I wish I had substituted anything — high five, a case of wine — in place of every “Maybe” statement I said to a mother when I was childless. I understand now we moms do know what we’re doing, even while we don’t have a clue what we’re doing. At some point, the common sense or caffeine kicks in, and we snap out of our sleep-deprived state long enough to put their wellbeing before our own.
We do know what our kids need.
In fact, I should have had the courage to tell the woman at the outlet that my son had just taken a nap. I would have stood up for myself, and mothers everywhere who might still be in their pajamas at noon but their kids are fed, dressed, and well napped.
I was this child’s mother and I knew what his needs were.
And she would have stared back at me and said:
“Maybe he didn’t sleep long enough.”