“Whose children are these?” The old crone hissed, jutting her jaw at me. Never mind that I had introduced myself and my preschooler a few months earlier.
“Mine…ours,” I said, as I adjusted the baby on my hip and used my free arm to motion toward my friend, sitting on a blanket on my front lawn.
“I was just coming over here because these children are not being properly supervised!”
“Oh. Okay. Well, we’re sitting right here watching them play.”
“This is not a safe place to play!” She eyed me skeptically. “There are cars driving through and people walking by. This is not safe! Which one is your child?,” she demanded, shaking her head in utter disbelief at my poor judgment. I pointed halfheartedly toward my 3-year-old.
She raised her pitch, “Which is your child?”
I put my hand firmly on my daughter’s head.
“This is my child. And thank you so much for coming to talk to me. I understand you are concerned. I am right here watching. Thank you,” I said curtly.
She was angry and bit her tongue as she returned, slowly, to her driveway.
Listen, I know how to get rid of a busybody, especially when I feel as though I’ve been smacked undeservedly. My arms trembled and my legs felt weak as I swallowed the words I knew better than to say: “Hey lady! You’re doing it wrong!”
Moms these days. We sure are different, aren’t we? Sometimes I can hardly believe they let me leave the hospital with a nose ring and a baby. I try to avoid yelling, GMOs, and raising an inside-kid (because I was one). This also means that I let my kid engage in a fair amount of risky play without the common refrain of “Be careful!” and “Come down from there right now!”
We’re all about bodily autonomy and thoughtful risk taking around these parts. Honestly, it can be terrifying to watch my child climb higher, stand closer, and run faster — but those are my feelings to sit with, and my territories on which to advise.
The self-appointed sentinel stood guard for another half hour — observing our playdate from her front yard. Arms crossed, eyes fixed on our group. When my daughter started to scream (as 3-year-olds do), I noticed her position her phone, ready to catch my next purported misstep. There was none. My child happily scrambled down the mulch pile and chased after her playmate. It wasn’t until our friends were pulling away and my children were inside that Mary felt she could return to her own house.
As I sit in the grips of postpartum anxiety and postpartum depression, I can’t help but point a finger toward all the other Mary’s out there — those women who have children, and, miraculously, have forgotten how hard it is to raise them.
Her false sense of concern was no help. My child is no safer because of her intrusion. Her flagrant remarks shook me to my core and dominated my thoughts for the rest of the day. Some help that was to my family.
I can admit that on that confrontational day, our kids really pushed their boundaries. Too close to the street for my comfort, and apparently for my neighbor’s as well. What a difference it would have made had she approached me with kindness, in partnership. A villager coming to help raise this child. Instead, I was scolded. And made to feel like she’d be watching, waiting for me to make a mistake. I know her type: quick to judge and slow to help.
Every time I encounter one of these thoughtless folks, I pray that when I’m past these years of raising my young ones, instead of judging that mom like I was judged today, I offer her a helping hand, a knowing smile, and a word of reassurance. Mothering is hard work, and you’re doing a great job.
What my kids — what all kids — need is a mom who is supported, and loved, and mentored. We’re not just raising children. We’re raising mothers, too.