I see you, Mom with Toddlers. I remember those days of always feeling like I was one step away from a catastrophe. I remember never sitting through an entire meal in a restaurant without having to take someone outside for a little run. I remember struggling to keep them quiet and still when I thought they needed to be. I remember thinking, Every other person in the room thinks I’m failing at this mom gig. I remember as though it was yesterday, even though my youngest is now 20.
Getting through the days
The other day in Publix at the deli counter, a mom stepped away from the cart for five seconds to drop a napkin in the trash. In one second, the toddler in the seat started to stand up, and I stepped in to keep him from falling. The mom thanked me then quickly moved away. I wondered if she thought I was reprimanding her in my mind, when I was actually remembering the time my son had hidden from me in the clothes racks at Stein Mart and three other women helped me find him. I was sure they were thinking what a horrible mother I was; instead, they each shared a story about a time that had happened to them.
When I was volunteering at the Alabama Theatre last summer for the Kids Club movies, a young mother with three children in tow — one in a stroller and wailing like a banshee — was trying to buy tickets, keep track of the two mobile ones, and quiet the baby. I walked over and asked if I could hold the baby for her (I had on my volunteer identification, by the way) and stand there while she made her purchase. She said yes, and I scooped up that wailing baby, held her to my shoulder, and breathed in that amazing sweet baby smell. The baby calmed, and I walked them into the cool theatre. I think she was so surprised that someone had stepped up to help that she was speechless.
On the morning of the Christmas pageant at our church last year, our education director pulled up, vaulted from her mini-van, and quickly tried to get her youngest one out of the car. The little one had puked all over herself and the car seat. The village sprung into action: one person removed the car seat and took it to clean, another took the little one to the nursery to change her clothes, and another helped clean the car. Once the immediate needs had been met, I offered to stay with the little one and keep her in a separate play area so the mom could lead the pageant. I had a fabulous time reading books, playing with the Fisher-Price Little People, and chatting about her best friend until Dad arrived to take over.
If you’re in crisis mode, I will step in and help in any way I can or any way you’ll allow me. I’ll offer to be the extra pair of hands you need to juggle the car seat, the grocery bag, the coffee. Not for a minute will I think any less of you and I will not question your decisions, parenting styles, or driving skills. Because I remember those days. But because I remember, I am a little particular about when I choose to engage with you and your adorable tykes.
If I’m flying, I will try to sit in a section of the plane where families don’t usually choose to sit. If I can avoid the inevitable kicks or seat pulls, I do, because I know they will happen. Not because you’re a bad parent, but because children are squirmy. (Caveat: if you let your child continue to kick and pull, then I will judge you to be an inconsiderate person, not a bad parent.)
If I’m dining with a friend and want to have a conversation, I will choose to sit away from you and your children, if possible. No matter how cute and well-behaved your children are, they are distracting and probably a little noisy. I’m not saying they will be out of control or unruly, just that the child peeking over the seat or listening to Disney videos without headphones can make it difficult to have a conversation.
The point is, my choice is my choice and it is not any kind of judgment of you, your parenting skills, or your children’s behavior. I have been where you are, Mom of Young Children, and I have earned my stripes, my free pass to not engage with your kids. One day you’ll be there, and I hope you’ll enjoy quieter meals, less stressful travel, and lots of days where you do not even think about what catastrophe may be lurking around the corner. I promise I remember where you are in the motherhood journey, and I want you to know that it’s about me, not about you, when I choose to avoid your children.
But until you get where I am, can we make a pact, mom to mom, woman to woman? Let’s promise not to pass judgment on what we think the other is thinking of us. Let’s help when we can, avoid when we want, and support each other without hesitation.