Archive for the ‘public parenting’ Category

I was sitting with my kids in the cafe area of our grocery store the other day. Two women came up the steps, and I noticed them survey the crowded area, then make their way to a table–one stopped by our table first and leaned over to me to say, kindly: “Hello there…did you by chance leave your wallet at the check-out?”

“Probably, and most likely my keys, too, knowing me,” I said, laughing, as I checked my bag, but I had both.

“Well, I’m sorry to bother you, but when I saw you with the kids, well, I know what that’s like,” she said, with a nice smile, and joined her friend again.

I felt a sudden surge of surprise and appreciation–she did not imply that I was the most harried one in the cafe, just a simple acknowledgment that I perhaps had my hands full in a way she understood and was a likely candidate for leaving my keys behind.  In fact, I looked remarkably un-harried: Before she walked up, I had just been thinking that I needed to leave soon because of the almost eerie way my children were being so still and quiet while eating in an exciting environment–this couldn’t last.  (They even had their napkins on their laps–Martin because he thinks it’s funny, and Chris because Martin did it.)

This woman has probably already forgotten that moment of random kindness, but to me, she makes people who might be trolling through supermarkets scowling and judging my “spawn” fizzle up and disappear right out of my consciousness.


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As soon as she sat her baby, who looked to be almost a year old, in the little firetruck, he screamed, twisted, turned red, and tried to claw his way out. So the mother picked him up, and she made her way through the overpriced, cutesy kid haircut place to a chair she could sit in while holding the child on her lap. He was just as furious. More kicking, clawing, and screaming.

In a packed waiting area, two compassionate souls stared at her and discussed:

“Why is she putting him through this?”

“Why doesn’t she just go?”

“The kid doesn’t even have any hair.”

“Why is she getting her picture taken?”

“What a waste of money.”

“Obviously her first kid.”

Perhaps these two have never had a difficult moment with their children, or have had them only in the privacy of their living rooms. What a dangerous game to gloat while another parent is having trouble; one stuck in the middle of a group of impatient people, no less, with nothing else to do but stare at her.

Really, how dare they.

Maybe she did just pay half her grocery bill for the “First Haircut Package”: We’ll take your picture with this crappy old camera that won’t even turn out well! We’ll let you take a lock of hair! We’ll charge you almost $30 for this! Maybe she’ll kick herself for it–or maybe she’ll treasure that picture.

Maybe she planned her whole weekend–all the naps, meals, snacks, car time–for this First Haircut, only to fall victim to the always fascinating unpredictability of babies.

Maybe this afternoon will roll right off her back–be nothing more than a funny story to tell her friends. You know how little Parker never cries, right? Well, you wouldn’t have believed the screams! I swear!

Maybe she was fighting back tears until she got to the car.

What does it matter? Since when do the parents whose children are impeccably behaved at one particular moment in time and space get to revel in another parent’s struggle and decide they know better?

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Storytime at the library: a group of three to five year olds, most are quiet and focused on the story of the mouse and his house, at least for the moment. Some parents sit on the floor among the children; others sit in chairs in the back of the room, many have babies or toddlers in their laps, every so often a baby shrieks or cries.

Then, a late arrival: a mother and child close the door quietly behind them; the mother sits in the back, the child walks to the front and sits. But only for a second. He gets up and stands in front of the children, facing them, and begins to jump in place. The mother scrambles to her feet–she hurries over to the side of the room, trying to get his attention and get him to sit down. The children and parents barely notice–they are a group of small children and parents of small children utterly unperturbed by a small child acting like one. Until–

The Librarian: Stops reading. Stares at Jumping Child. Seconds tick by . . . it’s an eternity. The boy jumps and jumps. She glares.

Now everyone watches him jump in silence, and his mother gestures to him frantically.

Me (in my head): Oh, dear god, please keep reading. . .

Librarian to Child: “Eyes front, please.”

Child: Ignores her. Continues to jump.

Librarian (with rosy cheeks, but severe eyes): “Eyes front, please.” Pause–a very long one. “Eyes front, please.” Pause, even longer.

The Mother: Starts to pick her way through the seated mass of children to the front; she has an embarrassed smile and murmurs, “Oh, sorry, oh, sorry . . .”

Everyone watches her awkwardly step over toes and fingers to get to her child.

Me (still in my head): Why, oh, why aren’t you reading? No one cares about this dear boy’s jumping. His mother is taking care of it. Give her a chance. Read, read, read!

Librarian (like a stuck tape recorder): “Eyes front, please. Sit down.” The children are more quiet and attentive now than ever–this is a tense showdown between the Librarian and the Jumping Child.

The Mother: Gets to the front of the room. She’s right next to her boy, about to lead him away . . . when he falls to the floor, flat on his back, grinning at her. You can almost hear him: Checkmate, Mummy. She kneels in front of him, her posture deflates, her head cocks to the side, her forehead wrinkles. You can almost hear her: Oh, please, please, don’t do this to me.

Librarian, and so everyone else: Still silent, still staring.

Me (still in my head, but yelling so loudly that I’m afraid it might slip out): Read, woman, READ! For the love of all that’s holy, READ! I’m nearly ready to nudge Martin and ask him to do something three-year-old-ish because the pain I’m feeling for this mother is getting to be too much.

Librarian: “Maybe you should take him out.” And maybe I will glare at you in silence until you do, refusing to read so that everyone in the room has nothing else to do but watch you.

Mother and Child leave.

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