Mommy Wars make me angry, but so does guilt-mongering
I've been quiet for a couple of weeks. Something happened to me a few weeks ago that really upset me and made me very angry. I was accused of neglecting my children. Like, 911 was actually called. I wrote two blogs about it, then decided not to post them. A facebook post today from a high school acquaintance and first time mom today prompted me to break my silence.
You see, I took my children with me to Staples while I did some work stuff. After getting our copies made and finding our supplies in the store, we went out to the car. I loaded my 2 and 4 year olds into their car seats. I unloaded the cart. Then I locked my car and walked the 15-20 feet away to return the cart to the front of the store (exterior). In the 30 seconds that took, a couple came from between two large SUVs and saw my children in the car. Concerned, she immediately dialed 911. (You see kids in a car you call the cops - I get it!). I turned around and I see two people yanking on my locked car doors. I yell "Hey! back off!" because I'm going all mama bear here.
Instead of having a civil adult conversation about this very obvious, and potentially funny misunderstanding, I am faced with the self righteous anger of a mother offended. I'm called a horrible, heinous, hateful mother, all in front of my children (who are now screaming and crying in the car; my daughter thought they were being kidnapped) and over the phone to the 911 operator. I tried to explain I had to put my kids in the car and I was parked in the handicap parking space because I had recently had hip surgery - hence the handicap hang tag. I was just returning the cart (being a good citizen - albeit a little gimpier than usual). My explanations fell on deaf ears and were drowned out by screams and expletives. When I got into the car the man tried to wrench my daughter's door open. That's when I went into fight or flight and just wanted to get out of there. Things went from bad to worse when the woman climbed onto my vehicle and started hitting my back window with her fist. At that point I also called the police. I left the area and spoke to the officer on the phone. The police later confirmed with the store staff that I did indeed take my children into the store with me, and the officer said it is allowable to return a cart within spitting distance of your car. I had done nothing wrong in the eyes of the law. However the officer told me, "just leave the cart in the parking lot aisle to avoid any future misunderstandings."
His comment really irked me. You see, two years ago a friend of mine posted a Facebook rant about offering to return a cart for a single woman; because it is the civil thing to do, because the little things make society work better, because maybe the woman had just had a bad day and my friend was trying to help her. At the time I was pregnant, experiencing severe nausea, and chasing an almost two year old around while working part time and still taking doula and CBE clients. My friend worked full time and has 4 kids, bakes everything from scratch, and is model thin. I really like and respect her (seriously, I really do - despite a tinge of jealousy). Her rant condemned me. I thought; "If she can put up her cart every time, and help others, then so can I! Hey the few extra steps might help keep us healthy." Since that day I have made a concerted effort to always return my cart.
I told the officer that my leaving a cart loose in the parking lot because I am afraid someone might think I left my children is part of what is wrong with the world today. "I know, but really, just save me the paperwork."
Fast forward a week. Another Thursday, another day with my kids. On the way home from my son's speech therapy we stopped at our favorite grocery store, Aldi's. If you have never been to Aldi's, you are missing out. They are super cheap, they pay their employees a livable wage, they offer a ton of organic and gluten free options. One of the cost cutting methods of Aldi's is you deposit a quarter to get a cart. To get your quarter back you have to return the cart to the coral. I stood there, next to my car, after loading my children and groceries safely in the car, gripping the cart, frozen in a cold sweat panic, for about three minutes. The thoughts chasing themselves around my head "It's only a quarter, listen to the cop, just leave the cart! NO, do the right thing, that's throwing away money, you can't let irrational fear control your life!" Around and around it went. Finally, I hustled my gimpy heiny across the aisle as quickly as possible and limped back even more quickly, sweating, not from physical exertion but from anxiety that someone would see me dare to walk 10 feet away from my children.
Fast forward another week, another Thursday with my kids. Today in Central Ohio, despite it being November, it was 74 degrees and sunny! After speech therapy we decided we would take advantage of our membership and the amazing weather and go to the zoo. We saw the adorable Lion cubs play with their mom, we saw the cheetahs up close and the warthogs. The kids wanted to go to the playground and, still recovering from hip surgery, I was looking forward to sitting down for a minute. Normally at the zoo I wear my 2 year old in the Kinderpack because he tends to be a runner. My 4 year old on her own is pretty good. She's a helpful child. I can't lift or carry right now so I strapped both kids in our 2nd hand McClarren. It is a fantastic umbrella stroller. However, my son is used to being worn and my daughter is used to walking so they weren't happy. They asked if they could walk over to the playground. "Sure!" I said, hoping to wear them out. My son took off at a flat run. I've literally never seen him move so fast. His sister, who always outruns him in our backyard races, struggled to catch him. I'm booking it as fast as I can, trying to chase them down. She catches him. But before I can reach them he shoves her down and takes off again. I'm now the crazy mom, pushing the empty stroller, yelling for my kids to stop. The zoo was pretty busy and many people witnessed this fiasco. Most looked at me with judgement, some with pity, some with distaste (probably thinking I'm a fat lazy mom unwilling to chase my kids) not realizing I am recovering from major surgery, but I am still trying to give my kids enriching life experiences. Finally I call out, "can someone please help me grab my kids?! I can't get them, I just had surgery! Help, please! This was when they turned a corner, crossed the railroad tracks, and were now out of my sight and I was terrified. A fit mom with a jogging stroller turned around, saw the 20 or so people staring at me, and said "Can I grab him?" "Yes please!"
She took off running and a few seconds later, as I turn another corner, I see she has my son by the scruff of his shirt, dragging him back towards me as my daughter provides commentary. I thank her profusely, apologize I couldn't run faster. She says, "No problem, I heard you say you just had surgery, happy to help."
Fighting back tears of pain from the throbbing mess that is now my hip and tears of relief to have my children back, I kneel down and have a heart to heart with my wayward son. They are strapped back into the stroller. My daughter is praised for trying to help, but I explain we now have to leave. She is disappointed but understands mommy is hurt. I felt embarrassed and defensive and grateful.
After we get home my high school friend, brand new mom, posts a question to Facebook. "I haven't really driven since I had the baby, but I'm wondering when that time comes and I go to the gas station, do I lock the doors and run in and pay, or do I spend 10 minutes unbuckling and carseating to spend 30 seconds in the gas station? Obviously I wouldn't leave my baby in a hot car or anything but I'm wondering if it's acceptable to leave a kid locked in a car for a minute? It doesn't seem crazy to me."
I felt compelled to tell her my story. Surprisingly, the husband of another school friend posted a strikingly similar story of a confrontation with an aggressively "helpful" father in a perking lot that almost resulted in fisticuffs. He refrained, because, much like me, he had a saddening realization "This is the world we live in now." The overwhelming consensus was to always take your kid in with you, not because the kid would necessarily be at risk, but so you don't take a chance having the cops called on you.
I'm sad I live in a world where, when a mother is calling for help 20+ people stare at her with condescension, never considering offering a helping hand. I'm glad I live in a world where a mother recognizes fear and desperation in another mother and empathizes enough to go out of her way to ensure my kids safety. I'm glad I live in a world where a young mother is so self assured and aware that when she sees kids in a car alone she calls 911 without hesitation. I'm sad I live in a world where a young mother would condemn and harass an injured mother, refusing to listen reason.
I'm frustrated I live in a society where guilt and fear inform more parenting decisions than wisdom and strength. I think we can do better, for our children, and for other parents. Be kind to yourself and to others. (As I wrap this up I just saw a promo on my local news about a big "mommy wars" story airing tomorrow morning - ugh! Don't buy into the media and advertising hype that sets us against each other. We're all in the weeds together, some of us deeper than others. As long as you love your kids and you are trying every day, once again, be kind to yourself.)