Several months ago, I got into a mini-shouting match with a woman while I was walking with my two daughters. Okay, I'm not proud about the fact that I eventually gave the woman the finger, but here's what happened:
At the time it was still pretty cold in New York and my youngest was not a fan of hats. I kept two wool baby skull caps in our diaper bag and would sort of rotate them as we walked. Inevitably, she would let me put it on her for a few minutes only to toss it off or on to the ground just a bit later.
This game of cat and mouse was getting old and I knew we only had two more blocks to go before the grocery store. So, I decided to give the hat -- and myself -- a rest.
Enter evil old witch lady. Okay, that's being harsh. But, she was old. And female. I think.
She yelled across the crosswalk, "Put a hat on that baby. She's cold."
Here's where I pause to say that nothing rattles me more than perfect strangers trying to tell me how to care for my own children. And then here's my tiny addendum: There are certainly many, many times when I am ridiculously appreciative of the random help of strangers. Doors get held open while I try and navigate two kids, a scooter, a stroller, bags and a shoe that is "falling off my foot right now mommyyyyyyy!" and I'm thankful. I'm thankful for the woman who gave me money so I could fill a parking meter when my youngest daughter was screaming and needed a nap and I couldn't find a convenient place to make change. I'm grateful that one day when I was too sick to leave home and my spouse was traveling, my daughter's teacher offered to pick her up for school. I'm grateful for people that let us cut in line at the bathroom when they see my kid doing the pee-pee dance. Point is: I am most of all grateful that it takes a village to raise a kid and most of the time, that village shows up.
So, what was it about this particular exchange? It was her tone that really irked me. And I was tired. And yeah, it was f***ing cold. And I had one kid who didn't want to wear her mittens ("They're itchy!") and another who had just flung her hat off a block earlier.
So, I yelled back, "Mind your own business!"
She mumbled something and started to approach us.
"What's that lady saying?" My oldest daughter asked.
She got closer. And here's the part that I found hilarious. She was in fact wearing one of those giant fur Ushanka hats. The kind you'd see a Russian spy or trooper wear on TV. It was like she was saying, in her very dress and manner, "You suck as a mother. And I obviously am rocking this cold weather thing like a mo-fo!"
She got close to us, leaned over the stroller and said so both my kids could hear, "You should be ashamed of yourself."
I said, "You should be ashamed of yourself!" and kept walking.
And then, she screamed back at me, "Well you should be a better mother!"
Cue The Bird. And yeah, I might have said something else that I won't repeat here.
Later, the sane and well-rested part of me figured that she probably just thought she was being helpful and that I'd be eternally grateful for her quick ability to point out my shortcomings.
But, that's where she and anyone else who intentionally or unintentionally judges a mom or dad is wrong.
I have said it before and I will say it again. This parenting schtick is super duper hard. No matter how you come to it.
And here's the other part: You never know what kind of day has preceded whatever moment you are witnessing between child and parent.
I should take my own advice, I know. Whenever those stories go viral about parents leaving their kids in the car while they run errands or get gas, I totally judge. But really in the end, all I can say is, "Okay, well, it's not the way I would do it. But I don't need to condemn them for it."
And I can keep airing the dirty, dark secrets of how I raise my girls. Hey, last night they ate SpaghettiOs (which is indeed written like that and defined as "an American brand of canned spaghetti featuring circular pasta shapes in a cheese and tomato sauce and marketed to parents as 'less messy' than regular spaghetti," on Wikipedia.) and watched three episodes of SpongeBob SquarePants. While the combo of these things (heck, one of them by itself) makes me feel nauseas, they loved it!
I am not super strict about bedtimes or how early my kids potty train. I let my kids sleep in my bed when my husband is out of town and they watch a lot of TV when I'm working on a piece of writing. On the other hand, I'm psycho about putting on sun block, installing a car seat and probably a little to crazed about possible choking hazards. But I will never, ever tell you to put a sunhat on your kid because he might get a sunburn. Promise.
So, go ahead. Judge me. I dare you.