The biggest fear of every mom I know? Becoming That Mom.
Oh, don't look at me so confused. You know who That Mom is.
You've seen her before.
That Mom is the mom whose kid is running wild around the restaurant.
Or whose kid is screaming during the movie you're trying to watch at the
theatre. She’s the one whose kid goes to
the birthday party with a runny nose caused by “allergies,” and ends up
infecting everyone with strep throat.
You know the kid who hits, bites, kicks, pushes, or pours sand in the hair
of the other kids in the playgroup? That's the kid of That Mom.
When there is a child who pees in the pool? That Mom isn't far away.
In Target the other day, there was a beautiful little girl dressed
head-to-toe in pink frills with cute little pigtails in her perfectly blonde
hair. And she was screaming at the top of her lungs, red-faced, tears
streaming down her cheeks and snot coursing out of her nose, down her chin and
dripping onto her frills. And pushing the cart, wild-eyed, beet red
from embarrassment, and trying like hell to talk her daughter out of wanting
whatever it is she couldn't have that started this tantrum off in the first
place? That Mom.
You know how they say the only two certainties in life are death and
taxes? There's a third certainty: someday, you WILL be That Mom.
We all think that we are being watched by other moms all the time.
And, why not? Aren’t we all watching other moms all the time? Aren’t
we spending an inordinate amount of time judging them by the behavior of their
kids? Sure we do! I do it. You do it. I did it a lot
before I actually had a kid of my own. I'd see some mom trying to calm
her kid down while the kid wailed away and disturbed my lunch, dammit, and I'd
think "Why doesn't she take him outside? Why isn't she just paying
her bill and leaving?" Or, the most poisonous thought of all,
"When I have a kid, that won't happen to me, I'll just [fill in the blank
with whatever made me feel immune from having a child act like that in public]."
Once, when Iris was fourteen or fifteen months old and we went to the
grocery store when she was probably too tired.
But, we needed food so we could, you know, eat. So, off we go to
the grocery store, where Iris was a trouper and so cute and well-behaved.
For exactly twenty-nine-and-one-half minutes.
After which, Iris decided it she wanted that colorful bag of plastic
utensils she saw on the shelf over there. The one she could juuuuuust
reach if she stretched her arm out and leeeeaaaaaaaned over while Mommy wasn't
looking. She was so proud of herself when she got it. Proud lasted
ten seconds. Then Mommy decided that letting Iris chew on a bag of
colorful plastic utensils that Mommy had no intention of buying was a bad
idea. Which necessitated Mommy taking away the bag of colorful plastic
utensils and putting it back on the shelf. Which, in turn, necessitated
Iris having a meltdown in the middle of Harris Teeter.
And I don't mean she was just crying. I mean a full-on-crying-screaming-snot-filled-arms-flailing-legs-kicking-attempting-to-fling-her-tiny-body-out-of-the-grocery-cart
It was Bad.
And I will paint a picture for you of just how bad. I had a
full cart – produce, meat, eggs, two gallons of milk, orange juice, some pasta,
coffee, and yogurt all piled to overflowing in my cart. The store was crawling with senior citizens
because it was the day they give discounts to anyone over a certain age.
And all of those senior citizens were scowling at me and Iris. And none
of them looked remotely grandparently or understanding. I was That
Mom. I could see it on their faces while I frantically tried to distract
Iris with a bag of shredded cheddar. It did not work. The senior
citizens hated me. Iris sounded like I was beating her. I did the
only thing I could do....I took Iris out of the cart and carried her, wailing,
to the car, leaving behind a full cart of groceries in the middle of aisle ten.
But, just because I have a kid and have been in one of those situations that
make you feel like you want the floor to open up and swallow you doesn't mean,
when I’m not That Mom I don't like to pretend I have some answer that whatever
That Other Mom I'm seeing doesn't
have. I would never take Iris out when she is tired and cranky,
I think to myself. Except, yeah, clearly, I've done that. I
would never let Iris get away with throwing her food. One strike and
she's OUT, buddy! Except, well, I've let her get away with it.
Oh my God, why did you think your child could handle a fancy restaurant
when she's not yet two? Except I've done that, too.
I am not immune. And neither are you.
There are always going to be other people out there judging us by our kid's
bad behavior. Worse, there are going to be other mothers and fathers and
grandparents who judge us. And I’m just as
guilty as anyone. I’m ashamed to admit
I’ve done it recently. With the
aforementioned That Mom in Target with her snot-covered-screaming-toddler.
I am sure I will be punished for doing that next week or next month when Iris loses it
just as badly somewhere in public.
But really? We need to stop judging each other. And ourselves.
About eighteen months ago, one of my dearest mom friends, whose daughter is
in Iris’s preschool class, called me. Her daughter had just been
diagnosed with a common childhood virus called hand-foot-and-mouth
disease. Which sounds horrible and dirty, and is horrible, but isn’t dirty.
Personally, I think they need to find a more benign-sounding name for
it. Anyway, the biggest problem with hand-foot-and-mouth disease is that
it's contagious. As most viruses are. And her daughter was probably
contagious on the last day all the kids were in class together.
Her: (absolutely mortified)
I called the preschool. They probably think I'm a horrible mother now.
Me: Why would they think you are
a horrible mother? Your kid is sick. Kids get sick. It's not like
you infected her yourself.
Her: But, I took her to school on
Tuesday! I saw the mark on her
butt. I just thought it was some diaper
rash! I promise my child isn't dirty!
Me: Oh PLEASE. You didn’t
know she was contagious! And I know
she's not dirty! Everyone knows she's not dirty! The name of the
virus sounds bad, I admit, but anyone who looks it up...and they will...knows
it's not about being dirty. It's a VIRUS for God's sake! Like a
Her: (plaintively) They're going
to think I'm That Mom.
What I didn't tell her at the time was that some of the parents probably would
think she was That Mom. But, you know, That-Mom-Ness is temporary.
It only lasts a week or so. I did tell her that I didn't
think she was That Mom. And I didn’t. I mean, hell, I’d taken Iris
to preschool with a runny nose a few months prior, thinking it was just a sign
of teething, and the next week almost the entire class was out with a cold that
Iris was, by that time, over. Even if no one knew it...that week, I was
And not too long ago, I was at Panera, on my hands and knees on the floor,
attempting to sop up what seemed like a gallon of spilled soda and ice cubes
with already-saturated napkins, while my daughter, Iris, sobbed like her life
was over because the hem of her dress got wet.
How did this come to pass?
Shortly after we got our meals, Iris had reached across the table for
God-only-knows-what, and knocked over my drink.
Initially, I was too busy trying to figure out how to simultaneously
comfort Iris and clean up the mess to be mortified. I was focused on what I needed to do: get
Iris calmed down and into the bathroom so I could change her into the dry
outfit I carry with me in my purse for just such an occasion, salvage whatever
part of our lunch I could, and dry off the table, chairs, and floor as best I
could. And for any of that to work, I
was going to need more napkins.
Me: (popping up off the floor and
giving the still-sobbing Iris a quick hug) Shh shh shh, baby. It’s okay.
Mommy needs to get some more napkins.
I’m going right over there (pointing to the nearest napkin holder) and
then I’ll be right back.
Iris: (beginning to wail)
Nooooo!!! Mommy!!!! My….my….my…my…my
DRESS!!!!! I’m WET!!!!!
Me: I know, sweetie. I know.
I’m going to get some napkins
right over there and then I will be right back. Stay right here and I will dry you up as soon
as I can.
Iris: (sobbing harder, snot
running freely down her face, and following me to the napkin holder while
grabbing the back of my pants to try to stop me) NOOOOOO!!!!!! MOMMMMMMMMMMYYYYYY!!!!!
Which is about when I realized that I was in a restaurant full of
people. All of whom were now staring at
me like I had carried in a mound of poo and chucked it onto the floor of the
Panera. And things just went downhill
Oh, yes, I have been That Mom.
It's okay. It's your turn next.