I was at Aldi yesterday afternoon. I’d just checked out and was looking into my cart with the sudden realization that not only was I going to have to pack all these things into my crumpled bags, but I was also going to have to UNPACK them when I got home. This is not a surprise, after all, that’s the trade off for $1.69 pineapples. Still, every time it’s a shock to me. Like childbirth – I guess I just block out the bad parts. So, there I am, staring into this cart, fantasizing about leaving it in front of the bagging table and running off to the nearest bar (It IS 4:30 you know) and I hear this alien sound. It’s high pitched and chipper and followed by a lot of giggling.
I look behind me and see an immaculately dressed woman paying for her groceries. She’s trying to run her card through the card reader, but her little boy, maybe two years old, keeps reaching over and pressing buttons on the machine.
“Don’t you do that, oh, no, no, no. You little rascal, you better not touch that,” she giggle/croons.
The toddler immediately begins laughing and reaching, but the mom has outsmarted him and moved the cart just out of the counter’s reach. Her other son, about six and sporting an immaculate haircut, smiles at the both of them.
I watch them from the corner of my eye as I load 2 dozen eggs and 21 hundred pounds of apples into reused paper bags. I decide that there is something most definitely off about this family. First of all, there’s her scarf. It’s cute and chevron-patterned and it looks just perfect with her simple black tee. And her hair – it’s clean and freshly cut and not over-styled. And then, of course, there’s the fact that she’s in a GROCERY STORE with two small children an hour before dinner and everyone seems to be having just the best freaking time since Christmas. I suddenly imagine her bathroom counter filled to overflowing with prescription medication.
I pride myself on being nonjudgmental. In Target, when other people’s children are manhandling every piece of candy in the aisle, begging and pleading and crying, I’m the one who’s locking eyes with the mama on the brink and mouthing the words, “It’s almost bedtime. You can make it.” This parenting stuff is HARD and fun and beautiful and HARD and it feels like my personal mission to let every single struggling parent know that they are NOT.ALONE.
But it turns out I don’t know what to make of those parents who don’t seem to be struggling at all – those parents who seem to be following the little old ladies’ advice to “cherish every moment.” Their chipperness makes me feel inadequate and petty and that just plain pisses me off. Pretty, I know.
There is not a single venture that I can think of that rivals parenting in terms of vulnerability. Not romantic relationships, not career striving, not even art. You make crappy art and it’s gone when you are. But if you’re a crappy parent, it carries on for generations. The stakes are extremely high and we all want to get it right. I think this is why there is such bitter debate between tiger-moms and free-range moms, attachment parents and “conventional” parents. Raising children is like baking a cake that takes 40 years to come out of the oven. We’ve got no way to pre-sample and so we’d better be damn sure our recipe is a good one. Except there’s no way to know, is there? So we’re all nervous and hoping for the best and doing our damnedest to defend our decisions. Because admitting that it’s a crap shoot would be just too terrifying.
Brené Brown, the shame researcher and author of Daring Greatly, says that if we examine our judgements we’ll have a pretty clear map of where our largest insecurities lie. Evidently, mine lie with chevron scarves and mothers who delight in mischievous children in grocery stores.
I was jealous of that woman in Aldi, plain and simple. I mean, she didn’t even leave her kids in the car for five seconds while she returned her cart. Meanwhile, my children were all at home being supervised by a big sister and watching Frozen for the twentieth time. Whose kids are likely to turn out better?
Why is it a contest?
Aren’t we all in this together, staring into our dimly lit ovens, hoping our children rise instead of fall? Shouldn’t we be clasping each other’s hands and dancing like school girls on the good days and offering our aprons to wipe tears on the bad ones? Forty years is a long time to be on the defensive.
So, if you had a great day today, made a couple of people jealous with your excellent parenting – Congratulations! You go girl! Revel in your glory. If, on the other hand, you’re standing on the brink, considering abandoning the whole operation – Hang in there, mama. It’s almost bedtime. Tomorrow is another day. We can make it.