Parenting: the unexpected
I’m going to let you in on a secret. It’s not exactly the best kept secret going around, for I’m not shy about admitting this flaw, but you mightn’t be aware of it yet. The secret is this. Parenting is not something I feel I’m particularly good at. Don’t get me wrong here – I definitely try to be a good parent. I adore my little gremlin, and I try hard to show him every day that I love him, to get him to eat well, to use his manners, to understand that hitting others (usually me) isn’t very nice, and to not let him watch Toy Story 2 or Monsters, Inc all day long as would be his preference. (I swear, if I have to listen to Jessie yodel or Boo talk about ‘Mike Wazowski’ one more time…)
That being said, there are definitely things I do as a parent that help me get through the day. One of those things is that I let my now two-year old gremlin still use his dummy. Many people are horrified by this fact, and I get told frequently, by those I know and those I don’t, that I shouldn’t be doing so. Generally, I laugh at such comments and tell those commenting that he’s fine with it for now. After all, he’s my child and I’m the one who has to deal with that choice in the end. However, this story is about one such comment, that came so unexpectedly, in such an unseen way, that I was completely stunned into silence.
You know those days when you head to the supermarket with a tired child, only to find yourself faced with a dreaded bloody kid’s ride, right near the entrance, and the only thing your child wants is to go on that damn ride? Well, this story begins with that very moment. Upon entering my local shopping complex, that is exactly what I encountered right in front of the Woolworths supermarket I frequent. My gremlin exploded in a frenzy of screaming and kicking when I informed him that no, he wouldn’t be going on the car until after we had done our shopping. This was apparently a completely unacceptable choice on my part and so we spent the beginning of our grocery shopping experience with him carrying on while I promptly ignored the tantrum and went about my business.
After a time he calmed down and spent the remainder of our time in the supermarket behaving himself. He helped me place items into the trolley and was in general being the lovely child he can sometimes be, so I made the (rookie) mistake of allowing him onto the car as we left the supermarket. All was well, until I decided he had played long enough and it was time to head home. Dragging the once more kicking and screaming gremlin from the car and into the trolley, I pulled out my trusty accessory and with his dummy firmly in place, the crying ceased and we began making our way towards the exit of the complex.
It was at this point that my pretty standard-fair shopping experience became something completely different.
Out of nowhere, an older woman approached us. She reached out, promptly plucking the dummy out of the gremlin’s unsuspecting mouth while scolding me about how he doesn’t need it and I shouldn’t be so bad a parent as to give it to him. Stunned silence (from both the gremlin and I) met this proclamation, though I suspect he was more stunned that a stranger had come near him and his precious dummy was suddenly gone than by anything that had been said. Before I had so much as attempted to gather myself to respond, the woman walked off with his dummy in hand!
I’m not sure if it was the silence, the lack of any response, or the need to belittle me further that had her turning back, but just as suddenly she was approaching me again and her scolding recommenced. This time it was along the lines of ‘what kind of parent did I think I was to be using a dummy’ and ‘I should know better, it’s no wonder he screams’. Having reached me now, the dummy was pressed into my hand out of the gremlin’s line of sight. My - perhaps petulant - response was to promptly place it right back in his mouth. (To be perfectly honest, this thought makes me cringe now for I surely should have disinfected it first, but it was very satisfying to see her face as I did so).
However, what bothers me most about this entire situation is not actually that yet another person had the nerve to question my parenting. Being entirely unsure of myself in this aspect of my life I frequently do just that anyway. No. What bothers me most of all is that the absolute shock of that situation stunned me into silence. What bothers me is that a complete stranger actually had the nerve to get so close to my son as to take something from him without any care for getting my permission. I pride myself on using my voice, on standing up for myself when I feel I need to do so, and this sudden silence, this sudden loss of agency, had me furious. By the time I had gathered my wits enough to respond at all, the woman I was most angry at was gone. Instead, the person who dealt with the brunt of my rage was my beautiful husband, whom I promptly called to inform him of what had happened. It was only then that my voice returned. It was only then that I proceeded to use every vile curse word I could think of to describe the woman who had so blatantly gone near our son. And then, because my anger had transferred itself from being furious at her to being furious at myself for not responding, I spent the next week venting about it to anyone who dared so much as look at me sideways – from friends and family, to colleagues, to the students in every one of my classes.
That anger at myself for not responding, for being so shocked by the situation that I didn’t tell that woman to go fuck herself still sits inside me to this day, months later. Though it generally no longer spills out as a rage of vile cursing that I can’t control. Instead, it comes out in this form – a blog post about the situation itself (with perhaps just a hint of that vile cursing). Most of all though, it comes out as questions. Why do people feel the need to comment on the way those around them parent? Do they not remember how hard being a parent is? Have they never experienced moments of doing something as a parent just to get through? Or, if they’re not parents themselves, did they never learn that it wasn’t okay to be so rude?
People complain that the youth of today have no manners – I would argue that the adults of today are often far worse.