Sunday, October 4, 2015

Older women should be one thing for young mothers and it's not this

If I ever look at a struggling young
mother like this, I hope someone
will tell me to change 

my face immediately
At the supermarket recently, I watched a silent interaction between two women.  They were worlds apart age-wise; one was a seventy-something professional who looked formidable, the other was a twenty-something mother who looked like a good night's sleep would probably change her life.

I'd seen Mom already, moving around the store ahead of me, all business, cart full, kids looking like, if they were phones, they would be down to one bar. Dressed in a skirt and heels, I'm supposing she was employed outside the home as SAHM's only dress like that on TVLand.

The kids were whiney-crying until Mom had unloaded nearly half her cart and then, as though someone had said, "Okay, now!" the four-year-old girl lost it and the younger brother sympathy-lost it. The girl waved a bag of Doritos around which the mother refused to open while she waited to pay for the groceries.

I know this tactic. IF you keep it together and let me get out of here, THEN  I'll open your toy/snack/drink in the car.

And so, Mom wasn't budging. The girl's very loud crying only intensified, her face turned tomato-red, tears traveled down her cheeks and her glazed over eyes were half-closed with fatigue.  

"I want the bag...Mommeeeeeee...(gaspy sob)
"I WANT the bag...(hiccups)
"I WANT THE BAAAAAAG MOMMEEEEE!!!"

And so on.

At first, I thought, it's four-thirty in the afternoon. It's the witching hour. It's time to pay the Doritos bill. Just give her the bag.

But I know too well that teaching children to anticipate and then cope with stressful situations is a long work in progress. Very often there are special rewards attached to specific goals. There are endless just-outs and next-times. How unfair to both parent and child if all that training must be put to the side, in the best place to practice it, only because people are judging you so harshly you can almost hear their thoughts.  

So I made funny faces at the girl, waved "hi" to distract her and tried to make eye contact with Mom to speak for everyone in the store and let her know we understood. But Mom, wasn't having it. Every muscle in her face was tense. Her eyes were fixed on the cashier.

The older woman, clearly not one of the everyones, wasn't having it either. Face twisted into a scowl, she sighed, fidgeted, and kept her folded arms across her chest.  Just loudly enough for Mom to hear, she hissed the word "chaos," and stared at her. Then she glared at the crying girl, lips pressed together in a straight line, eyes narrow.

At once, she looked at me and shook her head. I gave her a look to let her know I was on the other team.

Mom finished checking out and wheeled her chaos away.

The older woman rolled up to the register and said to the cashier, "Disgusting, ab-so-lute-ly disgusting. That we have to be exposed to this nonsense! This foolishness. This is why kids shouldn't be allowed in places like this," she said, as though she were not buying hamburger and paper towels but being robbed of an exquisite dining experience in an expensive restaurant.

"If I'd ever acted like that," she said to the cashier, "I would have done it only once."

"Uh-huh. Do you want the meat separated from the paper towels?" asked the cashier, which made me like him very much.

I made it to the parking lot in time to catch the mother as she lifted bags into the back of the car. The little girl sat in a car seat eating her Doritos. Her little brother was quiet and busy with a toy.

"Excuse me," I said.

When she looked at me, I could see that she was younger than I'd guessed. The deep stress lines across her forehead looked like she'd borrowed them from someone older.

"You know what?" I said. "You did a good job in there. I know how hard that was."

Her face relaxed. She looked like she'd cry. "I'm trying."

I've changed my own judge-y ways, but I know when I was a younger parent with a strong drive to raise conscientious kids, I would have been (privately) asshat-y had the mother handed the chaotic girl her Doritos. And, while in places "like this" I have only sympathy for the struggling parent, in high end restaurants where I've spent a lot of money to be free of screaming, nap-starved children, I've been judge-y indeed. 

But  in line that day, I remembered myself as I once was, and got a good look at who people become when they lose the ability to remember, who can't soften in their acceptance of others while they are hardening toward them. 

So today, I'll have a little patience with inflexible people and realize they might be struggling to find control in those intractable ways. 

They may be tackling much bigger issues than I am. 

They may be facing a trip to the store later with a tired toddler, and the kind of judgement that is so weighty, it makes it risky to even make eye contact with a stranger who's just trying to be nice to you. 


25 comments:

  1. My kids are past that age now (thank goodness), but I remember when I was sleep-deprived, pregnant and shopping with my then 1 yr old who was in pain from reflux and was crying his way around the shop. I felt terrible and was going as quickly as I could. This old man came up to me and angrily told me I should 'shut the kid up' and that I should leave. I only wish someone had come up to me and reassured me it was okay.

    That was a very nice thing you did, Susan.

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    1. Well, thank you AJ for visiting! To think it's just as easy to take another route and offer a word of support. I can't believe saying things like that make even the commenter feel better about anything.

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  2. AmenI am always always on the other team, too.

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    1. Agree, we parent-veterans should use that hard-earned ammo. I know I can often stop a crying child in his/her tracks with a simple game of peekaboo.

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  3. Love this...young mom handled it well, as did the cashier....but your kind words to her, probably meant more to her than you can imagine! I think we all could remember that! Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Thank you, Joy. You know, it's just really hard for mothers to appear to be in control when everything is falling apart. It made my day to make her day, which is probably selfish, but that's okay.

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  4. I'm so glad I didn't have to drag tired kids around a grocery store late in the afternoon when everyone (including old women!) is tired and cranky. She did well to get through it and your words would have helped a lot. Good for you for affirming her parenting when she needed it most!

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  5. That was so sweet of you to do. I remember those days as well and am now reliving them with my twin grand children. My daughter works full time and takes them everywhere she goes when she's not and I know how she would have felt had she heard those words from you. It sounded like the kids weren't the only ones who needed a nap!

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    1. Rena, I appreciate that especially. That my own sons and daughters will find themselves in that tense spot some day.

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  6. We really don't know what's actually going on in anyone's lives, do we? Who was recently widowed. Whose Dad has cancer. Who has recently discovered their mate is cheating on them. We're called to love, and to treat other people the way we want to be treated. That's all I know.

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    1. Yes, agree. My dentist keeps a poster affixed to the ceiling reminding us that we have no idea what people are really dealing with. I'm sure he hopes after staring at that for forty-five minutes or an hour, we'll leave better people.

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  7. I would have reacted exactly like you did, Susan. I do try to give the elderly a pass, because I know it's tough to be where they are, but being mean is simply not ok. Great post.

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    1. I think a mean response is more attitude than age related for sure.

      When I was in these situations as a young mother, it was far more often an older woman who gave me the smile of understanding and I appreciated it so much.

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  8. Wow, kids shouldn't be allowed in a SUPERMARKET? That's ridiculous.

    My sympathy is with the mom here. It does sound like she handled it well.

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    1. Honestly, even she seemed a little surprised she'd said it. And the cashier's non-reinforcing response was probably helpful in its own way.

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  9. Good for you for backing the mom, and even seeking her out to tell her what a good job she did. And yes, I am not a fan of going to a nice restaurant and it seems like "unleash the hounds," the parents are not even TRYING to get the kids to behave.

    We have all been there, with a whiny, tired kid, and we HAD to get through the grocery store trip. I also LOVED this: "kids looking like, if they were phones, they would be down to one bar." Brilliant!

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    1. I always want to tell a person in that situation about my own 4:30 shopping trips - three year old pulling all the candy off the display yelling "Soopid Mommy! Soopid soopid Mommy!!!"

      I used to hope nobody would give him a dirty look and attract the same wrath: "Soopid man!! Soopid soopid man!!"

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  10. Exactly, Susan! If we're honest, every one of us has a similar experience in our early parenting memory banks. I always try to help out by distracting the child or at least offering mom a sympathetic tongue cluck and an "I know how you feel" look. I love the "in a place like this," like it was the opera or the Queen's coronation. :-) In those situations, I might have to give mom a dirty look too. ;-)

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  11. That was such a thoughtful, empathetic gesture you made, reaching out to the mom at a time when I'm sure she felt awfully alone and judged. Good on you.

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  12. Oh, I remember the times someone did that for me. It turned whole days around. It's a lonely business wheeling those kids into a store thinking "Please, just keep it together."

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  13. I'm not sure when it happened, but several years ago (at least) I decided I didn't want to be one of those holier-than-thou types but nor did I want to be holier-than-them (LOL). So like you, I show my support, I smile if frowned at, and I don't engage with those who believe "we're going to hell in a handbasket" and who say stuff like, "kids these days." It feels so much better to see the good in every generation.

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    1. I'm with you, Karen. I'm much happier if I don't go looking for things to disappoint or irritate or frustrate me. It's so easy, and free and enriching as well, to empathize with someone's struggle and not make it worse.

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  14. very interesting post.this is my first time visit here.i found so mmany interesting stuff in your blog especially its discussion..thanks for the post!
    parenting

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