I have always been appalled by children with atrocious behavior in public.
Look, even before I was a parent, I understood that no conscious child will be an angel every minute of the time they’re in public. I know that. Kids will be bad.
And by the way, please don’t jump down my throat for making that statement. I am unapologetic. I will repeat myself: kids will be bad. I’ll even expand: humans will be bad. It’s a fact of life, so don’t get your feelings hurt over a three letter word. People are jerks.
But kids–kids will not listen, kids will snatch, kids will steal, kids will throw screaming fits while bashing their skulls bloody on the concrete. It happens. I know this, and when these things happen, as long as the parent is not being abusive, I give the commiseration face.
Oh, come on. We all have a commiseration face. It’s that half-smirky one with a shrug that says no, I don’t know how we survived without our parents killing us either. If you haven’t given that face at least once in your life, I’ll bet you’re a real drag at parties. You probably send your salad back because the capers on the side were on the same plate. Yeah. I’m on to you.
But a line does exist, and it’s when that line is crossed that commiseration disappears, to be replaced by shock and disgust.
About two hours ago, I waited in line at a popular dog-mascotted chicken-stripped restaurant in the food court, just trying to get an ice refill. It’s hot standing under those skylights all day, y’all.
As I waited, a small child, four-ish, decided that these help-yourself cups of straws belonged to this counter. That decision was not hers to make. Another patron returned the first cup. As the cups were returned to their rightful counter, the employee pulled them back, out of the little girl’s reach. I returned the second and third, taking the last gently from her grubby little grasp.
“No, sweetie, these stay here.”
I was dumbfounded. Flabbergasted. I was at a loss for words. I wasn’t sure I’d heard her correctly.
At that moment, my mind abruptly switched into valley girl mode. Like, seriously? She said that. She totally told me to shut up. Oh em gee! What do I do?
I went with nothing.
She continued her cup-snatching ways, modified into bear hugging one cup while she circled those of us in line. Finally, she moved on to harass the other end of the counter, which was fortunately a straw-free zone.
Throughout the entire episode, her mother completely ignored her, hands on a double stroller, jaw going ninety-to-nothing chatting with her adult female companion. I don’t know which was the heathen child’s mother, but I promise you, they were identically posed and jabbering.
Ah! My turn at the counter. It was a girl I see almost every day I work, since I tend to consume numerous refills of ice with my water during a shift.
“Oh, you’re welcome. Did you hear her tell me to shut up?”
She nodded, seemingly as confused as I was, and thanked me again. I told her to have a good night. She responded in kind.
We both meant it. False, hollow have-a-good-nights are nearly as rude as repeatedly telling a complete stranger to shut up.
It just isn’t done, darling.
Me: Sit all the way back on the couch.
Abby (arms crossed): Mom, you’re such a bitch.
Abby: I love you, Mom.
Me: Even though I’m a bitch?
Abby lurves pink and purple.
What’s your favorite color? ‘Purple! And yours is pink!’ What kind of donut do you want? ‘A pink one! And a purple one!’ What color do you want to paint your nails? ‘I want my nails pink and my toes purple!’
She painted my toenails this morning.
Then we had a ‘discussion’ on whether she was having pink or purple hot chocolate–she’s notoriously indecisive. After I said last chance and she chose pink, I shook it up and set the sippy cup down. She decided to throw a ft because it wasn’t purple, so I put the cup in the fridge and sat on the couch to ignore her.
She sat in her chair and crossed her arms. ‘I don’t like you.’
Anybody else at that stage? Argh.
Then: ‘I don’t like you, I only like cats.’
Now, as I try to write this: ‘I do like you. I do. Mom, I’m your best friend. I do like you.’ What can I say to that?
‘I like pink and purple.’
‘I like pink and purple, too!’
Stepmothers get a really bad rap from fairy tales. Generally, they’re evil monsters who take complete control of their new husband and household. They blatantly favor their own children, if they have any, or despise his for demanding part of his attention, and somehow try to dispose of them.
It’s funny to realize, as I write this, that’s exactly how Leah described me to the counselor.
But I’m not an evil stepmother; nor do I have one.
As a child, I went through somewhat the same situation we’re dealing with now, but with a different ending. My dad chose her. And no one was pregnant. Okay, so not that much the same. I didn’t know the circumstances of my parents’ divorce until my own marital difficulties, but it doesn’t change the thirty-plus years I’ve had with a stepmother.
I’ve always loved my stepmother, as long as I can remember. Granted, I don’t have a lot of memories from before I was ten or so, but I don’t remember anything negative about her. My stepsisters were already grown and starting their own lives and families, so we never lived together or competed for attention. I have nieces (step nieces?) not much younger than my little sister, but still, I never envied babies attention.
Vying for my father’s attention wasn’t an issue either; summers spent with him were summers of freedom from parental supervision, summers of friendship and laughter and exploration. They were never summers with Dad.
I’ve never talked with my sister about this. Everyone knows she’s his favorite, so I don’t know how much different, if at all, those summers were for her. At four years apart, we had different friends and interests, and really only spent time together on trips to the lake, or road trips to visit his side of the family.
What I clearly remember, every year, twice a year, was amicability. We lived in Louisiana, and he lived in Michigan, and I don’t know how many times the kid courier spent the night after dropping us off, before their long trip back home. I know it is possible for everyone to get along.
I do imagine it’s infinitely easier to keep your polite company face on when it’s twice a year, not twice a week. Still, I also imagine it’s easy for seconds of face-to-face versus an overnight invasion of your home.
I have to compare; it helps me keep hope alive that one day both of Abby’s families will respect that she can love the other.
Because I do love her, and I will never hold it against her that she loves her mother, no matter what. You can still love someone who hurts you by trying to deny your feelings for someone else.
The truth is, there’s always room to love more people. It doesn’t detract or replace love for someone else. It’s not the same as liking Skechers and loving a Prada backpack. It’s okay to love people in different ways, to different degrees. It’s still love.
It’s not wicked.
When I was little, my mom convinced me that dirt is worm eggs. I couldn’t remember the details of how I reached that conclusion, but I knew she would just repeat ‘dirt is worm eggs, dirt is worm eggs’ until I got the picture. Yesterday all was made clear.
I was cutting Abby’s nails, and my mom was sitting on the couch. She told Abby how Grammy used to bite Abby’s uncle’s nails when he was a baby because he wouldn’t let her clip them, then she reminded Abby how Mom used to bite her nails. My mom laughed and asked me if I remembered her telling me I’d get worms from biting my nails.
In my mind, my jaw dropped. I asked how many times I had worms; she sheepishly replied none.
That was the story; my mom told me so often not to bite dirty nails because I’d get worms. My baby brain translated that as ‘dirt is worm eggs,’ and here we are today, with me still psychologically scarred, fearing every gram of dirt is teeming with worm eggs waiting to hatch in a nice warm tummy, the yard veritably seething with wriggly invertebrates dying to get under my nails and into my mouth.
That is why I’m so anti-love-theory-of-reproduction. Love has nothing to do with sex; it will or won’t happen. Love has nothing to do with conception; it will or won’t happen.
Just because your baby came from love doesn’t mean your grandchildren will. And what if your child has to suffer through that, even secondhand, supporting a friend or loved one? How have they been prepared by being told that babies come from love?
It seems the same as that standby, ‘you can be/do anything you want when you grow up,’ often followed by ‘as long as you work hard enough.’ It’s simply not true. You can’t plan for things as small as colorblindness just as you can’t plan for things as large as infertility or infidelity.
We can’t protect our children from life’s unpredictability; we can’t even protect ourselves from it.
I’m not advocating learned pessimism. A child’s joy in everything is a treasure to be cherished for as long as possible.
But an attempt to protect them from life is doomed to failure from the first instant. Is a few more minutes of innocence worth the resentment that their parents kept the truth from them?
I can’t imagine how much more hurt I would have been if I’d believed that babies come from love.
It hurts to be protected from something that there’s no protection from. It hurts to find something you learned from the people you trust more than anyone to be false. It hurts when promises are broken.