6 Words You Should Never Say To A Mother. And 6 Words You Should.
I'm no stranger when it comes to taking the boys out together in public. Every day we run errands together, the three of us, and while some days that means just a quick car ride to the bank, most days it means we're running between the grocery store, Target, Walmart, the post office, etc.
I'll never understand the mothers who choose to do their errands after their kids go to bed each night. By that time of night I'm practically comatose on the couch so for me, it just makes more sense to throw them in the car and whisper a quick prayer to the gods of toddlerdom that they don't do anything really stupid so as to land us on the nightly news story.
If I've learned anything in my three years as a mother it's my kids' limits. For instance, I know that I can only take them in and out of their car seats three times before all hell breaks loose and fire begins to shoot from their eyes.
For those of you who can't do the math, that's three "buckle up's" and six in's and out's total. Try for a seventh in or out or fourth buckle up and I might as well stamp the words, "asking for it" on my forehead.
Have my cheeks flamed with the embarrassment of a public meltdown? Of course they have. After all, my kids are only human and they're only three and one years old. I certainly don't love running errands and I can't imagine they do either, regardless of how many cake pops I feed them or movies they watch on Netflix while in the checkout line of the grocery store.
Most of the time I can use my mom-spidey-sense to thwart whatever I think might cause a meltdown at any specific time. Those toys or balloons at the beginning of the checkout aisles? Worst idea ever and I can almost guarantee the person whose bright idea to place them there wasn't a parent. So as to avoid them, I simply steer the cart away from them before either kid takes notice. Most of the time, this works. Some of the time? We head home $7.99 poorer with a giant, equally as creepy panda balloon.
Some times, however, meltdowns are caused by the craziest of things. Perhaps the stranger in line behind us at Walmart breathed on the toddler the wrong way. Meltdown city and unfortunately unavoidable. In those scenarios? The most I can do is roll with it. Meltdowns don't last forever and I can promise you that your child isn't the first and certainly won't be the last to throw themselves to the floor in a fit of tears and spastic limbs.
What drives me absolutely crazy, however, isn't so much the meltdown as it is the reaction from onlookers. It wasn't until our recent family vacation to New Orleans that I had, on more than one occasion mind you, a passerby say quite possibly the worst six words you could say to a mother.
"You really have your hands full."
Let's take a minute to break this down logically, shall we?
Why, yes, Complete Stranger. You are right. Congratulations! You've undoubtedly made it past first grade math. I do, in fact, have two hands and two children which implies that yes, I do have my hands full.
Never mind the fact that my toddler is currently licking Bourbon Street, literally face to the sidewalk, while my baby is ripping the straw from my hurricane with his Go-Go Gadget arms, sending bright red Koolaid-esque slushie flying everywhere, all the while we are trying to navigate the cobblestone walkways and dodge the puddles of "water" with a double stroller, during, might I add, the children's nap time, which, if I'm being honest, is difficult to adhere to when away from home in an unfamiliar environment while on some semblance of family "vacation."
Yes, Complete Stranger, you are indeed right. My hands are full. But please don't offer to buy me a new drink or grab a stack of napkins from the bar behind you. Please don't look back wistfully and remember your children's early years, the same years you spent juggling them while out and about.
Instead, using your best mockingly sympathetic tone, please make this already frustratingly awkward and intense situation all the more frustrating and intense by making me feel like an inadequate mother who is unable to control her wild heathens offspring.
My question for you, Complete Stranger, is this, "Do you think I asked them to behave like this? Do you think I said to them, "Toddlers, you are behaving too well! Shame on me for keeping you out past your nap time so that we, as your parents, may enrich your little lives by showing you new places and spending quality time together. After all, you aren't napping all that well in that unfamiliar hotel bed any way! Let's take you out on the town and show this new city just how ruthless and uncouth you really are! After all, I really get my rocks off seeing how far we can push your limits."
The answer is no. I do not think any of those things and the last thing I want to do while out in public with my children is have to endure meltdowns and tantrums. But these things happen! They certainly happened when you were busy raising your children and they will undoubtedly happen when my children are raising their own children.
All I do ask, Complete Stranger, is that you think before you speak. Because although I'm almost certain you meant no harm in those six stinging words, hell, perhaps saying them was your way of high-fiving me in the solidarity of parenthood that screams, "yes! I have been there. It gets better," your words imply otherwise.
Your words imply that I am an inadequate mother who, in that moment, is losing control of her family. Your words imply that my hands will only get more full, my control less controlling, if I ever decide to expand that family.
Instead, let me offer a suggestion to those six stinging words. Here are six new words I would prefer for you to whisper instead.
"You are doing your very best."
And say them with a smile. A wistful nod that lets me know you've been there. That affirms my struggle to be the best mother I can when my children are spiraling out of control. Perhaps your child wasn't necessarily licking the sidewalks of Bourbon Street, but by saying those six words, it lets me know you've been there.
And you've survived. Because isn't that what this game of Motherhood is all about?