That Mom

I’m in my early twenties, doing my grocery shopping at Meijer. In line in front of me is a woman with two children. A baby girl, maybe a year old, is sitting in the grocery cart, sucking on the cart and getting drool everywhere. She has a snotty nose. Her older brother, around three years old, is fingering all the candy bars.

“Mom, I need this. It’s my favorite.”

The mother ignores him and continues to unload the cart onto the belt.

The little boy falls to the floor again and begins to scream.

“Mom! I need the M&M’s! I need them! I’m going to get them!”

“Get up right now!” she says in an audible whisper, teeth clenched.

“I’m not getting up! I want the M&M’s! We’re getting the M&M’s!” He continues to lay on the floor.

Mom grabs him by the arm, yanks him up and swat! She strikes him on the bottom.

“You need to be quiet right now! We are not getting the M&M’s!”

He stands silent for a brief second, then lets out a never-ending wail.

I try not to look. I’m looking at the magazine rack. I can’t believe she just spanked her kid in the store. That’s so trashy.

I’ve seen it before and I can just imagine that kind of mom at home with her kids. You know, she’s the type that sits around watching TV while her children run around with no supervision or discipline. That’s why her kids are little brats. No one has taken the time to discipline them.

Yes, I am able to deduce from the little snippet of her life that I’ve seen here at the grocery store that this mom is a bad mom. I am so confident that I will never be like that. I’m learning now the things I’ll never do with my own children. No spanking in the store. Check.

The cashier rings up her purchases. The little boy is still crying. Oh my God, can’t she keep him quiet? She’s not even telling him to be quiet. Why isn’t she telling him to be quiet?

“I WANT THE M&M’s!”

“Fine! Whatever! Get the stupid M&M’s!” She throws a packet of M&M’s on the belt and the cashier rings them up. The little boy immediately stops crying.

Do not bribe or give in to the child’s demands. Check.

She pays for her groceries. With food stamps, of course. Nice. They head toward the door and she picks up her daughter. She uses her sleeve to wipe the drool off the cart. That is so disgusting.

I will never be like that mom.

Fast forward ten years. I am in Kohl’s with my two kids. Milo is in the little stroller cart, belted in, still with his winter jacket on. His nose is snotty. Beatrix is hiding behind clothing racks.

“Mom, say ‘Where’s Beatrix?’”

Sigh. “Where’s Beatrix?”

“You can’t find me.” She giggles.

I continue to look through the racks. I’m in an extra large size now since Milo was born. I haven’t even tried to lose the weight. Chocolate has been my best friend for the past eight months.

I’ve got several items in the cart, but I haven’t found the perfect outfit yet. Everything looks either too old or too young. I’m trying to find something on clearance, something I can wear to a Christmas fundraiser tonight. I have been wearing spit-up stained shirts and one-size too small pants since Milo was born. I don’t have anything nice to wear. We don’t have the money to buy new clothes right now, but Stewart gave me a gift card he had received for his birthday. I’ll just find something cheap so there’s some left over for him.

What I have in my mind – something classic, tailored, a bright top and dark pants – cannot be found on the clearance rack. I walk to the other side of the store, Beatrix trailing several steps behind, touching anything and everything she can. There’s a chunky aquamarine sweater and some espresso brown corduroys. I don’t look at the price tag; I just put them in the cart and make my way to the dressing room.

Beatrix makes up a story while we’re in the dressing room, something about how we’re all monsters in the monster dressing room. She is keeping herself amused. I have about twenty different shirts and pants to try on, even though I know (I hope) only a few of them will fit right, over my saggy boobs, large tummy, nonexistent butt and chicken legs. How in the world I don’t topple over when I walk is unknown to me.

I take off yet another shirt (too tight) and pants (too long, and let’s not even mention trying to button them) and Milo, this whole time staying angelically quiet, begins to whimper. His cheeks are red. Oh, geez, I haven’t even taken his winter coat off! Poor baby is roasting. I take the coat off and rifle through the clothes in the cart. Milo cries louder.

“Shhh, shhh, you’re all right.” I’m constantly telling my child he is all right even though his cries and tears tell me he isn’t.

I look at the time on my cell phone. Shit. Have we really been here an hour and a half? No wonder he’s crying. He’s tired and he can’t fall asleep in the cart while he’s sitting up. I do the only thing I know will work to quiet him. I sit down on the dressing room bench, still only clad in my underwear and bra, and nurse him. This takes about ten minutes, and Beatrix is tired of being cooped up in the dressing room. She starts to roll around on the floor. She takes off her boots.

Milo is happy now, or at least calm. I set him back in the seat and push the cart towards the mirror. He and Beatrix look in the mirror and Beatrix makes faces at him. He laughs. Good, problem solved.

I continue to try on clothes. The brown cords are going home with me. They have a bit of stretch to them. I have to decide between a grey wrap-around sweater with a cute little pink flower on the tie or the aquamarine sweater.

“You know,” I say to Beatrix, who couldn’t care less, “I think this blue one would look great if I had a wide brown belt to go over it.” I’ve never worn a belt over a sweater before, but I think it might fool the eye into thinking my chest and hips are bigger, making my tummy a little less noticeable. I think it’s very fashion-forward of me.

I get dressed and walk out with the cart. Beatrix does not follow.

“Beatrix, come on. I have a little more shopping to do.”

“No, Mom, we’re monsters. We have to stay in this monster room.”
“Okay, I’ll just leave you here,” I threaten.

As I walk away, she twists around on the floor and talks to herself. She takes my threat as an invitation to stay where she is. I go back to the room and lift her up off the floor. Her boots are still off.

“You can’t walk through the store without shoes.” I lift each of her feet and and force them into the boots. She pulls them off. I do it again.

“Hey, you can help me find a belt, a pretty one, to go with these brown pants. Do you think you can help me look for one?”

“Sure!” She’s eager to help, to show that she’s a big girl. She lets me put on her boots.

There are hundreds of belts, mostly in small to medium sizes, thin, and black. It takes me a while, but I find a couple wider brown belts which have Medium-Large written on them. Maybe they’ll fit.

Where is Beatrix? I look behind me. She has stopped at a rack with headbands and scarves. Good. That’ll keep her interest while I try these on.

“Mom, I want this headband. It’s pink, my favorite color.”

“No, honey, we’re not getting a headband today.” I do the math in my head. The pants and sweater alone will use up the entire gift certificate. The belt will have to go on a credit card.

“But Mom, look at it. I really need it. It’s pink!”

“Beatrix, put the headband back. We’re not getting it.” I’ve raised my voice.

Milo begins to cough. He has been sick for almost two weeks and his damn cough won’t go away. I can hear the phlegm in the back of his throat.

“Mom, please can we get the headband?” She is crying now. Real tears. “We really need to get the headband.”

“No! We are not getting it!” I yell. I turn toward her and snatch the pink and black zebra-striped headband from her hands and whip it back on the shelf it came from. Behind me I hear Milo coughing louder, then a wet splat. Oh great, now he’s spitting up. I walk around the cart to the front where he’s sitting. His entire shirt and pants are covered not only with the milk he just drank, but also his breakfast from the morning; bits of cooked egg yolk and rice cereal are in puddles on the seat and footrest. No, he didn’t just spit up. He vomited. There are a few belts on the floor, and those too have been splattered with puke.

“Crap. Really, Milo?” I question. He is not upset. He just sits with a blank stare.

“I’m getting the headband!” Beatrix shouts and stomps back over to the rack.

There is a woman nearby. I wonder if she can see the puke. Surely she must have heard him. She doesn’t look at us. Cleaning this up seems insurmountable and I am overwhelmed. For a moment I ponder the thought of grabbing Milo out of the cart and just walking out of the store. Beatrix is still crying.

“Beatrix, can’t you see that your brother just threw up?” My voice wavers between exasperation and anger. “Put the headband back. I don’t want to talk about it anymore! I need to clean this mess up!”

In my bag are a bib and some baby wipes. I use the bib to soak up most of the wet stuff. The baby wipes clean the belts pretty well. I leave them on the floor. I go through about twenty wipes, cleaning off the footrest, then the seat, and finally Milo’s shirt and pants. He smells awful. I am hot, tired, and close to tears. I know I should go and get a sales associate, but I just want to leave.

“Mom, you don’t need to clean the mess up. You need to get this headband for me!” She glares at me and smacks her hand against a shelf.

It’s almost audible, the sound of my last nerve firing, the moment of snapping. It’s like a flash or a click. The tears that were stinging my eyes transform into rage. I walk over to Beatrix, yank at her wrist, grab the cart and start walking, dragging her with me. I contemplate leaving the store, but I have been here for two hours now, and I have a decent outfit for tonight. I walk to the check-out lane, Beatrix stomping and sniffing.

“Can I help you?” At least the cashier is friendly, and there’s no wait.

I heap the clothes on the counter. As I look down to fish for my wallet in my giant purse I notice the pink and black headband in Beatrix’s hand.

“Beatrix, put the headband down!” I am now shouting.

“But Mom -”

“No!” I snatch it again, put it on a shelf that has candles and Christmas decorations on it.

“Mom, it doesn’t go there!”

“It’s fine,” I snap. “Someone will put it where it belongs.”

She is wailing. She is now upset not only by the fact that she can’t have what she wants, but that the thing she wants is in the wrong place.

“Beatrix, do you have any money with you?” I lower my voice and regain my composure for the moment.

“No.”

“Well, I don’t have enough for it. And if you walk out of here with it, that’s shoplifting. You can go to jail.”

“I don’t want to go to jail.”

“Me neither.”

The cashier is still smiling as I hand her my gift card. The total is about fifty cents less than the amount on the card. She hands me the change. Well, there goes Stewart’s birthday present. I grab the bag she hands me and walk toward the door, stopping to take Milo out of the cart. Under his butt is a large smudge of sticky vomit. I look around to see if anyone is watching, then grab another wipe and clean it off. I set him on the ground and put his coat on, then Beatrix’s. She is still crying and sniffling.

“Mom, why can’t we get the headband?”

I ignore her.

“Mom! I’m not leaving here!” She is screaming now. “We are not leaving without the headband! We have to go back!” She enunciates each syllable, places her feet firmly on the ground.

I bite my lip and grab her arm, yank her roughly. We walk out the door into the brisk winter air. I breathe in and let the icy wind cool my flushed cheeks. She screams all the way to the car. I open her door and throw her in her booster seat, then buckle both kids in. I walk around to my door and slam it closed after I sit down. I put the keys in the ignition.

“Mom, you’re being naughty!” she yells.

I turn toward her, grit my teeth and anger rushes over me.

“If you ever do anything like that again in a store I will never take you shopping with me again!” The people walking by can hear me screaming. “Do you understand?”

Beatrix sniffles.

“Do you understand!” I shout, a decibel louder.

“No.”

I turn back to the steering wheel and drive. I dial my husband’s number at work.

“Why the hell did I think it was a good idea to go shopping for clothes with two children?”

He doesn’t know what to say. I tell him what happened. I tell him how pissed I am.

“But you survived, right? You got what you needed. That’s good, right?”

“Yeah. I guess.” We hang up and I am still seething. I have to go to Meijer. We have no groceries at home. I wonder if our food stamp balance is enough to get everything on the list. It’s after one o’clock. I’m starving. I look in the rearview mirror at Beatrix, still sniffling. I try a new tactic. I start to talk really fast.

“Beatrix, I know you’re upset because you wanted that headband and it was a pretty headband, but we didn’t have the money for it, and when you’re older you can buy it or maybe we can put it on your Christmas list, but right now we can’t get it, and I was upset in the store because Milo puked and I’m sorry I yelled at you, but I was angry and I just wanted to buy my clothes and leave the store, and now we have to go to Meijer and buy groceries and maybe you can help me do that because that would be fun, but I’m very hungry and I bet you are too so maybe we should do something about that.” The fast talking has confused her and she is no longer crying.

“Do you want to go to Wendy’s?” I look in the rearview mirror.

“Yeah.” She pauses. “Can I get french fries?” Tears glint at the corners of her eyes, but they sparkle and her mouth is a wide smile.

Oh, God.

I am that mom.

Isn’t it funny how we know what we’ll be like as parents before we actually become parents? I had a perfect picture in my head of what I would be, and so far, I’m not even close!  I now realize the mom I saw in the store when I was younger was not a bad mom.  She was a mom, plain and simple.  Or maybe not so simple.  Motherhood is complex! 

So, how have your perceptions changed since you became a parent?  Have you done anything you swore you would never do?  Do you judge other moms?  I know I still do even though I don’t want to, but more and more I try to keep an open mind and realize that we just never know unless we’ve walked a mile in another’s shoes.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, so please leave a comment!

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21 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: The Cloud is Lifting « The Lorix Chronicles
  2. Deanne
    Feb 04, 2011 @ 18:03:36

    I loved reading this one. I remember bribing my boys with M&M’s. Every time they tinkled on the potty…yup, one M&M. Never thought I’d do it…but I did…and I’d DO IT AGAIN!!!! Dr. Spock is rolling in his grave.

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    • lorixmom
      Feb 14, 2011 @ 08:45:40

      Ah, yes, we gave candy to Beatrix after she went potty. Hey, it worked! And I’d do it again too!

      Before we left on our vacation, we used that as a bribe too. “Do you want to go to Disney World? Okay, then you need to listen to Mom and Dad.” A very useful tool!

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  3. Kasandra
    Jan 17, 2011 @ 16:46:49

    Being a current retail worker and a past nanny as well an employee in a mental health group home, I can feel your pain. You are not one of those moms. There is a difference. I see a variety of parents in our store as our children’s section has a playground. Parents find that a great place to leave their children while they shop for themselves despite our threats of espressos and puppies! I’ve seen children repeatedly asking for their parent’s attention to the point where I want to go and slap the parent upside the back of the head to simply answer their child to the parent guiding every step the child takes in the playground. My favorite was the parent of an 8yr old who had to call her 8yr old daughter on her cell phone to ask permission to buy her a winter coat!

    So, yes, I guess I judge parents. The thing is you can often tell the ones who are simply tired and need a break. I do not mind entertaining the children of those parents while they are in the store. Being a parent and taking children shopping is rough. That is why my sister, mom, and I shop while the kids are in school. It’s not so bad when the kids are babies as they often will sleep through it. It is not bad once the kids are in school because you can do things while they are in school. The problem is that in between time. I commend you on how well you do on a regular basis. Stay at home parents really do deserve medals of honor for the war they fight every day!

    Keep on keeping on! You are doing a great job!

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    • lorixmom
      Jan 21, 2011 @ 16:52:04

      You know, it’s hard not to judge, isn’t it? I STILL do it, and then I tell myself You are not in their shoes, Mandy. You have no idea what they’re going through right now. Okay, sometimes I don’t tell myself that, sometimes I just judge.

      I cannot wait till I can shop on my own again! Sometimes, if Stewart’s home, I’ll go late at night after the kids are asleep. I love it!

      Thanks so much for your comments – they are really insightful.

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  4. MichelleD
    Jan 15, 2011 @ 17:36:38

    I’m not a parent, but I gain sooo much insight from your writing. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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  5. Andrea
    Jan 15, 2011 @ 09:50:43

    I am loving your writings! What a great way to help the healing and help others! I shared it on my fb:)

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  6. Alfreda Brodbeck
    Jan 14, 2011 @ 21:23:14

    I am old now and yes, I said I would never be that mom and yes, I was that mom. And, how, quickly I forget as I, a senior citizen, stand in line behind that mom and wonder why she can’t manage her kids as I now euphorically recall what a great mom I was when I was her age. God bless all you moms with little ones. This too shall pass and then hold on because they become teenagers and that too will pass and one day you will sit at home and wish you had it all back again.

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    • lorixmom
      Jan 15, 2011 @ 11:04:46

      This too shall pass. I say that to myself a lot. 🙂 And then I think Don’t wish away their childhood! It’s such a conflict of emotions, isn’t it?

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  7. Meg Storck
    Jan 14, 2011 @ 12:22:07

    Oh Mandy, I am starting to sweat as I read this. Yes, I have been there. I am that mom. Did I ever think I would be that mom….no, of course not. I judged just the same when I was a single woman with no children. Oh, the lessons we learn….

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  8. Judy
    Jan 14, 2011 @ 11:16:49

    Thanks for your posting Mandy. That is quite some writing! I know I had similar incidents with my three boys when I tried similar things 30+ years ago. I felt like a pretty awful mother a lot of the time.

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  9. Tracey
    Jan 14, 2011 @ 10:13:55

    Oh, Mandy! I have been in almost this exact scenario so many times! Down to some of the exact details- in Kohl’s in my underwear nursing in the dressing room while Liam is rolling on the floor looking under the partitions. What could I do except whisper harshly at him to stop peeping? I’m not very mobile with a baby lached on to my boob! Thanks for the writing. It is enjoyable to read. It definately helps to have honest mom friends who can share the journey with you! One thing I have learned is that the times that I am overwhelmed last such a short time. My babies gain more independence from me every day and I almost wish for even the worst parts of it back. Does that make me sound like a lunatic? Happy belated birthday, by the way! Glad is was a good day 🙂

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    • lorixmom
      Jan 14, 2011 @ 11:04:49

      No, you don’t sound like a lunatic. My current piece of writing I’m working on is about the conflict of wanting your babies to grow up, but not wanting it to pass by too fast! I think it’s okay to dislike the crappy stuff while still loving the good parts of mothering.

      Thanks for the birthday wishes – I’m still celebrating!

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  10. Larissa
    Jan 14, 2011 @ 09:44:19

    Mandy, I can so incredibly feel you on so much of this!! And I’ve only got one!! I can freely admit that in my pre-mommy days I spent an awful lot of time judging other women in their parenting and making a list of how I would do things differently. Beyond even the “big stuff” I judged women for what I perceived as “choosing” to feed their babies formula at just a few months. I was going to exclusively breast feed until AT LEAST 6 months. I judged people for using disposable diapers. How could they do that to their babies and the environment!? I was going to use cloth!! Wouldn’t you know, things just didn’t work out how I expected and my baby was eating formula at 2 weeks because I couldn’t produce enough milk and I’ve got a whole stack of cloth diapers that have been used all of about once or twice each because quite frankly, it was just too much effort. Now that I’m here I feel incredibly badly for passing judgement and wish I could find each and every one of those mom’s that I silently judged and apologize!!

    Also, I still wear my maternity clothes. Yup. I’ve had no interest until just recently in actively doing anything to lose any weight. I’ve believed that it’s futile. What’s the point? I convince myself that no one knows all my tops are maternity tops. I don’t have money for new clothes AND even if and when I do, nothing seems to cover this saggy mishapen belly I’ve been left with other than my maternity clothes. So, I keep going back to them!! I’ve ACTUALLY contemplated buying MORE maternity clothes when I get frustrated and disappointed in the way the clothes I would have once worn look so wrong.

    I’m so glad you’re writing, Mandy!! I’m so looking forward to future posts!!

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    • lorixmom
      Jan 14, 2011 @ 11:15:05

      Thanks Larissa! This week at my PPD support group we all shared our birth stories. It was so fantastic to be in a group of women with such different stories, different wants and needs for their births, and no one passed judgment! I’ve definitely changed since becoming a mother, a little after Beatrix was born, and a lot this time with Milo. I’ve learned that I get to make decisions for me and my family, I can change those decisions if I want based on our priorities at the time, and every other mother should be able to do that without judgment. But, you know, that’s just my two cents. 🙂

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  11. Amber Dunham
    Jan 14, 2011 @ 08:28:37

    I like the way you tell a story, I could feel all the emotion you were describing! And yes I have been that mom.

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