what doesn’t kill us

We drove to the city today so Brian could get seeds from a small neighborhood co-op that sells organic seeds in bulk. It’s become a kind of ritual; since we aren’t paying members of the co-op and since we don’t normally drive all the way to the city to shop, we rarely go there except in the spring to buy seeds.

It is a small, cozy shop with organic produce and health food. I put the baby in a cart and Hannah and I shopped around a little while Brian took the other kids to pick out seeds.

Joshua, as you probably know, is a few things: impatient, strong-willed, and LOUD. He tolerates a little cart-riding, but not much. I drove past Brian to see his progress. He was carefully labeling a packet of spinach, and was about a third of the way through.

Joshua was straining against the seat belt, grunting and squawking. I got him out, and he and I pushed the cart (he likes to push stuff) for a few laps around the shop. It got old quickly, and Joshua began to shop.

To Josh, shopping is running, grabbing something off the shelf, throwing it, and then running to the next item as I’m picking up whatever he’s thrown.

I reason with him, I say, “OK, pick it up and put it back.” Sometimes he does. Others, he doesn’t. We were fine in the canned goods aisle. But then he got into the condiment aisle, where many items within his reach are glass.

He reaches for a bottle of vinagrette. I lunge, grab, replace, and scoop Josh up. He is NOT thrilled with this, as I am clearly interrupting his gleeful shopping spree.

He squirms, squeals. I walk over to Brian to see how much longer. Josh twists, howls. Brian’s still got several more varieties he needs to count and label. Hannah is looking at the hand made soap, and I walk over to see what she’s found. Josh arches his back, and lets a mighty whooping cry.

“You might want to take him outside.” The voice comes from down the aisle. I look over, smiling, thinking that the person behind the voice is commiserating, or kidding (it was pouring outside, and chilly). The face of a man with a tasteful leather jacket, pressed-looking tee-shirt and designer jeans grips his basket stares at me, his eyes communicating no jest. “It’s obnoxious. We shouldn’t have to listen to that in here. We’re trying to shop.”

Uh. I feel as though the air has been knocked out of me. I smile, a little wavering-ly. “I’m sorry,” I say, and hold my hand out for Brian to give me the keys. I grab Hannah’s hand and drag her outside before I cry in front of everyone.

Josh is immediately quiet in the truck; I let him mess with the steering wheel and radio buttons. I, however, begin sobbing. Hannah says, “Mommy, that man was rude to you, wasn’t he?”

Was he?

I don’t know. I’ve been around people with uncontrollable kids. I’ve thought to myself, “Jeez. What a monster.” I’ve been around people who have no regard for the fact that others might not be able to control their circumstances. In Wegmans the day before Easter, a woman huffed and harrumphed her way through a busy produce department, upset that people were so packed and so pokey.

Josh is loud. If there is something he wants that I can give him to make him quiet, I’ll do it, especially if we’re in public. But if he wants to trash the bulk granola, I’m not really into paying for all that, so I guess he’s gonna holler a little.

What this comes down to is: are kids, like, so much of a CHOICE that I should be condemned to never inconvenience anyone else by subjecting them to my daily struggles with them? I mean what really struck me, as I sat in the truck crying, is that that man had NO IDEA. Every. Day. I. Live. Through. what he was simply saying I should take outside because (why? he couldn’t think clearly with the squawking? because it “hurt his ears?” because the vibrations were sullying his organic leaf lettuce?).

Look, buddy. I don’t get to tell someone to take it outside. This is my life. So I can’t live publicly? I can’t be in places where other people might be uncomfortable or bothered by what IS MY LIFE? Again, I understand. I have made a choice to make my lifestyle different from people who choose to live, shall we say, quieter lives. Do we need to have grocery stores for people with kids, and grocery stores for people without?

But I’m not angry. Not at him. The clerk came out to the truck to tell me she was sorry, and that she would speak to the other customer, and that I could come back in if I wanted.

Brian assured me he offered the man some well-chosen words before he left.

But it hurt me. Because he was saying: You should not be here. You do not BELONG here. Get out.

Here is what I’m doing with this experience: the next time I’m annoyed by another’s actions, inactions, inability to assess appropriate behavior for a situation, or other incident that would normally evoke my utter disdain, I will make sure I remember the way that I felt when I was treated with scorn.

And I won’t be annoyed. I’ll smile. And maybe cry some more.

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17 thoughts on “what doesn’t kill us

  1. What a jerk! But I think that’s message mothers (yes, mostly just mothers) get. You should keep your reproducing self in your home, in private. We don’t want to publicly acknowledge that children exist, that raising them is difficult, and that they do not follow the “guidelines” for behaving in public. Hopefully, the man learned a lesson. Geez, what a jerk! I’m mad on your behalf.

  2. Wow. I think I’m on record somewhere on someone’s blog complaining about children behaving inappropriately in public places, so I wanted just to make sure to say that this guy was an asshole (scuse language). A grocery store is a public place and you had every right to be there. Anyway, your reaction is much more generous than I think mine would be, so I salute you for pulling a positive message out of a nasty experience.

    I hope this doesn’t sound rude to raise, but do you think there was a classist thing going on here as well? I obviously don’t know you at all, but if you’re like most grad students I know, you’re not walking around in Lauren or Prada and exuding the unmistakable air of privilege. Do you think if you’d been wearing Donna Karan and toting a Kate Spade diaper bag he’d have pulled the same kind of crap? (Apologies in advance if you actually *were* in Donna Karan and toting Kate Spade!) Which is not to minimize the anti-mom thing at all – I was just wondering how class might play into the anti-mom sentiment (“you’re only allowed to let your children sully my ears if they’re the ‘right’ kind of children?”).

    Anyway, sorry to go on for so long…I don’t comment over here often but enjoy reading.

  3. That Bastard! He’s probably going to die lonely. How dare he or anyone else for that matter tell you what to do with your kids. I’m sure that you were being the great mom that you are.

    Yea, I get that stare too. But no one, I mean no one better not come to me in any place public or private (not even my mother) and tell me how to handle my kids, especially if they aren’t bothering or fighting anyone. If someone does, I’ll make sure that the kids won’t break anything, but I’ll let them continue on their rant. Just to irritate the hell out of the people who stare. Not only that, I will prolong our stay in the store.

    There was a time when I probably would have done what you did, but that was when I had only one child. Since the 2nd one, I’ve become a hard-ass when it comes to my kids. Screw them! They aren’t feeding my kids, and they certainly aren’t taking care of them.

    F— that Bastard! He’s probably never had to deal with kids anyway.

  4. New Kid: the class thing *did* occur to me, briefly. We are a motley crew, my family. Had I not been in shabby sneakers, old baggy jeans, and accompanied by my messy-haired, various-thrift-shop-garmented kids, things might have been different.

    I like to think of us as “hippie class” rather than “near-poverty,” but I’m mostly deluding myself. Although in the past, when we were a double-income-fewer-kids family, I still shopped at Sally’s. Still drove second-hand cars. I think it doesn’t matter how much I have. I was raised to care about certain things, and expensive clothes weren’t one of them. I’d be the rich old lady hanging her laundry out to dry to save electricity because of the environment, not because she’s miserly.

    But really, I think this guy was simply appalled that I didn’t have others’ comfort in mind. Appalled that I would be so unaware of what a ruckus we were causing–of the violence I was bringing to bear on his life.

    Heh. I should shop there more often, and linger, like digitalpenny suggests. 🙂

  5. Having no kids of my own, there are plenty of times where I’ve felt like this guy did (planes are my personal peeve). But you know what? Equally many are the times where I take a deep breath and remind myself that young children are by definition incapable of being “considerate of others.” J didn’t choose to be disruptive. But this guy made a choice. Faced with a little discomfort (very little), he chose to take it out on you, and that’s shameful and unforgivably rude.

  6. I was just wondering, because I had the sense from your blog about the “hippie class” attitude – and the reason I brought it up was NOT at ALL to say you should dress differently and then people won’t bother you, or anything like that (hope that wasn’t what it sounded like!); I was just thinking about all the kinds of class assumptions that get dragged into attitudes about child rearing, complaints about the “wrong” people having “too many” children that they “can’t afford,” that kind of thing. A lot of the complaints that people make about other people’s parenting often seem to have class components – people not realizing how money/lack thereof plays into certain choices people make as parents. (Although is is just my 3rd or 4th hand reaction from reading other people talk about this – I’m not a parent myself.)

    Which really just boils down to another element in the way that this guy was a jerk. 🙂

  7. what a shithead.

    i’ve certainly gotten cross w/a kid who was not in pain, was just cranky, and was LOUDLY making my life more painful than it had to be, certainly. but being cross is one thing–acting like a shit toward the kid’s mother, who’s obviously busting her ass to keep up with him already & if she HAD any magic cure-all tricks in her pockets she’d be trying them already is something else.

    i hope somebody he know reads this & recognizes him.

  8. Hi, I’m a new reader, came over here from BitchPh.D. As you may know, she has wonderful essays on the inclusion of children into life. (Reproducing is not a choice, it’s not-reproducing that’s a choice, etc.)

    YES, that man was being rude to you! I applaud your noble digestion of this event. But I’d also encourage you to come up with a comeback that satisfies you, should something similar ever happen again. Its tone would depend on your personality.

    I know I’m not exactly being witty or insightful here, just want to support you. Children (and their parents) deserve more respect and inclusion than they get in America today.

  9. Thanks, Jess.

    I’m not too good at thinking on my feet, so I would have to have something rehearsed if I ever am faced with a similar rudeness. But I also get flustered, embarrassed, and tongue-tied easily, too, so even if I have a witty comeback, I might lose it in the moment. 🙂

  10. Comebacks never occur to me until after such an event, after I’ve cried about it and steamed about it and lost sleep over it. But there’s an all-purpose comeback that I actually find myself using from time to time: “Blow it out your ass.” Trouble is, I never actually say it out loud. Not to the person who was as rude, classist, and generally assholic as this guy was. I probably would have done exactly the same thing you did, M. And would have wished afterwards that I’d stood up to him.

  11. Something else to think about here is gender. I am unrelentingly amazed by the ease with which a remarkable number of men will “instruct” women whom they’ve never seen before. During my life, I would estimate that 90-95% of the free instruction that I have received from total strangers has been from men. And I’m not sure that I have ever told a single one of them to blow it out his ass. But the next one had better watch out 🙂

  12. As a mother, I found this post sad and familiar. I too have been the recepient of unwanted “instruction” (again, mostly from men). My problem with people being annoyed by children is that at one point or another these people were, in fact, children. Were they perfectly behaved at every moment? I doubt it. If they became adults without ever having been children, then I think they have every right to insist that children be barred from every day places like the grocery store. For god’s sake, it’s a grocery store, it’s not like it’s a zen center where everyone needs absolute silence to become one with their inner selves. How difficult is it to choose pasta and some pretentious sauce to go with it? (cuz you know that guy was looking for some kind of exotic mushroom bullshit to go with his penne. By the way, I love penne.) In any case, the next time some guy tells me to control my child (because there will be a next time, there is always a next time)I’m going to 1. Tell him to blow it out his ass. and 2. Ask him if he was ever a child. If he says no, then I will know that, in fact, he is the devil.

  13. You said that the self important DW said “we” and “were”, hmmm, if he was alone I’d need to ask if he had a mouse in his pocket, then launch into a tirade about not taking one self too seriously because no one else does!! Chin up!

  14. Everyone is concentrating on the men here. How would you have felt if it had been a woman who spoke to you? One with a couple of quiet, well-behaved and well-trained kids in tow. Or at least kids who came to heel when she told them.
    Would you have felt better or worse?

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