We sat down, and the only available table was squashed between several other tables. Way too close for comfort. Then we waited forever for anyone to wait on us. The kids were really hungry, and acting up. India was doing the screeching thing where she tries out her voice and thinks it’s really funny. Jafta is imitating her, and playing with everything on the table, and whining about wanting his food. I am sitting there sweating and trying my best to entertain them both: frantically passing out crayons, crackers, and anything I can find to hush them up.
There is an older woman having lunch with a friend at the table next to us. She’s clearly apalled by our presence and letting me know with lots of passive-aggressive sighs and eye-rolls every time India makes a noise. Jafta drops a spoon and she glares at me.
Meanwhile, I’m feeling frazzled and mortified and thinking maybe I should leave. I’m doing my best to keep the kids cool. Where the heck is the waitress? It’s such a bad situation.
Finally, India screeches again, and this woman turns to me and says, “We are TRYING to have a conversation over here and I can’t hear a word over your two kids”.
I turn to her and say, “We’re all frustrated. They haven’t even taken my order yet and the kids are really hungry”.
Then she says “well, your kids are totally out of control”.
Okay. Them’s fighting words. Now I’m fuming. It’s not like I’m sitting there reading a novel or talking on my cell phone. Clearly I am a mother working her butt off to placate two rowdy, hungry kids. Suddenly I become an insane, confrontational mother.
Me: Listen. I’m doing the best I can. What would you suggest?
Lady: Give them some crackers or something!
Me: They have crackers. They have crayons.
Lady: The baby keeps screaming.
Me: Yes, and I’m shushing her. There’s not much I can do.
Lady: You could keep her quiet!
Me: What do you want mean to do, smack her? She’s a baby!!
Lady: And THAT one. (pointing at Jafta. My son.) She’s out of control.
Me: HE is just playing.
Lady: She’s being totally loud.
Me: Okay, he’s a boy.
Lady: Well I had four sons and they never acted like that. I don’t care what he is, he’s out of control.
Okay, now I’m boiling. “I don’t care WHAT he is???” Who says that about a child? In front of a child? I’m starting to feel like I’m dealing with a racist here, but stifle that thought so I don’t completely lose my cool.
As all this is happening, people have started to stare. She’s being loud, and I’m being loud. I’m feeling totally defensive and yet also fighting tears.
Me: Well since you were such a perfect mother, why don’t you come on over and manage them? I’m all ears. What is the secret? What would you suggest me do right now?
Lady: Well, they shouldn’t even be here.
Me: What? So I should just sit at home with my kids and never leave the house? This is a grocery store!
Lady: Yes, you should be at home at this time of day. It’s clearly time for their naps.
At this point, the woman’s son starts intervening. Let’s all calm down, we’re not getting anywhere, etc, etc. Then, the finale to my awesome lunch: the food comes, and Jafta spills a full glass of water in my lap. So now, I’m embarrassed on a new level, looking like I wet my pants. Trying to get in the last word, I tell the woman, “being a fellow mom, I would think you would be a little less judgemental and critical”. She’s not about to let me have the last word, so she makes some comment about how she IS a mom and how perfect her own children behave, and I just start ignoring her. By now, the food is here and my kids truly are acting like angels since their needs are met.
As I paid the check, the waitress apologized to me. She told me that woman eats lunch there every day and acts like she owns the place. She told me I had every right to eat there with my kids. So that was kind of nice and redeeming.
But still . . . I’m so bummed at how emotionally I reacted to this. Why can’t I just maintain my sense of confidence as a mom? Why did I need to defend myself? I left the store in a hurry, and didn’t even buy my groceries. As soon as I got the kids in the car and pulled away, I started crying like a child who had been scolded by her mommy. I don’t know why, this interchange just discouraged me so much.
I spent the rest of the day thinking about it. Of course, in a juvenile way, thinking of all the zingers and comebacks I coulda, shoulda said to this critical woman. But I also totally started doubting my parenting abilities. Am I too lenient? Are my kids really out of control? Do I need Supernanny to come save me??
Why am I so totally shaken by the opinion of a stranger? She doesn’t know me. Why give her so much power over my day? I really wish I could have heard her first comment, brushed it off, and enjoyed my lunch with my kids.
It’s a reminder of how much grace we need to show other moms. It’s a tough job, and a little criticism goes a long way.