Yesterday was Michael’s thirty-sixth birthday. In spite of all the new baby chaos, we actually did manage to celebrate it, albeit not in any organized fashion. My mom made a cake with Cassie’s help. We had presents, and I even let Michael sleep straight through the entire night before just so he’d feel rested on his special day.
The day was not without its ups and downs though, at least for me. I’m still struggling with those post-partum hormones, and man do they make me bitchy. In spite of my best efforts, I couldn’t help but nag at Michael to move the old desk that’s been sitting in our foyer out the garage. I’d been tripping over the stupid thing (it was huge) and I couldn’t vacuum around it, and the fact was, it didn’t need to be sitting smack dab in the front room of our house. I wanted it hauled out and taken to the dump. I managed to get Michael to take it as far as the garage and I’ll have to settle for that because I doubt I’ll be able to get him to move it any farther any time soon. But as soon as I’m off the doctor’s restrictions, that damn desk is going bye-bye.
I was also frustrated with Cassie for a good part of the day. Mom and I decided to take her shopping for new summer clothes. It ended up being a three-hour trip, mainly because I had to stop and nurse Sam half-way through. I thought Cassie might enjoy taking her new baby doll, Baby Boy, with us and even suggested she push him along in the stroller, just as I would be pushing Sam. That did and didn’t work. Cassie was thrilled to push Baby Boy around and everyone went “ooh” and “ah” over her and told her what a good mommy she was. The problem was that Cassie got too easily distracted, especially in the parking lot, and frequently failed to pay attention to where she was going. She ended up ramming into me several times, got Baby Boy’s stroller tangled up in Sam’s, and darted off in random directions, often in the path of a speeding car, while we were trying to cross the lot to a store. Needless to say, by the time we left first store, my nerves were fried.
But I did my best to remain calm and patient. I swear, I don’t know where the patience comes from, but when I really need it, it’s there. I can keep my voice light, my attitude calm, and my wits about me. I can even keep myself from swearing up a storm when I’ve had my Achilles tendon slammed into for the fortieth time. I can do it, and if I can do it, other people can too.
Which is why it pisses me off so much when I see other people treating their kids like crap.
After the first hour of shopping, we had to stop so I could nurse Sam. Mom, Cassie and I sat down in the café area of Target and drank fruit smoothies while I tucked Sam under a blanket and let her nurse. While we were there, another mom came in with her little boy and a man I assume was her husband or boyfriend. The little boy was so cute. He was about Cassie’s age, with a wild cascade of black curls and a smile that would have turned night to day. The mom was another story. Talk about ugly. It wasn’t her looks or her weight or the way she was dressed. It was that stupid, sullen sneer that spread across her face as she followed her child into the café. The little boy was skipping around the tables as they looked for a place to sit, and she just kept snapping at him. At least three times after they sat down I heard her tell her son to shut up. Do me a favor, people. Don’t ever, ever tell your kids to shut up. It’s demeaning and degrading to them and it makes the parent looks like a stupid ass. I swear, after the second time this mom said “Shut up!” I just wanted to walk over to her and punch her in the mouth (remember, post partum hormones are making me cranky and I’m not a nice person anyway).
But I didn’t. It was one of those situations where I really don’t know what to do (imagine that). With two kids and my mother sitting beside me, I’m not really in a position to start a fist fight, no matter how badly I want to. I’m not even in a position to start an argument, especially since I don’t know anything about her or the guy who was with her. Are they armed? Are they violent? Is either one of them possibly doing drugs at the moment? I have to think about my own kids first before I can stop and think about anybody else’s. So I sat there, listening to this stupid, stupid woman yell at her kid for no good reason I could see. Obviously, she was irritated about something. But like I said earlier, when I get irritated I still try to treat Cassie decently. She’s my child and I love her.
At this point, I also have to say that watching this woman made me feel strange and superficial in some odd way. This is where I get politically incorrect, folks, so if you don’t like that sort of thing, quit ready now. This other mom and I could not have been more different racially, economically, and socially. I never felt so white bread in my life as I did watching this woman and her child. Everything about the mom screamed urban street punk or gang member to me, especially her ratty shirt and jeans and that angry, sullen sneer. Meanwhile I looked like something out of “Desperate Housewives” with my yoga pants, Old Navy Perfect Fit tee, and carefully pampered face.
That got me wondering how much things like race, social background, environment and financial status really influence the type of parents we become. The money issue was what played on my mind the most, because it seemed to be the most obvious difference between me and that other woman. Was I a better parent because I had more money or because I could afford to stay home with my kids all day? Did money buy my patience? I mean really, there was a time in my life when I worked crappy part time jobs to make ends meet, but even then I had my family to fall back on when money was tight. I never had to struggle to survive, and I’ll never have to work a crappy job again as long as I live. Michael makes too much money for that, and if he dies (which better not happen in the next fifty years) I become an extremely rich widow. Was that the difference between this woman and me? My financial future is secure, so I don’t have to deal with the frustrations and uncertainties that economic hardship brings? I’m not going to even consider racial issues, because I don’t think being white, black, Asian, Hispanic or any other race matters when it comes to being a parent. Maybe it matters in other areas of life, but not there.
Sam nursed for a good forty minutes, so we ended up sitting in that little café for a while, watching this woman yell at her child, yank him around by the arm and hit him a couple of times. I did my best not to glare at her and then had to work to keep Cassie from staring, pointing and commenting. I know what questions where going through my daughter’s mind at that point, even if she isn’t old enough to voice them out loud. Why is that mommy hitting her little boy? Why is she being so mean? Does she love her little boy?
I don’t know.
Eventually, Sam quit nursing and we, the rich and privileged, headed out to do more shopping. We hit Bed, Bath & Beyond to pick up such crucial necessities as kitchen chair cushions and a new pizza stone for Michael (his birthday present). It was all so bourgeois it made me sick. Then we headed home, baked a cake, ordered Chinese takeout, ate until we were all stuffed, and vegetated in front of the TV to watch “Chicken Run” on HBO. How upper class. How idle and rich.
None of it could put that little boy from my mind.
I don’t know if I’m a better mom than the woman I saw in Target yesterday afternoon, but I do know this. I love my daughter. I may give Cassie a spanking, but only to correct bad behavior in very specific circumstances and never to relieve my own anger and frustrations. I will never, ever tell her to shut up or call her stupid. She’s too precious to me, too much of a miracle. Maybe my money does buy my patience and love. Maybe it’s just that I can afford to be a better mom. Or maybe it’s just that I really do love my children more than that woman loved her son.
Again, I don’t know. I probably never will.
Happy birthday, Michael. Enjoy your pizza stone. It came with a lot of baggage.