Mothers come in all shapes and sizes. And they also come in all levels of judgment.
Some come from faraway lands –like perhaps Mississippi– and they find your child wandering around the American History Museum. They can hear you calling your child frantically, perhaps, or they just see your face of desperation.
They call you “sweetheart” and they assure you they’ve been in your shoes before. Maybe more than once, they say, they’ve felt the sick pounding of their heart lodged in their throat as they flip through the mental Rolodex of Who To Call In Case Of This Emergency, Oh God. They hand you napkins and hankies as you try to compose yourself pretending to enjoy an exhibit titled Cars on Film. You utter “bless you” completely unironically, while Bill Murray drives with the groundhog, aware that you really, really want these people blessed and protected and held up as paragons of what many, including you, thought was a dying society.
Some other mothers also see your child –that same erstwhile lost child, yes, who is three and after whom you are pretty sure the term, “the Fucking Threes” was coined– trying, unattended, to go down the “up” escalator at a thank-everything-that-is-good-in-this-life NOT BUSY Union Station. They see you, clutching the other child’s hand, face dumb with disbelief, jaw nearly unhinged, walking up to him and starting a tirade. Starting another tirade: that is what you seem to be doing all the time.
Your child, glad to see you, feeling a little sheepish and a little lost, starts walking toward you. All eyes follow the path from mother to prodigal child. It happens very fast, but not as fast as the words can come out of her mouth, ringing in your ears and making you see red:
“You’re obviously not doing a good enough job watching your child. You’re not doing a good job as a mother.”
After an entire day that involved walking, hugging, chiding, rescuing, feeding, reassuring, chiding, walking, sweating, crying, yelling and chiding some more, punctuated by a sobbing fit at a museum, I realize mothers come in all shapes and sizes and levels of judgment.
I also realized that, as an incredibly tired mother, of dwindling patience, I would be goddamned if I let her talk to me like that. So after doing my bit of sass, I asked her –rhetorically, as it turns out, because she never replied– if she had many happy children at home.
Later, another woman caught up to me and apologized on behalf of that stranger.
“I guess she cannot be a mother, the way she yelled at you.”
Maybe mothers, at their core, do not come in all shapes and sizes. Maybe it’s all just a matter of some people refusing to be cruel, and having a soul.
PS: If you have no children and are thinking of calling someone a bad mother in front of a whole bunch of strangers, Lord help you if that mother happens to be me.