We’ve been visiting our families last week and this week, giving our 2-year-old some dedicated, quality time with his grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. First we saw Randy’s family in South Florida, and now we are with my family in South Georgia. To get from there to here yesterday, we took a six-hour road trip with a toddler.
When we said goodbye to our Florida family, Moses cried. He was tired and strung out from a long morning in the pool, and he was emotionally spent from a full week of fun with his cousins, whom he adores. I looked at him and thought, that kid is going to sleep hard the minute we hit the road. I said a silent prayer of thanks for the hours of peace and quiet and restoration ahead of us.
Our plan was to drive a little more than halfway so Moses could take a good nap, then stop to get some wiggles out, and pick up a couple of things we needed at the outlet mall.
But Moses didn’t nap. He cried. For about four hours. We stopped anyway. At an outlet mall. On a Saturday. With an overtired toddler.
In the mall, Moses fixated on the haphazardly arranged gates around the god-forsaken rental strollers that look like race cars. We always let Moses choose the race car buggy at the grocery store, but yesterday wasn’t for sitting and being wheeled around at his leisure — yesterday was for running laps to make him tired so he could please for the love of god take a nap. He was so wired he couldn’t slow down or hear me or pull himself away from the wobbly metal baby fencing containing the strollers. The gate to the enclosure was wide open, and he let himself in.
I was on mom duty while Randy stood in line for smoothies. I wasn’t doing a great job but Moses was safe, contained even, and I had my eyeballs fixed on him. Like so many parenting moments, this felt good enough. I would occasionally implore him to come out with me, but I didn’t have anything to bribe him with that was better than what he was already doing, and Janet Lansbury’s usually successful if very concentration-intensive respectful parenting tactics were failing me, making me sound like an indecisive woman on the edge rather than a skilled hostage negotiator. (Shout out to Janet Lansbury and the moms who turned me on to her. Nine times out of 10, she makes parenting feel more rewarding than frustrating. This was not one of those times.)
The woman who oversaw the stroller area had been nowhere for the last 10 minutes, so I was surprised when she snuck up behind me and huffed, “May I help you?”
She was late 50s, stern-faced, with perfect makeup and coifed, silver hair. I hadn’t washed my hair in days; it was piled in a messy knot on my head, wild with chlorine and sweat.
I smiled warmly, with my tired, crazy eyes. “No, thank you, we’re just waiting for his dad.”
Her stern face got sterner. “Well, she really shouldn’t be in there. There are wires everywhere.”
OK, listen, I’m well aware my boy’s hair is longer than your boy’s hair. I like it like that. It’s intentional. And I also don’t give a fuck when someone misidentifies his gender, because whether strangers think my son is a boy or a girl has zero impact on anything that matters. But I had JUST identified him FOR her and she saw fit to be a dick anyway.
I looked around. There were wires nowhere. No wires. Just a mountain of brightly colored plastic cars beckoning tired toddlers to please come climb on them.
“We’re working on it,” I sighed.
“Work harder. That’s what mommies are for.”
Happy Mothers Day, mommies, on this fraught day. Here’s to everyone understanding that many of us have complicated relationships with our mothers and mother figures, or a sometimes-muddy relationship with our experience of mothering, or a strong desire to be a mother or a mother again, or no desire to be a mother at all. Here’s to loving your kids and keeping them safe. Here’s to your best laid plans going completely awry pretty much every day. Here’s to keeping your composure when shitty people mom-shame you in your weakest moments. Here’s to not keeping your composure when shitty people mom-shame you because that is OK, too.
I turned back to the woman who oversaw the $2 rental stroller containment area at an outlet mall on a highway in the middle of a long stretch of nothingness and looked her squarely in the eyes, wondering what her day had been like, what her life had been like, that had led us to this moment. Whether she was a mother. Whether she’d ever heard of Janet Lansbury. Whether she would benefit from an open and honest sitdown between two women in very different places and states of hygiene, meeting each other where they were. I guess I stared at her long enough and uncomfortably enough that she got the message, because she backed away and left me and my crazy eyes to our thoughts without saying another word.
Then Moses fell asleep in the car before we got out of the parking lot. #blessed