The shopping trip started like any other. One minute I was blissfully wondering the aisles of Target with my two children, just grabbing that one last thing, and the next my three year old is mid meltdown.
You know that moment when you know you have pushed your kids just a bit too far but you still need to check out? Yep, I was in that moment. Enter, the rude woman.
The last thing on our list was bath toys. I was hoping this could turn the trip around. As I announced the final item to my kids, my three year old responded, ” I want real toys! Not bath toys!” to which I responded, “We are here to get bath toys. I see that you are upset but we are not getting any other toys today. You can take a deep breath and pick out bath toys or we can leave with no toys at all.” A passing mom gave me a smile and a thumbs up. I took a deep breath and gave myself a mental high five. My son started to calm down. All was well. I mean, I rocked that.
We picked out bath toys and headed to the register. I foolishly took a short cut that somehow landed us smack dab in the middle of an end cap of dinosaurs. Plan. Fail. I could see my son’s face change instantly. There was a deep breath and a loud wail. Here we go again. I repeated the same long phrase from before, except this time it did NOT carry the same calming affect. Then came the tears and the shrieks. I repeated myself one more time but there was no turning back. My son was unglued. I calmly took the bath toys out of the cart and set them down by the register. Another passing mom made eye contact and simply said, “you’re doing a great job mama.” Again, I felt reassured.
At this point I have visible sweat beads rolling down my face. My son is throwing anything he can get his hands on, but I am determined to finish this trip. We were already forty-five minutes in and I was not about to give up now. The cashier gave me a look of sympathy as she rang me out as fast as humanly possible. Although I was struggling, the reassurance I had received was helping me to stay calm. Then it happened.
A rude woman passing by stopped and made eye contact. Her eyes, however, were not the kind eyes that I had been met with during this trip.
“You are a horrible mother. What you did to that child, taking that toy away- that is psychological abuse. I should report you to DCFS.”
I was dumbfounded. She stood her ground. The cashier continued to bag and I just looked down at the credit card swiper, wishing for this moment to end but it did not. “You should have never had children. You are a cruel, cruel parent.” With that, she finally walked away.
I stood there in disbelief. My initial instinct was to run, just get out of there. Then I was mad, like really mad. I got up the courage to confront this rude woman who was now an aisle over. I calmly said, “excuse me ma’am. While I owe you nothing, I think you should know that you do not know anything about my family. What you just did is exactly what is wrong with the world. You assumed the worst. I am leaving here knowing that I am a good mom with amazing children.”
Gauntlet thrown. This woman did not like being called out. She began to scream. I honestly don’t even remember what she was saying. I promptly turned my cart around and almost bumped into security. I was greeted with an apology and escorted to my car. As I loaded my kids, one of which was STILL crying, I realized I was shaking.
Why did I feel the need to defend myself? I know I am a good mom. I know my children are (mostly) happy and healthy and very well loved. I felt ashamed and embarrassed, not for my actions toward my son, but for my need to somehow vindicate myself to a complete stranger.
We forget how powerful words can be, and these words from a rude woman I didn’t even know cut deep. As moms, we are constantly navigating social landmines. We are constantly being judged by ourselves and others.