Yesterday I took the kids to a local juice bar to get acai bowls as a treat. This juice bar is in a very hip neighborhood. A neighborhood in which Reese Witherspoon sells $350 tote bags and cupcakes can be procured from an ATM. A neighborhood best explored on foot, as driving could result in the running over of an exquisite biracial child due to rubbernecking an English Bulldog in a fedora. A neighborhood that makes me forget that I’m walking through the city in which I grew up; that Nashville is a destination town in its own right these days. Which threw me off-balance to begin with.
We walked into the shop to find it packed to-the-brim with perfectly dressed and coiffed 20-somethings, half of whom turned around to witness us walk through the door. A parent entering any establishment with two toddlers, even those as well-behaved as mine were (thankfully) being at the moment, is likely to attract a bit of attention. We’d been outside for the entire day, however, and were sweaty, sunburned, and slightly panting from the effort of parent/unsteady walker/curious 3-year-old stumble-trotting across the street. And I don’t mean to be overly dramatic here, but the juxtaposition between us and the other patrons was...notable. I immediately started to feel squirrely and self-conscious.
Everyone who saw us ramble in smiled warmly. But I was in On-Trend Utopia with smelly Target-clad children, which instantly had me on the defensive. I’m sure that the emotion behind many of these girls’ smiles was something like “If Garrett would just quit his EDM duo and act like a motherfucking man, we could have a baby too in a few years,” but all I saw was “aww. cute? i’m supposed to smile at children, right? i’m never having kids, but if I do procreate, they’ll be waaaaay better dressed than that.”
Then the littles got fidgety and Sadie demanded the potty, which pissed Caleb off, because he was hungry and there were literal garlands of bananas everywhere, and as I herded them into the bathroom I knew we were shifting into nuisance territory. Once we’d emerged and ordered, Sadie asked me where we were going to sit, and I told her that since there weren’t any open tables we’d probably go sit on the ground outside. To which the precious little bearded cashier chimed-in:
“We’d appreciate that.”
deeeeep breaths, mama.
Listen, parents take children to public places every single day. And often times those children are loud or destructive or messy and it’s annoying to non-parents, or even parents who are on a rare child-free outing. Children are sticky and stinky and ask inappropriate questions like “why is that lady kissing her daddy?” So maybe a few of those girls were sorta like “ew.” But kids are also adorable and have enormous heads and eyes AND are a thread throughout our entire culture. They are, you know, The Future and whatever. So probably no one gave us a second thought and I just have a giant center-of-the-universe complex. But then the dude made the quip. And my insecurities were PROVEN in that moment.
I felt like saying, “buddy, if I’d come in here asking you for a quiet spot to breastfeed my unvaccinated 5-year-old, you’d’ve thrown me a fucking parade. Or at least given me a place by the window so that the passersby could admire my proudly exposed areola and my child’s unwrinkled ecru hemp shortalls. But instead I’m just a scrubby unwashed 30-something mother of tangled, grumpy toddlers and so I get snarky comments then shown the door. You and your facial hair grooming kit and all these lightly scented un-addled post-bachs can go to hell.”
Instead, I quietly led my kids to the curb to eat our snack feeling resentful and defeated. As I watched them eating and fussed at them to not get so close to the gutter, I realized: I wasn’t really mad at the pretty people. I wanted to BE the pretty people. I wanted to be spontaneous and free and responsible for nothing and no one, anticipating the adventure awaiting in an unplanned weekend evening.
I’d spent 11 humid weekend hours alone with my children while my husband worked, and I felt lonely and exhausted. And then frustrated by that loneliness and exhaustion. Frustrated because the story I tell myself about “wanting to be young and unencumbered again,” is just that: a story. I was a selfish, miserable excuse for a human being throughout my 20’s and all I wanted was to just get it together so I could settle down and have a family. I have EXACTLY what I prayed for all those years, y’all. I hate it that I have such a difficult time just leaning into the mess and the chaos and finding the wellspring of gratitude my current circumstance is owed. I hate it that I took my children on a field-trip to Hipster Haven and spent most of it wondering “how do this many people have it so much more together than I do?”
I didn’t want their lives. I just wanted to feel better about mine. Which is an unfortunate truth to hurl into the airwaves. I’m not often the mom who gazes at her children and thinks “please, never get any bigger.” I’m the mom who thinks, “this shit is HARD, man. When’s nap time again?” But what I have to remind myself is that people are people and children are children. The perfectly curated infant of the mom who has a handmade bonnet budget is just as likely to blow liquid feces up to his neck as any other kid. We’re all dealing with teething and tantrums, exhaustion and self-doubt, heartbreaking adoration and a love so filled with fear it forms an actual weight inside our bodies. As will a great many of the girls who smiled at me in the shop, when it’s time.
As I was reflecting on my need for an attitude adjustment, I looked down to see my 3-year-old feeding her 18-month-old brother. They were both giggling and speaking in nonsense words only they know and joyfully eating whatever they’d dropped on the sidewalk (which was organic and locally-sourced and therefore totally cancels out the rodent urine and Hepatitis). It was utterly mundane, that moment. But isn’t it something, the grace that our children reveal? I’d spent a half-hour trying to claw my way out of needless self-pity and resentment and then those babies cured me just by being who they are. It was crazy-powerful, y’all. And warmed me to my core—way better than a salvage flannel and cup of small-batch fair-trade coffee ever could.