Thursday, October 29, 2009

This job is impossible; how are you going to help?

Yesterday, I was in the drug store with both kids, buying Halloween candy and bottle nipples with a faster flow so I can feed Ira in under 45 minutes. We'd already had a lovely trip to the hardware store and the grocery story. The stroller was loaded with cider, a pumpkin, and the three bags of candy I was about to buy. Then the baby, who was riding on my back in an Ergo, really needed to fall asleep but couldn't quite do it on my back. So I put down the giant bags of halloween candy, took off my babywearing coat, took the baby out of the Ergo, strapped the baby into the stroller, and tried to figure out how to carry the halloween candy, push the stroller, and answer my daughters incessant "But why aren't we ever going to buy it?" questions.

The baby was on the verge of sleep and I was wandering around, exposing my three-year-old to more products we weren't going to purchase when I finally found the bottle nipple aisle. I set the giant bags of candy down again, parked the stroller right next to them, and walked eight feet or so down the aisle to the get the nipples. Nipples in hand, I came back to the stroller, but then had to deal with the Q-Tips my daughter had aquired. Back at the stroller again, I was ready to step two feet away to buy the stupid candy from the cashier. This series of obviously neglectful acts got the three cashiers up front freaked out, so the highlight of my shopping trip became getting told what a bad job I was doing as a parent by exposing my baby to all those potential kidnappers by stepping 8 feet away from his stroller.

You can imagine what that did to my mood for the day. Just in case you can't, it sent me into something of a tailspin of bad parenting. Back at home the stroller tipped over with the Ira in it (he was unharmed). Then everyone needed lunch at once so I had a screaming baby as I warmed a bottle and got something filling but non-nutritious ready for Leigh. Later I neglected a very fussy Ira so that I could have Leigh help me make dinner. I turned my back and my daughter was hitting my son over head with a toy. I got angry and frustrated while trying to put the baby to bed and was then mean to my Leigh. I left Leigh in rest time a little longer so I could watch "Supernanny" on Hulu. When Ira started crying in the bedroom I felt glad he was doing it in there and not out in my space.

Most every moment of the rest of the day reminded me that I can't do a really good job as a parent of two children, if "good job" means meeting their needs, having them both directly under my watchful gaze at all times, making sure they're moderately presentable and behave well (especially in public), protecting them from everything, keeping them happy, and helping them to develop -- all things expected of parents these days, every moment of every day. I guess I really couldn't do that with one child, but with two I'm totally out of my depth.

Having two kids isn't easy, and I'm still holding myself to the same standard of parenting I had when there was just one kid. Somehow I have to cut myself some slack without just deciding to throw in the towel (or to never go to a store again with two kids, which I was seriously considering yesterday). What I need is a community that gives me a hand, supports me as a parent, and provides extra sets of ears and eyes. I guess I should consider myself lucky, because I get that with my friends and in my neighborhood park. But in much of the rest of the world that extra set of ears and eyes seems to be concentrating on finding my flaws rather than helping watch over and care for my children.


Sue VanHattum said...

Sorry you got hassled. They could have come stood by the stroller instead of harassing you, now couldn't they? I don't understand why someone would do that.

I saw a dad yell at his son on the BART the other day, and my first (unfair) thought was 'mean dad', but I kept my mouth shut, and pretty soon he was playing rock, paper, scissors with his son, while entertaining the younger daughter in the stroller in between rounds.

I hope you have a much better day tomorrow!

oneofhismoms said...

I hearby present you with ye olde spool of slack. It is a gift from my second child, for whom I've cut myself soooo much extra slack, I can even share it with you.

GIsen said...

I walked home the other night behind two women just chatting away. Both were holding the hand each of a little girl. Well the woman directly in front of me never noticed that the little girl whose hand she was holding was trying vigorously to get her free arm in her coat.
I and a couple behind me walked for two blocks watching this little arm just search and search for that arm hole. The guy behind me said out loud" I wonder if she will notice before the kid freezes to death?" After the second block she still hadn't notice so I got closer grabbed the edge of the coat and the arm went quickly in. Just as the coat was on the woman stopped abruptly as if I was trying to harm her child. I looked up and said "she's been trying to get her coat on for some time, smiled and walked around them.The guy behind me added "yeh for about 2 blocks no less" and the woman with the man muttered "you're welcome"

Lyn maybe people are hesitant to be eyes and ears to help you and others out because of being assumed to be a threat of some sort.Or simply that the gesture wouldn't be appreciated anyway.

These days you're guilty of something until proven innocent.

Cindy said...

I hate people.

Well, not you. But I hate those people in the store. I am convinced that anyone who is critical of someone else's parenting either never had kids or created very neurotic children. Personally, I have SO much sympathy for people with children, even when they are "misbehaving". Having a three year-old means that I totally understand how you can be a great parent (like me!) and not look like one.

My suggestion: throw away that job description of what it means to be a good parent. Here is mine: Love your child(ren) and let them know. Make mistakes and apologize. Keep a sense of humor. Teach by example how to be a good person. Have fun. Respect your child(ren)'s opinions but don't always follow them. Remember you are the expert on what your children need and don't let other people shame you out of what you know.

Gee, looking at that job description it seems obvious that my friends Gail and Lyn are fabulous parents! :-)

And, by the way, I do admit to avoiding going to drugstores with E; it is just so stimulating for him that he cannot manage to stop from touching things and wanting things and running around. Which stresses me out. So, I try to avoid shopping with him and, when I can't, I get in and out as fast as I possibly can. So I can only imagine how tough it is with TWO children!

Lyn said...

Thanks for the votes of confidence.

Malea -- I'm sure for the obvious reason, I find myself mostly identifying with the caregiver in your story, and shudder at the crowd of you walking behind her, assuming she was a horrible caregiver, just because the child's coat wasn't on properly (and I can think of a million reasonable reasons that could have happened). Sure -- I guess you did help, (and in some sense, so did the watchful cashiers at the drugstore for Gail) but it sounds like that help was delivered with some of the judgment Gail was writing about (at least from the folks behind you).

That said, you're right, I know those of us out with kids are often on the defensive as we try to navigate public spaces, and are trained up to assume other folks are a threat. Gail and I work very very hard not to make this assumption. As a rule of thumb, I'd say assume that the parents you encounter are trying as hard as they can and are actually pretty competent at their job, and offer any assistance from that point of view. Also remember that parenting in public spaces is one of the hardest parts of the job, and rarely are all family members at their best in such circumstances.

Thanks again all.

Anonymous said...

What a perfect, honest and (sorry) slightly funny post. Funny just because I think that is what my dreams are made of and it seems charming and sweet when it's not me in that position. There isn't a doubt in my mind that you are doing a bang up job of parenting those kids even if it seems unlikely and impossible to you in the moment.

I'm sorry those clerks felt the need to comment but letting some of it go is part of parenting and part of how children learn and grow. Perhaps they should have offered to give you a hand instead of critiquing your parenting from afar.