I recently read an article about mom judging. Many of the moms reading this will admit that they have been subjected to judging by other moms and if they are really being honest, they will admit to judging those exact same moms. We see Facebook rants, we gossip just before the PTA meeting and we whisper at the bus stop.
This article got me thinking about an incident that occurred at our pool in 2014. It was the end of summer and the kids and I were at the pool swimming. Leah was about 3 and a half at the time and she was swimming around in the baby pool. It was time for us to leave so I wrangled Thomas out of the big pool and the two of us walked over to the baby pool to get Leah. Several children, under the age of five were swimming while their parents chatted and watched from the deck. Leah was playing with her Barbie inter-tube when I called out to her that we needed to leave.
She made a little pouty face and crossed her arms across her chest to let me know she was not happy that she had to leave. The inter-tube floated away from her and into the hands of a little girl who was about 18 months old. She was just like any other toddler, mostly steady on her feet but she wore one of those baby flotation devices around her arms and waist just in case she toppled over. My kids used to wear those when they were toddlers. As I re-directed Leah to gather her things she realized that the toddler had grabbed the inter-tube and was playing with it.
I glanced around for the toddler’s mom, because I had seen this little girl at the pool before and I was familiar with her mother. I noticed the mom was chatting on the side of the baby pool with several other moms so I turned my attention back to the two girls.
Leah, being 3 and a half and still learning about sharing said, “Hey, that’s mine” and grabbed the other side of the tube.
I walked closer to the edge of the pool and said , “Be careful Leah. She’s just a baby. She doesn’t realize it is your toy.”
I glanced over to the little girl’s mom and noticed her back was to us, engrossed in conversation.
No big deal, I thought.
The toddler, not fully understanding and perhaps also thinking, Hey that’s mine, pulled onto the side of the inter-tube she was holding. Leah responded by pulling back, a little harder this time, and saying “It’s mine” and the toddler was pulled forward, a little unsteady on her feet but still upright.
I quickly responded by saying, “Honey she doesn’t understand. You need to….” and before I could finish my sentence the mother of the toddler leapt into the baby pool.
I watched her drag her legs through the mid-calf deep water of the pool and it looked as though she were running in slow motion. I wrinkled my forehead wondering to myself, what is she doing? Does she see something I don’t see?
And then the woman reached the two girls. She grabbed Leah by the arm, spun her around, placed both hands onto her shoulders and shook my baby girl back and forth, while screaming at her, “Don’t do that again! You scared her.”
It was truly one of those out of body experiences. It was as if I watching a movie as I observed my daughter’s head snap back and forth as she was shook repeatedly. I can remember wrinkling my forehead in confusion because it did not seem real, the expression on Leah’s face, vacant with shock and confusion. Suddenly it felt as though a switch was flipped. As I watched my daughter’s head snap back and forth over and over again, I felt a primal rage stir within the pit of my stomach, making it’s way up and down my spine, every nerve in my body, firing at full capacity. I felt a rush of heat in my face and before I knew it, my legs were moving and I leapt from the pool’s edge to the middle of the baby pool. I must have cleared at least 4 feet in a milisecond. Surprised at my body’s reaction, I realized my heart was racing, my jaw clenched, hands balled into tight fists. I fought the urge to raise my hand to this woman’s face. I tried to blink away the blind fury that literally made my vision blurry. Now I understand the phrase “Blind Fury.”
I took a deep breath and with every ounce of self control I could muster I spoke for the first time.
“Don’t touch my child!” I was matter of fact and even in my tone but I’m fairly certain that my body language indicated that I meant business. What I wanted to say and what I was really thinking was Get your F#*%@ING hands off my daughter.
The woman immediately realized her mistake and backed away, as her own daughter began to cry, scared and startled by the sight of her mother’s aggression.
“I’m so sorry. I should not have done that. I apologize.” the other mom said over and over, waving her hands in the air, as if to ask for a truce, as she backed further and further away from me. I never moved toward her, cognizant and thankful for my broad five foot nine inch frame. It is times like this that I really appreciate my tall body because I realize how my height can be beneficial in instances where I REALLY want someone to pay attention to me. This was one of those moments. I REALLY wanted to make sure this woman knew that I meant business.
I was suddenly aware that every single adult and child, including my own son, was watching our interaction. Thomas stood on the side of the pool with eyes wide, his mouth hanging open, watching my every move. Several moms guided their children away from our interaction, wise to not interfere yet thoughtful enough to continue to pay attention.
I tilted my head in confusion as I watched this mom continue to create space between the two of us. Did she actually think I would hurt her? Would I ever do that?
That is when I turned my attention to my daughter, who stood beside me, open mouthed, white as a sheet, and said, “Leah, grab your inter-tube. We are leaving.”
She did as she was told and quickly exited the pool reaching for her big brother’s hand as my oldest child stood trying to process what had just happened.
The toddler was still crying, standing all by herself in the middle of the pool as I turned to face the woman once again, feeling some of the tension release from my body. She must have noticed the change in my body language and began to close the gap between us, offering explanations and excuses.
“She was just so scared.She doesn’t swim and she is very scared of getting her face wet.” she explained wringing her hands together.
I said nothing but continued to face her.
“If you could have seen her face when your daughter was pulling the tube….” she said lifting her hands apologetically and shuffling her feet.”She was just so scared.”
I paused for a second, letting the uncomfortable silence make her squirm a little. She was clearly nervous, eyes darting in every direction, running her hands through her hair over and over. It was as if she was in some sort of oblivious trance, completely unaware of her crying daughter and the side glances from the other parents. I caught her eyes and turned my head to look at the toddler, who continued to stand alone, crying, snot running down her nose, puzzled as to why her mom would not console her.
“I was standing right here watching.” I said a little more calm this time. What I really wanted to say was If you had been watching instead of gossiping with the other moms, you would have seen that it was under control. I chose to keep that thought to myself.
“She was just so scared.” the woman said a third time with pleading hands, still trying to close the gap between us.
I paused once again and said, “Well, now she really is scared. Maybe you should pick her up.” And at that, I turned my back to her, exited the pool and lead my children to the car.
The entire ride home, I had to work hard to regulate my heart beat, taking deep breaths and squeezing the steering wheel to try and relieve some of the tension that continued to course through my body. The kids were very quiet until I broke the silence. I explained to Leah that she did nothing wrong. I told her that sometimes grown ups make bad choices. Thomas reminded me that when grown ups make bad choices they are breaking the law and should go to jail. I acknowledged his statements but assured him that this was not one of those instances. We talked about forgiveness and having compassion for others that might be having a bad day. Once home, I told Mark what happened and decided to take a long walk around the neighborhood.
While walking on that hot sticky August night, I rehashed the incident over and over in my head trying to figure out what part of the interaction between the two girls seemed aggressive enough to cause a mom to react so strongly. Eventually I came to the conclusion that none of this was my fault or Leah’s fault, nor was it the fault of the other woman or the other child. What we had was a misunderstanding. Maybe this mom was having a really bad day. Maybe she has an anxiety disorder, maybe the child has a medical condition or a disability that was not obvious to me. Regardless, I was proud that I was able to remain outwardly calm for the sake of not only my children but, the other moms and children that were witnesses.
A few days later, I was at the pool when a couple of the moms called me over. One woman, started giggling and then leaned in to me.
“So tell me what happened.” she said, a mischievous look on her face.
“What are you talking about?” I asked, genuinely confused.
“I heard about your little incident at the baby pool the other day.” At this point the attention of two other moms, who were in on this little gossip session leaned in closer and started to giggle like school girls.
“How did you hear about that?” I wondered.
This mom proceeded to inform me that she heard about it from another mom who was at the baby pool that afternoon. She went on to tell me that she does not like the woman with whom I had the incident because she is “annoying” and “over protective” of her children. This mom went on to tell me that she and several other moms make fun of the woman and they were happy that I had “told her off”.
I paused for a second to gather my thoughts. “Well, that’s not what really happened. I started thinking about it and I’m sure there is a reasonable explanation.”
I continued to explain that I was no longer angry at the other woman because it was quite possible that she might be struggling in her own way. As I began to express a little compassion for the woman from the baby pool, I actually noticed a look of disappointment in the face of the mom with whom I was talking. Wait, was she actually disappointed that I was no longer angry? Was she actually disappointed that I was not going to share more juicy details? And it was at that exact moment that I chose to take the higher ground and end the conversation, much to her dismay.
Being a mama is hard work. There are days that make you feel as though you might be loosing your mind. There are days when you second guess yourself and days when you are judged so harshly by others that you feel as though you will not make it another day. That day at the baby pool, I made a promise to myself. I promised myself that I would try really hard to NOT judge other moms regardless of the situation because more often than not, I do not have all the facts. I do not know what she is struggling with. Maybe she is going through a divorce, maybe she is sick, maybe her baby has not slept through the night for the past 3 months. Because I made that promise to myself, I hope that other moms will make a promise to stop the mom judging and show a little compassion. Sure, I had a right to be angry with that woman but, I made a choice to show her some compassion and perhaps set a good example for others. Would you do the same?