I never considered myself judgmental, but becoming a parent has made me realize that I was the queen of judgment. I sugar coated it like a baker on meth by telling myself I was qualified to judge the weird things parents did. I taught middle school and came from a huge family, so I knew kids. I thought I knew parenting, and would never do the annoying things I repeatedly saw young parents do.
Then I had kids, and the world inverted. I suddenly found myself doing these seemingly thoughtless little things parents did that were such mysteries before:
Walking Down the Middle of the Grocery Store Aisle
It was as if parents played a game of chicken each time they walked their rugrat-filled cart down the grocery store aisles. They navigated their cart down the center, allowing no room for my cart to pass on either side, only swerving at the last minute to permit me to squeak my cart by. This annoyed the crap out of me.
It only took one shopping trip with my go-go-gadget armed babies to get it. It resulted in an embarrassing three broken, oozing bottles of pasta sauce on the floor. From that moment on, I was committed to playing grocery cart chicken, and stuck to the middle. The annoyed looks on the faces of shoppers coming toward me are nothing compared to the swath of destruction a more polite path would cause.
Leaving the Grocery Cart in the Parking Lot
I used to see the scattered kid-friendly carts in the parking lot and think, “c’mon people, would it kill you to use the cart corral?”
Now, returning the shopping cart is a dilemma. I can load the car, return the cart and carry my 1-year-old twins back to the car; I can load the car, leave the twins inside and return the cart; or I can leave the damn cart in the lot. After wrangling them through the store, the spectre of carrying wriggling babies across the parking lot after dropping off the cart is exhausting, and there’s no chance in hell I’m leaving them in the car in the summer’s heat or winter’s chill.
Sure, when they’re a little older, this won’t be an issue, but in the meantime, I assuage my guilt by putting away other peoples’ carts when I go to the store alone.
Often Late for Things
When I made plans with my friends after they became new parents, they inevitably called or texted at the last minute to say that they weren’t going to make it or were running late. Now, I’m embarrassed that I ever expected anyone with a small child to arrive anywhere on time.
I’ve planned to depart only to have a twin sleep/puke/scream endlessly at the last minute. During one memorable attempt to be early to an appointment, one twin threw up on himself, and while I was changing him, proceeded to throw up on me. I finally got him in his carseat, but when I tried to put the not-yet-puking twin in the car, he puked on me and on himself. I had to bring both inside while I cleaned up the new puker, and put on my 3rd outfit in 20 minutes. There was much crying, not all of it by babies.
I know that there are parents out there who are on time despite this potential for chaos, but I am not one of them. I will get my shit together one day, but 13 months in it still hasn’t happened.
Not Reading Emails
I used to craft clever emails with elaborate themes and humor. I created subject lines that would pique my friends’ interests, and make each one fun. My parent friends never read them. One of my favorite sets of parents once confessed, they only had time to read the first two lines. “You don’t understand,” they insisted. You read a line, and then it’s “Daddy! Come see!” or “Mommy do this!” and you just sort of never get back to it.” I sympathized, but they were right, I didn’t understand.
Now that I have kids, my emails make twitter posts seem verbose. If at all possible, I try to get the what/when/where in the subject line so that if I run out of time to actually write anything at all in the body people still get the message. They’re not clever, but they do the trick.
Leaving Every Party Early
The minute my friends became parents, they turned into instant lightweights, scurrying home before normal people even started to party. I hated them then. But, I am one of them now.
It used to be my norm to stay out until the bars closed. Now there’s not a chance. I need to catch sleep whenever I can. Getting home early means I stand a chance of getting the five or so hours of sleep I need to be a relatively sane human being.
When I do go out, I drink much less. Babies don’t give a crap if you’re tired or hung over, they still need loving, responsible parents when they wake up, which in my kids’ case is around three times a night. . .each. I have become an unapologetic lightweight.
The One Partner Disappearing Act
It always seemed unfair that one half of new-parent couples returned to the social scene much more frequently than the other half.
This is something my husband and I are working to change—but we’re not there yet. My husband represents us at our social engagements much more often than I do, because social events have to rise to a much higher standard to be worth it to me than they do to him.
I like putting my boys to bed. I love reading to them, feeding them, and cuddling with them as they fall asleep. Also, I miss time to myself. Chats with friends are treats, and relaxing baths with a good book just don’t happen much anymore.
Basically, the event has to be more appealing than an uninterrupted bath with a glass of wine, or a beer and phone call to my best friend—both of which require no make up, dress up, or travel. It’s a high bar to clear.
So let me apologize to parents everywhere for being so crazy judgmental before. I wish I was more empathetic from the get go, but at least now I get it. Of course, if I’d really become more empathetic, this apology would’ve been in the beginning since anyone with a toddler had a hell of a time reading all the way to the end uninterrupted. It appears that I still have a ways to go.
I used to drive around the grocery store parking lot until I could park right next to the cart corral. I would get myself all worked up other wise. Do I lock the car so no one steals it and/or my baby? But what if something happened to me (hit by are car) then my little one would be trapped with no one to help him?
I do that too! It seems so strange to actively seek out a parking space I avoided for years because I was afraid of dings from the carts.
I went through three stages. Stage one was with the Schmoo. This stage was marked by massive paranoia in which any moment that she was out of my direct visual sight was an opening for her to be kidnapped by a cult and raised in the sewers by Bane. Stage two was when the Peanut came. By that time I was more relaxed, I had fully grasped the risks and rewards of leaving the girls alone in the car for 30 seconds or so whilst I safely returned the cart. Stage two is good. Stage two is where you want to be. The Grommet brought on stage three. In stage three, it is possible to become so mentally exhausted that one is likely to simply put the baby in the trunk with the groceries.
I’m afraid I am currently at stage 1 and stage 3 simultaneously. I am both exhausted enough to have to use a mnemonic device to remember to check that I’ve put them into their seats safely (BSBS — Belt, Safety Harness, Baby’s ok, Sunshade’s up), AND I am paranoid that they will roast/freeze/be stolen away in the time I use to return the cart.