Friday, April 22, 2016

That One Time a Lady was Super Mean to Me at the Grocery Store

{All photos by Katie; Jaynie at 19 months}

It's easy to pass judgments about people when we see them for a handful of moments: the mom yelling at her toddler in the parking lot, the man in dirty clothes in the checkout line, the six year old throwing a tantrum at the park. We may feel a little concerned, a little uncomfortable, a little superior. Hopefully, most of the time, we recognize that there have been days when we've been THAT person--the one in dirty clothes, the one with no patience, the one with screaming kids. Maybe we remember the circumstances that led to these situations, maybe we don't, but there's always a backstory. 

Remembering this--that behavior doesn't happen in a vacuum--can help us to feel empathy rather than scorn, can lead us to extend help rather than judgment, can cause us to show love rather than disapproval.


1/21/16
I was nine weeks pregnant and had been feeling sick for weeks (both with a cold and with pregnancy-related misery). We had been in survival mode since Christmas, and I spent most of my days curled up on the couch or in bed. The house was a wreck, and my personal maintenance amounted to getting dressed and showering every two to three days. Other than Jay dragging me out occasionally on weekends, literally the only time I'd left the house in nearly a month was to take Kate to and from preschool twice a week. It was a rough time for us, but the girls were doing well and Jay didn't complain about having to pick up my slack. We were making it.

Jayne had recently stopped taking morning naps, so after dropping Kate off at preschool one day, I decided to take a much-needed trip to the grocery store (I'd been trying to get the energy to go for a couple weeks without success). I was feeling okay that morning, though we both looked a little worse for wear. Jaynie's hair was a bit crunchy from her habit of twirling it in her fingers while she ate, and she had bare feet since I couldn't find one of her little moccasins before we hurriedly left our house. I wore baggy clothes and no makeup, but I wasn't concerned about my appearance. I parked the car at the store and sat there listening to the radio for ten minutes, just trying to gather the energy to go inside.

The outing started out successfully enough. I loaded the cart with items from the produce section and Jaynie got excited about the apples. I had just grabbed some onions--letting Jayne touch their smooth, papery skin before placing them in a bag--when I stopped pushing my cart to consult the grocery list on my phone.


Jayne extended her finger toward my face and then laughed as I tickled her neck. We were playing like that, Jaynie giggling, when I felt someone behind me watching us. The woman came up beside me, and I assumed that she, like any other person with a pulse, was admiring my happy and adorable baby.

"Where are your baby's socks? You need to put socks on her," the woman said, gesturing at Jayne's wiggling toes.

I gave her a half smile. "She's fine," I said. I turned back to Jayne and the list on my phone, but the woman behind me kept muttering about socks and how it was winter and cold.

"I don't have socks on, either," I said, irritated. And it was true: I was wearing loafers but no socks because finding a matching pair had been more effort than it was worth that morning.

But the woman wouldn't let it go. "It's abuse!" she said. "It's child abuse!"

Shocked and angry, I said, "We're doing the best we can."

But the woman got increasingly worked up. "Please stop talking to me," I said, and I pushed Jayne away from her. We took up residence near the potatoes where I once again tried to consult my phone.

"You are abusing your child!" she called after me. "I feel sorry for that baby!"

I did not look back at her and pushed my cart as fast as I could past the donut case as her words followed me: "I feel sorry for any child that has you as a mother! You are not capable of caring for your children!"

I made it a few feet further to the deli counter before I had to stop, clutching my chest, as an anxiety attack overcame me. I gasped for breath and tried to hold back tears. I pressed a hand over my mouth and attempted to rein in my panic. The employees and patrons who passed me determinedly avoided eye contact, and I couldn't decide if I was grateful or if I needed help.


I started having anxiety attacks about five years ago (they usually happen at church or church activities since those are very triggering places for me). It is a helpless feeling to hyperventilate--to feel your breath come in huge, deep gasps, your chest spasming like a fish out of water--and not be able to control it. I have no shame when I'm in the throes of an attack--I don't care who sees. But when it passed a moment later, I made my way toward the refrigerated meats and stood there, my cheeks and chin quivering with barely-suppressed emotion.

I was a mess for the next 20 minutes or so and wandered aimlessly through the store, my thoughts too scrambled to function. Even as panic had coiled around me, I knew that this lady was ridiculous--she was obviously from another country and probably had very different cultural norms. I knew I was not an abusive mother. I knew it was fine that Jayne's feet were bare (we live in Las Vegas, not Minnesota, for crying out loud, and it was a sunny 53 degrees, and I carried her the whole time we were outside). Her words didn't pierce my confidence in my ability to care for my children. But my body's reaction was visceral, partly because I've rarely if ever been so blatantly harassed, and partly because I was barely keeping it together anyway and this simple shopping trip was such a monumental effort for me. That this woman, who did not know me, who did not know what I was going through at that moment, thought it was appropriate to publicly shame me for not putting socks on my child simply floored me.

I eventually regained my sense of self, and my on-edge emotions calmed. I completed my shopping trip with my posture erect and my gaze unflinching. I made a plan for if the woman approached me again (firmly tell her to leave me alone and start yelling for security if necessary), and I was no longer afraid of her.

A friendly cashier scanned and bagged my groceries, and I walked out to my car. I pulled Jaynie out of the cart and walked over to put her in her car seat. I rested my cheek on her hair, and she snuggled her head into my shoulder, her body relaxed into mine, her hands gripping my sleeves. We held on to each other long enough that the car doors automatically re-locked. I remember thinking how grateful I was to be her mother and how glad I was that she isn't abused. I buckled her into her seat in the sun-heated car and touched her toes.

They were warm.



3 comments:

  1. Wow! I would have either broken down or punched her in the throat.

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  2. I am at a loss for words! The nerve of that woman. I havent seen or talked to you in years, but I know just by loking at these pictures that you are a good mom! You can't fake the love and happiness that these pictures portray. Keep doing the best you can, because it is enough!!!

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  3. Lindsay, you write so beautifully. I am sad that anyone would treat someone so harshly for such a minor thing, but the fact that someone treated you- a kind and educated and thoughtful person that way breaks my heart. Though there are hard days and instances like this in all our lives it's comforting to know we can get through them and we can learn and progress. You are a beautiful person and I'm so excited for you to have a boy. I'm also wishing I were better at keeping in touch. Thank you for writing about this. I can draw from your experience now if I'm ever in a similar situation. Heaven knows I will be. I already get the - you have too many kids- looks. Anyway, hang in there and keep doing what you know is best for your kids. They are yours for a reason :)

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