It’s kind of been a hard time in my neck of the woods. My husband recently had two unexpected knee surgeries (that’s six surgeries total in less than four years), we’ve just come off a long-lasting flu and seem to have been constantly sick since February, and my husband’s new job (working afternoons and evenings) means that I really have the lion’s share of the work with my 3 boys (6, 3, and 10 months).
One of the things that makes my day-to-day significantly more difficult is that my husband needs to drive our only car to work. My kids’ two schools (morning preschool and afternoon kindergarten) are not within easy walking distance (40 and 60 minutes respectively each way with the kids on a very good day), so figuring out transportation takes up a lot of my energy.
At the moment, we are trying to bike. Sometimes that means my husband drives my older son to school with the bike in the car trunk and leaves it at school. Then at pick-up time, I ride my my bike with the baby in the baby bike seat alongside my three year old on his two-wheeler. It’s kind of uphill on the way there, and very urban, with lots of streets and driveways. The good thing is that my middle child loves to ride, so it’s often kind of fun. But it’s never easy.
One balmy day, with the biking arrangements I’ve just described, I went to pick up my oldest from school. Getting ready to leave school, the boys were starving, and we decided to pick up a pastry at a cafe a couple of blocks away cafe. The city street was busy so I’d be kind of walking/riding (very slowly) on the sidewalk. Because of the close proximity, and the fact that baby ought to have been napping and can hate wearing the helmet, I didn’t put it on.
A woman from my son’s school was getting into her minivan as I prepared to go. She then asked me if I had a helmet for baby, and I said yes. And there it was, hanging off the handlebars, I had used it riding to school. Then she said, “Can I put it on for you?” and started to walk over. And because I know that this is a supposedly enlightened way of saying “You should put the helmet on”, it made me peevish and I said no. Then she told me that the police can stop me for this (like I don’t have experience with police) and this made me smile just a bit wider as I continued to refuse to put it on.
And then. To my utter disbelief – for I had stopped and was straddling my bike to talk to this woman – my completely stationary bicycle somehow released itself from my hands, gently sliding to the ground as if in slow motion. With my helmetless baby in it.
He wasn’t hurt as he had only fluttered down slowly with the bike and didn’t make any contact with the ground, but he didn’t like it and cried. I picked him up quickly and I stared hard at this woman while she looked back at me. I assume her eyes were saying something like “I told you so. You’re really lucky this time”, while mine were barking “What kind of voodoo hex did you just throw on me, you bitch?!”
But I couldn’t actually say this, because I was the mother whose baby had just dropped to the ground. Proving the casting of spells is also difficult. But I was really pissed. I shouldn’t even have stopped to talk to her. Doing so meant my other boys had ridden up ahead and were yelling for me, plus she made my baby somehow fall off my motionless bike; by trying to “help”, this witch had inadvertently caused a much more dangerous scenario than if she had just let me walk/ride to the cafe!
I put on the freaking helmet for my two block walk/ride to the cafe. Because what was I supposed to do, now that she manifested my baby’s fall and I couldn’t defend againt her sorcery? Sure, she was decent enough to not make a big deal out of the “fall”, saying “he’s not hurt, there are no scratches, he’s just scared.” But it made me mad to imagine the thoughts that she didn’t say, like “She’s learned an easy lesson – good thing I taught it to her”.
Except that she didn’t! She ‘s the one who created the whole freaking scene! She’s the demon that made the bike ooze from my hands! I wasn’t even moving! Of course I know he needs a helmet! That’s why I have said helmet! It’s right here! I use it all the time! Except for the short walk/ride that got intercepted by nosy do-gooders who drive around in cars with no children in them!
And there it appeared for the second time. The clue. Because of course I had to think about why I was so pissed off. In calmer moments, I had to assume this woman trying to do what she thought best – doing her duty as a good citizen/concerned fellow mother/whatever – so why was the encounter driving me crazy?
Well, firstly and foremostly, because it resulted in my baby sliding to the sidewalk, that’s why. And I hold her totally responsible for that. I am aware of how crazy that sounds, but I don’t care. I’m telling you she did it.
But another reason was linked to the clue, which was minivan and the lack of children in it. That this woman had leisure enough to look up from what she was doing to fix her evil eye on me (recall that that would be the woman trying to bike with 3 kids, 6 and under) in the first place. I mean, how idle can you be?
Or, to flip that around, how overfull can you be? When I turned my thoughts away from her and back to me, I realized that I’m sometimes so overwhelmed, I want to fling myself off a bridge. There’s been too much surgery and nurse visitation and flu and vomitting and stomach pain and tiredness and taking care of everybody and not doing that especially well and wondering why no one is taking care of me and too few cars. The reason I’m riding the bike with the kids like some rabid urbanite is because there’s no damn car. I’m trying desperately (and on my way to failing) to be a one-car family. Watching this woman get into some big vehicle all by her lonesome – well, it just pissed me off to think of her judging me when she doesn’t know a thing about me. Zilch.
And the final thing, the one that really cuts… is the stark reminder of how I wasn’t taking care of my baby as well as he deserves. Like, listen She-Thing, I know. I know my cherub’s face is always marred with some goose egg or purple splotch, and that he’s gotten more of these in his 10 months on earth than his two brothers combined. I know he cries more than he should, even though he’s probably the easiest baby on the block. I’m trying – I’m trying so hard – but I can’t always do well by him. I know that I’m letting him down, and I don’t need it thrown in my face by the likes of you.
But does my anger flirt with fate? How powerful are you, anyway? What happens if I ignore you when you tell me to stop letting him eat dirt? Will you take his usual fodder of earwigs and compost and produce a razor blade in the soil? Will you see my little kids cooking with me at the stove, cluck disapprovingly, then make me mistake my baby for some kale chips and roast him in the oven?
Take your curses and your empty van and go find something to do. And let a ragged, car-less mother going through a rough patch make a mistake in peace.