When my second baby was born, he was blessed with colic, and baby GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease) ~ basically, acid reflux. So, when his three crying months of colic were over, he went right onto GERD for 3 more months. It seems for the first 6 months of his life, he mostly cried. But I know that’s not true. He just cried a lot and it was terribly sad.
One day, my friend and I decided we needed to get our little boys out of the house. She was a single mother of three little boys, her youngest being the same age as my baby, her middle being the same age as my little boy (2 years old) and her oldest being about 6 years old. We met at a park to play and then walked with our five little boys over to a pizza place.
I had my baby in a snugli, he was tucked close against me as he squirmed and cried, arching his back after nursing to stifle the pain in his little throat. It was so sad and I did what I could: I held him and whispered and cooed and sang and rocked and swayed and bounced and rubbed his little bald head.
We walked, probably, a mile with our 5 little boys. We were hot and tired and hungry by the time we reached the pizza place. We went through the salad bar: two mamas balancing 5 plates and wearing our littlest ones, whilst holding the hands of our 2 year olds.
Making it to the table, there was a bit of silence as the three older boys munched and the littlest ones nursed while us mamas tried to poke bites of salad into our mouths. My friend set her baby down in a stroller, and enjoyed her dinner. My darling baby, however, tucked into the snugli, finished nursing and commenced crying and arching. I bounced and cooed and sang and rubbed his soft little head and provided many kisses, but I admit, I was hungry and at my wits end.
Several times amongst his crying in my lap, I leaned over to spike salad and get it into my mouth. I remember feeling hot and sweaty from walking, and quite agitated. I was doing my best and I couldn’t help but notice that beyond the screened windows, the sun was heading down.
In the commotion, I looked to my right, a bit behind me, and I saw a table with two couples at it. They were older than us, maybe 45 or so, and they had no children with them. One of the men of one of the couples looked at me. He looked at me in such a way that his eyes spoke. He stared at me in such a way that I felt even more warm beneath my shirt.
His head shook sadly, and he went on eating.
I couldn’t believe it. In amongst my struggles and my reaching to keep my 2 year old in his seat and eating, and my baby from crying too loudly tucked against me in the snugli, and to manage a bit of food for my own nourishment, this man was judging me. In the rawest sense, I felt his judging like a steel knife careening from his table to my own soul.
I gave him a look, I stared hard at him as if to say “you don’t know my story ~ you know nothing about me”. But to be honest, my power just wasn’t there.
And I realized, to him, we were two (most likely single, most likely living off the system) young mothers with way more children than we could handle. And “How?” he must have been asking himself (and possibly his tablemates) “can THAT mother find the nerve to sit and eat HER dinner while her baby CRIES so much!!”
We left soon, and I was shaken. We walked as fast as we could as the sun began to go down. Our kids were tired and we were chastising ourselves as to why we’d risked going so late, and so far. It was getting cold.
I told my friend how I felt as we walked and related what we must have looked like to that man. With wide-eyed shock I explained to her my pain at being so thoroughly and unfairly judged. She’d been there ~ as she was currently a single mother of three. She had stories to tell.
I had never felt that way before. I was a good mother to two babies. An attached and attentive, loving mother… I may have cried.
It took me some time to get the lesson in this experience. I should have known one was hiding there. And since then, I almost always look for the lesson in experiences that shake me.
Here is what I realized, in icy conclusion: I judged, too. I judged frequently. I would see a woman, pregnant, or with a child, and my eyes would go to her left hand. “Was she married? Or was she a single mother?” I would notice the cleanliness of cars in the parking lot, the state of children’s clothing, the quality of food being fed to a child in a public place. I noticed a lot.
I notice a lot. I am always looking and always noticing. I am a true-blue people watcher. I study and stare, a lot. But there is a difference now in how I notice. There is a piece that is missing, and a piece that is added. The judging part is (almost, I’m not perfect) absent, and in its place is a proposed story.
Maybe her ring was too small for her puffy preggo fingers.
Maybe she has lost her husband. Maybe they’ve been traveling for weeks and are just now getting back into town, no time to clean out the car yet.
Maybe her husband has just lost his job and they are struggling to keep their children fed. Cheap food is better than no food if you have to choose.
Maybe this woman was in an abusive relationship and has recently fled with her baby.
Maybe, maybe, maybe…
The story isn’t important ~ It’s the Maybe… that is important. It’s the realization that I don’t know the story. None of us know the story of a stranger. We can only assume, we can only guess and wonder about their lives and what they’ve been through. Or, we can meanly judge. It’s our choice.
I choose to tell myself stories. I choose to guess and ponder, and then smile and remember how I felt when I was so coldly judged and mis-calculated.
What do you do? I’d love to hear your stories. Please comment below if you have a moment.
Have a great weekend!
Love & Sincerely, Katie
Katie m. Berggren art & design