The last eight weeks I’ve spent my Thursday mornings in a room full of parents and children all about 5-years-old and younger. We attended a music class at local church, lead by a really amazing woman, Tammy. It was an hour where my girls could run around, sing, dance, explore, and LAUGH safely.
My mom regularly attends the church and asked me to drive the 45 minutes up each week to attend. Normally, not worth it, but after a few classes we were hooked. I loved how relaxed I felt. I was surrounded by other mothers and children. I felt safe with Tammy. No judgement. No one cared when Millie ran while we sat. No one cared when I tried to juggle all three girls in my lap. Or that someone always cried because I can’t always juggle all three girls in my lap. I really enjoyed my time in the class.
During class a couple weeks ago, a new mom joined the class with her three children. She had two young toddlers, and another very young girl who stumbled around, evidently a new walker. She had a lot to manage. I immediately felt like kindred spirits with this woman. Her life and my life probably look pretty similar. We all began to dance and move around the room, and this other mother put a book bag tether onto one of her daughters.
Almost immediately, my mother turned to me with a sour face and said, “I hate those things, why do mothers do that.”
Just like that. Without stopping for a second to consider why the mother chooses to do that, she is already being looked at as a bad. I felt my face turn red. I wanted to stop music class, steal Tammy’s mic and yell to everyone to stop judging the mom. I don’t know for certain that anyone else in that room cared or felt the same way as my mom did, but my very own mom stirred up so many of my own fears with just one sentence. I wear Millie, in a very cute Tula :), on my back EVERYWHERE we go. If I can, I wear Livie or Evie too. As many of those precious girls I can get physically attached to me the better. With me they are safe. With me they are protected. Every day when we leave the house, people feel like they need to talk to me. I get a lot of positive comments, “Oh they’re so cute.” But I also have a lot of people who think it’s their place to tell me what I’m doing wrong. People tell me I shouldn’t wear the girls, they will never be independent. How will 7-month-old Livie learn to walk in that “thing”? Oh sorry, I didn’t realize I should just put Livie on the floor at Target and let her walk behind me. Fuck off old dude, let me shop.
Mothering three separate human beings, with three independent brains, plans, and crazy ideas to run off to go look at something without telling you is fucking terrifying. We parent, we teach them right from wrong, we encourage good behavior and talk about the things they do wrong. But in the moment, when you are walking across a parking lot, or standing in front yard playing, toddlers are much like golden retrievers. They see a squirrel, or a ball, or a butterfly and poof; they’re gone.
Evie has always been such a good listener. She always stops when I tell her to. Until, one day, she didn’t. We were playing outside at my good friend Lisa’s house. Lisa is a like-minded mom friend with three little ones aged all relatively like mine. Closest in age are our two new ones, Livie and Lucas, who at the time were both only a couple of month’s old and born one week apart from each other. We had both of them comfortably sleeping on our chests while the older kids played in the front yard. As it got closer to the time for us to leave, I gave Evie her “goodbye warnings”. Mad at me about having to leave, Evie ran off into the back yard. I started walking around the right side of the home, expecting to find Evie sitting on the deck, or playing on the slide in their back yard. Before I’d made it around the back corner, I saw her continue to run around back to the front of the house. My heart dropped. It was one of those mom gut feelings that this was no longer safe. She was running away from me, towards the street. I turned around and ran back to the front of the house, Livie now awake in the carrier, starting to fuss. She could sense my fear and everyone stopped dead in their tracks from my high pitch yell to stop; everyone, except Evie.
“Stop Evie! Stop!” I yelled. My heart was racing, I began sweating. I tried running, but felt so crippled by Livie on my chest. Oh wait, where is Millie, I hope she doesn’t chase after me. Can Lisa handle all of them. Oh please stop Evie, “Stop Evie!” How could I let this happen, I didn’t teach her well enough, my baby won’t stop.
Three houses down, and a few hundred feet away from the road, she finally stopped. She immediately bent down and yelled apologies through her cries. She knew what she had done was wrong. She knew that I was angry when I finally caught her. I grabbed her by the arm and dragged her back to Lisa’s driveway. Lisa kept the other kids on one side of the van while I forced Evie into her car seat. I honestly didn’t know what to do or say. In that moment, I wanted to spank her. I’d never done that before, and didn’t know if I it would even help. I wanted to cry, tell her how much that scared me. But in that moment, all I could do was force her precious little body into her car seat and buckle her in. Force her into a safe space so that I could finally breathe. Lisa and I both felt awful, and called it a day. I buckled the other girls into the van and left.
Prior to that day, I walked around confident that my child would always stop. My child would always listen when it was important. MY CHILD is just that, a child. Children do not always stop, they do not always listen. After that day, I was afraid to leave the house. I was afraid to take them to do all the fun activities that we always do. It was irresponsible of me to take them somewhere if I couldn’t keep them safe. I felt so discouraged as a mother, and it took weeks for me to get back to going out of the house with the girls. I talked to Evie about what happened, and how badly it scared mommy, and we finally left the house. Livie was in her car seat on my left arm, Millie in the Tula on my back, Evie’s hand in my right hand. Before reaching the YMCA front doors Evie said “Mommy ow, my hand.” I was squeezing her so hard that my grip had turned white. Her little face looked up at me scared. She thought she was doing something wrong, and she wasn’t. I was just terrified.
The only thing we know for certain as mothers is that we are given this person to watch over, to raise, to love, and encourage. The scary truth is we have very little control over keeping them safe. We take a leap of faith every time we let them do anything. We have to hope that what we’ve taught them was enough. I have to hope that everything I had taught Evie is what made her finally stop that day. I hope that is why she ran along the houses and not out into the street. I have to hope that next time, she will stop sooner. I have to hope that if we are at the zoo she listens and doesn’t try and climb into an exhibit with the gorillas. I have to hope that nothing bad ever happens to my precious little girl because she is simply curious about EVERYTHING around her.
I can’t say I never looked at another mother and thought less of a decision she made that was different than mine. My mother wasn’t trying to be mean to this woman. It is only after having all three of my children, and these last four years as a mother that I’ve come to understand that I don’t understand anything at all. I have no idea how many of these stories that mother has lived through. I have no idea if that little girl listens to her mom, or gives her a hard time. It doesn’t matter. I do know that mother loves her daughter, and is doing what she thinks is best to keep her daughter safe. That makes that woman a really great mother.
“I hate those things, why do mothers do that,” my mom said to me.
“Don’t judge her; you don’t know her or her life.” I had to defend this woman. I didn’t know her name, I didn’t know her at all, but I did know her. She was the same as the rest of us. She was a mother, doing what she thought was best for her child. She got up this morning, got dressed, dressed three little girls. She buckled them all into their car seats, drove them all across town to this church. She unbuckled them all, and herded them all into the building. She is me. I am her. I support whatever choice she makes. Her tether is my Tula. We all make different choices for our families, but at the end of the day we all have the same goal. Help them to be good people. Love them, and keep them happy and safe. It’s time we all stop judging, and start encouraging each other. I spent the rest of that class smiling at this family. Mom probably thought I was a creeper, but I’m sure my smile was a lot nicer to see then the normal scowls she receives.