** Mum, Nan, anyone else who doesn’t like bad language, either don’t read this one or do so knowing it is scattered with a fair few F bombs. You have been warned. **
To the elderly lady in Tesco,
Firstly, sorry to refer to you as the ‘elderly lady’ but I, obviously, don’t know your name and the fact you are, to put it bluntly, old is your most defining feature to a stranger like me. I want people reading this to know that I am not about to verbally take down a sweet little old over the internet. You are not all white curls, cuddly smiles and tottering about with a Zimmer frame, are you? When you spoke to me, it was clear you are very sound of mind and know what’s going on around you. For these reasons, my reaction to you is the same as it would be to anyone of any age who spoke to me the way you did. I refuse to let the fact you are probably over seventy be a valid excuse for the way you chose to go out of your way to make me feel like a rubbish mum this morning.
Can you remember our conversation? Maybe not, maybe this is the sort of thing you say to young unsuspecting mums all the time and you’ve already forgot about our little exchange this morning. If you have already let the hurtful comments you made slip from your memory, here is a gentle reminder of our conversation.
Alex and I were sat eating our lunch in the Tesco café and you were sat on the table opposite. Every time I looked up across our table I could see you staring at me. I was on my phone, catching up on emails and promoting a recent piece of work I’d written on social media. This was after Alex and I had finished eating, he was happily colouring in a picture and I was busily working away on my phone.
When you finished your cup of tea, for reasons I don’t fully understand you felt the need to wander over to our table. Your presence next to my chair felt intimidating, I could tell that all the angry stares from you preceding this moment were about to be given a voice. I knew you were going to judge me.
You said to Alex, ‘Oh aren’t you beautiful, what’s that your putting on your head?’ Alex was putting a tiny sandwich bag on top of his head, resting it on his hair like a hat. Disclaimer, I know kids shouldn’t play with plastic bags but this was ripped and only just big enough to fit a fairy cake in, the boy was at no risk of suffocating himself (besides, I was watching him with eagle eyes anyway).
When you started talking to Alex, I thought I’d got you wrong, you were being nice to him, smiling and he was smiling back. This happens a lot, Alex has blonde hair and massive shiny blue eyes and there’s always a smile on his face when we are out and about; he attracts a lot of old lady attention. I decided to get involved, ‘Alex, why don’t you wave hello to the nice lady?’ My boy waved his podgy little hand at you but I could tell he was becoming bored of this exchange, he’s more than just a cute toddler to be admired and he wanted to carry on with his colouring in/trying to make a hat out of cling film.
This is when the mood shifted, this is when things began to travel down the path I was expecting them to originally go when you wandered over to our table.
‘Why don’t you wave to Mummy? Considering she’s been on her phone the whole time, maybe you should give her a wave? You’re not getting any social interaction are you?’
Umm, what the fuck?
After you said this I laughed, I didn’t know what else to do. I could hardly tell you to pack up your judgemental comments and leave us the fuck alone, could I? Although you are clearly of the mindset that us younger generation only care about their phones, I happen to hold old fashioned values like using good manners, if you have nothing nice to say then say nothing at all and, most appropriate for this situation, respect your elders. So, that’s why I didn’t tell you to fuck off and instead allowed a shocked laugh escape my lips before you said, ‘Enjoy him while you still can’ in what felt like a sinister tone of voice and you finally left us alone.
I would just like to clear a few things up with you, is that alright?
Number 1, I wasn’t on my phone the whole time. To be fair, I was using it more than I normally would over lunch as I had lots of emails I needed to read, prioritise and respond to. You don’t know this, because you don’t know me, but I work from home. I blog but I also work as a personal assistant for my sister, there is always something I need to be doing and, more often than not, that involves looking at my phone.
Number 2, I am also trying to forge together a freelance writing portfolio and I had just noticed a piece I wrote for a parenting magazine had been published on their website. You don’t know this about me either, but I suffer with crippling self doubt and when you saw me on my phone, I wasn’t scrolling social media, I was scrutinising that piece of writing for any typos I had missed or any mistakes at all; I was rereading it for probably the thousandth time and trying to convince myself it was actually pretty good.
Number 3, you have no clue how much social interaction my child gets. Not one single clue. How can you decide that he doesn’t get any after only seeing us once in your life as we sat in a Tesco café and he coloured happily and I tried to get some work done? You didn’t see us earlier this morning, did you? We were at a toddler group, he had my whole attention for two hours, we built puzzles together, played farm animals, he sat on my knee as we sang nursery rhymes and we made a Valentines craft together. This is what we do atleast three mornings a week, we also play in the park, read story books, draw pictures, cuddle on the sofa, laugh, play and dance. He sees his grandparents a lot, he has an older brother he absolutely adores and sometimes, and only sometimes, he entertains himself while I do my work.
How dare you go out of your way to make me feel like a bad mum. Like I am failing my son, my child that you know nothing about.
Phones aren’t the devil in disguise you know. I was using mine to get some work done but so what if I wasn’t? It is absolutely none of your business if a mum wants to scroll Instagram for half an hour, or stalk old friends on Facebook or laugh at amusing thread she’s found on Mumsnet. Does it really have any impact on your day, like, any at all? Are you going to go home and fret about her toddler sitting in the highchair who didn’t get constant eye contact for thirty minutes? Is it really going to ruin your day?
In another life, a time when I wasn’t so mentally strong and confident in my role as a mother, your words would have really hurt my. You passive aggressively judged me through cutchy-coo talk with my toddler but I still felt the full force of the venom in your words. It wasn’t able to poison my self confidence like it once would have though, back only a year or so ago your words would have made me upset for the whole day. I think you should know that if you utter words like that to a fragile and vulnerable new mum, you could have her tears as she drives home feeling like a failure on your conscience. If she walks away after your nasty comments feeling rubbish about herself, that is all on you.
Also, can I just point something out? So fucking what if I was not giving my child my full attention to scroll on social media for a while? Being a parent is a 24/7 kind of gig, if we want a break to do something we enjoy, sometimes that time has to overlap with when our babies are around because there just are not enough hours in the day. We are allowed to take a break from time to time, are you really going to make us feel rubbish for needing a moment or two to ourselves? Alex was safe and he was happy colouring, he didn’t need me in those moments so I took advantage and pulled out my phone. I did my work but I refuse to be made to feel guilty if I had decided to get lost in a social media rabbit hole for a while instead. Like I said before, what business is it of yours?
As for, ‘make the most of it before it’s too late’, I don’t need to hear that. I have an older son, I know how quickly they grow, I know how precious these years at home with him are. I also know that I do not need to be interacting with him every single second of the day and I also know stepping back and letting them enjoy an activity to themselves gives them a chance to learn and develop certain skills. Taking some time to do something I want to do doesn’t make me a bad mum, answering emails when out to lunch doesn’t make me a failure. I know he will be in school before I know it, that’s why I am spending so much time with him and making so many memories with him and trying to soak up every second of the good times, I don’t need a stranger in the supermarket to tell me what to do. I especially don’t need to be told to make the most of it as your final nail in your judgmental argument, in fact, I don’t need your judgement at all. None of us parents do.
So, if you feel the need in the future, angrily stare across the café at parents who are just going about their day. Decide that they are awful parents for looking at their phones and not singing nursery rhymes on a loop to their toddlers or whatever it is you think we should all be doing. Just, can you please keep those thoughts to yourself? You don’t need to come over and share them with us, your only going to make someone feel bad about themselves and is that what you want? Is that person you want to be? Better yet, don’t be a judgemental old lady? I’ve experienced it myself enough and heard from mum friends and read enough blog posts to know that there is a whole gang of you out there, you’ve all clearly forgotten what the day in day out life of being a parent to young kids is really like. You’ve forgotten the times you felt judged when your own children were small by older generations, you’ve decided to take the moral high ground when no one ever asked you to.
Luckily, the judgmental Judy’s are in the minority and I have to say, I much prefer your Smiley Sarah counterparts. I have all the time in the world for lovely grannies who want to speak to me about my kids, who want to coo into their pram or ask me how old they are and what are there names and, better yet, say something that makes me feel like I’m doing a good job (not, like you, say something that makes me feel like shit). Perhaps you could take a leaf out of their book? Or, if that really goes against your natural character, maybe you could just make a conscious decision not to voice those judgmental thoughts circling around your head? I know myself and all other parents out there will thank you for it.
Finally, I add this last paragraph incase the comments you made today stem from a place of hurt or emotional pain. I’m sorry. I’m sorry if you are sad now your children are grown up and you miss the days when they were small. I’m sorry if you never had children and wish you did. I’m sorry if seeing me ‘ignore’ mine made you angry because I seemed to be taking for granted something you longed your whole life to have. I’m sorry if you are lonely and wish there was a little human in your life you could shower with all of your attention. I’m sorry if you are hurting and the only way you know how to deal with those feeling is to hurt someone else too. I’m sorry if I upset you today, of course this was not my intention. I wonder though, are you sorry too?
actually pretty good mum in Tesco Café with the son who is not in anyway neglected
Have you ever felt judged in public? Or have you maybe said something to a mum who’ve seen out and about and regretted what you said?