I’m waiting in line at Starbucks thinking about nothing in particular when a man leans over and says, “He’s not asleep.”
For a moment I wonder if I’ve stumbled into a Russian spy novel and this is the code phrase to which I’m supposed to answer something like, “And yet he dreams.” But then I realize he’s talking about my baby who I’ve been automatically pushing back and forth in his stroller. Of course he’s not asleep. He’s already had his nap. What does that have to do with anything? And what business is it of this guy’s?
But then I see. This stranger assumes that I’m pushing the stroller back and forth like this because it’s keeping my baby asleep. He thinks he’s helpfully pointing out that I don’t have to do it anymore because the baby is awake.
So now I am forced to explain to this guy I’ve never met before that no, actually, he doesn’t like it when we stop moving, so I’m just keeping him calm by pushing him back and forth while I wait for my latte. And I explain all this sort of apologetically because it’s clear that he really thought he knew exactly what was going on and I feel kind of bad for not agreeing with him. But he is wrong.
It’s the same with the the lady who stops me on the street to tell me my son is chewing on his sock. Thanks, lady, I know. Better that than his shoe. Or the man who taps me on the shoulder at the park to tell me, “He’s got a little cut under his eye.” Yup. He was waving his little plastic giraffe around and thwacked himself in the face.
Why are all these people suddenly pointing out the obvious? Do these same people go up to businessmen and tell them “Your tie doesn’t match your shirt”? Or do they tell the hotdog vendor, “There’s mustard on your pants”? Maybe they tell the barista, “There’s already an open skim milk on the bar.” But I’ll bet you my much-needed latte that they don’t. No, it’s because I’m a mom that everyone has suddenly been promoted to Captain Obvious.
I know, I know. It’s coming from a good place. They mean well. They’re just trying to help. Blah, blah, blah. But the thing is, why do they assume I don’t already know? Think about it. We don’t tell the barista about the open skim milk because we’re not baristas and we figure she knows something we don’t. We don’t alert the hotdog vendor to the stain on his pants because we know that, when selling hotdogs, you’re going to spill some mustard every now and then, so he probably already knows this pair of pants is a goner. And we don’t tell the businessman about his fashion faux pas because clearly he thinks his shirt and tie are just fine, thank you very much, otherwise he wouldn’t have put them on this morning.
But you are telling me. Why? Because, even though I’m just as qualified to do my job as a mother as the barista is to be a barista, you assume that I don’t know.
You assume that it’s news to me that my son is awake in his stroller, happily chewing on his fingers. Gee whiz, mister! I totally forgot he was even there! You assume that I wouldn’t approve of my son having a sock in his mouth so I must not know he’s doing it. Have you ever been a mother? You have to pick your battles, lady. And you assume—and this is the worst one—that I don’t know that my son got hurt or even how it happened. Good thing you were there to point it out to me, random old guy at the park. I probably shouldn’t let him play with knives anymore, huh?
Being a mother is my job. I don’t have another. And yes, sometimes I feel totally incompetent or confused about what to do. But I’ll bet sometimes you feel like that in your job, too. And, sure, maybe you’ve been a mother or a father, or you had a mother or you saw one in a movie once, but I’m fairly certain you’ve never been my son’s mother.
So, please, if my son is about to run into the street and get hit by a car, or his life is otherwise obviously compromised, absolutely let me know. But, if it’s something that you wouldn’t tell me if I was doing any other job, keep it to yourself. Chances are, I already know.
Oh, and by the way, I’m not really feeling that shirt with that tie. Just saying.