May 7 2017

Sorry I Was in Your Way, but the Thing Is I Have a Baby

As a parent of small children, you often get the vague sense that you are in the way. You notice the quiet cringes as you enter a restaurant, the looks of crushing disappointment when you board an airplane. You apologize thirteen times in the span of a one-block walk because the kids still haven’t learned (after eight million reminders) to look where they’re going.

Sorry. Sorry about that. Say excuse me, P. Look FORWARD when you walk, please. I’m so sorry.

We’re working on it. And most of the time, people are pretty nice — if not warmly understanding, they’re at least tolerant. I’m sure the people who wince at the sight of kids aren’t even doing it on purpose. It’s probably just an automatic reaction. Subconscious.

I’ve gotten used to feeling in the way, but there’s a huge difference between FEELING in the way and someone straight up telling you that you are — something that, this past week, has happened twice. TWICE. In one week.

Maybe I just really suck at this whole going-places-with-children thing. I don’t know.

We head to the Costco bathroom to clean up in preparation for all the glorious samples. Since we are only there to wash our hands, I zip in with the cart, position it as unobtrusively as I can, and go to work pulling each kid out, one at a time. It isn’t crowded — completely empty, in fact, except for a woman standing at one of the four sinks.

As I strap the baby back into the cart, someone else walks in and pauses behind us. “Oh, we’re not in line,” I say, smiling. She smiles back and goes around us into a stall.

The woman who is standing at the sink snaps, “Well, some of us still can’t get by.”

This is a weird thing to say, because she then proceeds to stalk past us and grab some paper towel and storm out. And because I am still standing there, dumbfounded, I just back up silently and take this picture to document the sheer absurdity of her rudeness (and also to prove to myself that I haven’t totally lost my mind).

two kids in a cart in a costco bathroom in the way

P watches her go, and asks (much too loudly — subtlety is something else we’re working on), “Mommy, is she feeling crabby? Why is she feeling so crabby?”

“She’s probably just having a bad day, honey,” I say.

And I chalk it up to that.

Cut to this morning. Different person, different location, same-ish situation. We’re at Lowe’s in the gardening aisle. The kids have requested the “car cart” with the steering wheels, because duh. (Confession: I have been known to white lie on occasion about the car cart’s availability — that sucker is AWKWARD — but today it is sitting there unattended in the parking lot and their little eyes alight on its cumbersome splendor with the precision of homing missiles and just forget it, it’s all over.)

So yep, the car cart is big and annoying. But several minutes go by and no one else is even remotely around — not even my husband, who has wandered off to examine the lumber for reasons I will never understand, as we have no immediate plans to build something — and the kids and I are discussing which seeds we should attempt to plant in our very first vegetable garden.

Suddenly, I notice a woman off to my left. She’s just standing still, staring at us, and has uttered zero words even though “excuse me” would have sufficed here.

So I say it instead: “Oh, sorry! Excuse us!” And I maneuver the cart aside.

She doesn’t reply to me, but when her husband joins her a second later, she remarks to him (much too loudly — she must be working on subtlety, too), “Can you believe idiots who just park a big thing like that right in everyone’s way?”

My cheeks go instantly hot. Even though I am frozen in place and aware that I now look all red and embarrassed and blotchy and realize I should probably turn and flee before my skin sets something on fire, I can’t help myself this time.

“I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do,” I tell her. “I have kids. I can’t just leave the cart over there somewhere and go grab what I need.”

“I don’t expect you to leave them,” she says, speaking to me for the first time. She waves a hand toward the wide-eyed faces of my children. “But you’re in the way.”

I’m already wheeling us in the opposite direction — we’ve abandoned the seeds for our garden, but at least she looks appropriately semi-flustered. And I want to chalk this encounter up to someone’s bad day, too, but I’m wondering: So what? Does “a bad day” give a person a free pass to act like a jerk? To eschew decency and patience and grace? Even worse, why does it seem like more and more people are eschewing these principles every day?

My own interactions with strangers could use some work (although I’d like to think I’m not overtly and intentionally rude): I’m sometimes lost in my own head instead of conversing with the grocery store cashier. I’m easily frustrated when people don’t know how to drive. I’m often too introverted to be the first to smile at a stranger.

I’m not perfect, but I want to be. At the very least, I want to be someone who tries to be better.

Obviously, this does not qualify as some unthinkable, weighty injustice — but let’s drink a toast to starting small, because sometimes it feels like that’s all we can do. There are a million things in this world and in this life that are out of our immediate control, which makes it even more important to take charge of all the tiny things we can: The way we behave toward other human beings. Small kindnesses. Politeness and civility.

I wish these two strangers had been forgiving enough to remember that the people around them — particularly those who are responsible for smaller, needier people — are going to inevitably take up some space.

Instead, they served up two ripe, delicious, teachable moments: the children were watching. They always are.

“I feel so sad we made that lady angry,” P murmured on the drive home.

And we talked about you, strangers. We talked about the kinder ways you might have behaved, bad day or perfect day or some day in between. In two young minds, you are now a tangible example of how NOT to treat someone, and I hope you’re comfortable with that.

Actually, I hope you’re not. This place needs more people who aren’t comfortable with that at all.

About Melissa

Melissa is a SAG-AFTRA actress and former high school teacher from Michigan who (reluctantly) moved across the country when she was six months pregnant. She is the winner of the SmokeLong Quarterly Grand Micro Contest and a past winner of the Breakwater Review Fiction Prize (selected by Susanna Kaysen, author of Girl, Interrupted), the F(r)iction flash fiction competition, and The Writer's inaugural personal essay contest, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Cincinnati Review, The Greensboro Review, New Ohio Review, HuffPost, Scary Mommy, and The Boston Globe Magazine, among others. She has been shortlisted for both the Bridport Prize and the Bath Flash Fiction Award and was recently selected for The Best Small Fictions and the Wigleaf Top 50. Melissa is represented by Jill Marr of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.

14 comments on “Sorry I Was in Your Way, but the Thing Is I Have a Baby

  1. I am a mother of 5, yup, yikes, 5. A grandmother of 6 boys. My biggest joy is seeing a young mother juggling her little ones and talking and teaching them. They are our future, we can wait for them. Too many self absorbed people just don’t understand the importance of you job as a mother. For every one person that is rude, there is someone like me who looks at you and feels joy in my heart. Keep up the good work, we can wait a few seconds.

  2. Whether or not my four kids plus the one I babysit are with me, some people just would rather be passive/aggressive then utter a simple, “Excuse me.” I’m sorry to expose my bias but it is a fact that it is usually elderly people. Ironically, they are usually very slow, with good reason, and I try to wait patiently for them in the grocery store aisles, etc. But age and/or self-importance seems to make people think that rudeness will be more effective than politeness. Me? I just don’t get it.

    • It does read as pretty passive-aggressive, you’re right. And four plus one is a lot of kids, mama! I can’t even imagine the reserves of patience you must have.

  3. Oh my goodness. I saw this article and I completely relate. Secondly my friend screenshot me this article just for the photo of the kids. Your kids look (from the back) look like mine!! Mine are 5 and 2 but my daughter has what we call crazy hair blonde (same shade as yours and my son… the same as yours!) any who I had to tell you! ?

    • Haha! That’s awesome. My daughter’s hair used to be SUPER blonde, but it has darkened in the last year or so (*sob*). Thank you for stopping by!

  4. Loved this post! Oh man, can I relate. I was once checking out at Meijer (Midwest represent! Michigander here!) with my whining toddler, and I overheard the guy in the next checkout lane commiserating with the checkout employee about “why he has to hear that this early in the morning”. I typically would be mortified and apologetic, but I was feeling feisty and marched up to him and sarcastically said “I’m SO sorry your checkout experience has been ruined by hearing my toddler”. Cue my cheeks setting something on fire, to borrow your phrase.

    Hang in there!

    • Wow! Way to call him out on it (mortified or not) — comments like that seem so uncalled for. And dude, if I could get a Meijer up in here, I might be the happiest woman in California.

  5. Mother of 2 boys!! They are 4 and 1. I’m so grateful for the honesty of this post. Some days I feel alone as a mother and the judging of strangers just adds fuel to the fire. Even in Utah where I think everyone has kids and lots of them! Thank you for sharing your experience.

  6. Hi from a stay at home dad from Australia. I found what you said resonating. I was medically retired with the aggressive form of anxiety… instead of getting fearful i would get aggressive. I am 6 4 and 260 plus! These holier than there people infuriate me. Now my girls aren’t in a pram.. grades 2 and 3.. i have two rules when i see parents (usually mothers if we are honest) struggling like this. Parents with prams are like speeding trains. Its commonsense to give them right of way. Always offer to help. Things like returning a trolley so they can.put the kids in the car and get the kids moving…pick up the dropped bottle toy dummy. Most of us were in your shoes. Share the help not this selfishness! Well written

    • This is one of my favorite comments ever because 1) Anxiety. I hear you. 2) Your thoughtful rules. It’s definitely a relief when someone offers to take the cart off my hands or holds the door while I’m pushing the stroller. 3) It’s always pretty incredible to hear from people across the globe! and 4) Words like “pram” and “trolley” obviously brighten everyone’s day. Thank you, Jeff!

  7. Hi Melissa! I found your blog after reading your winning essay on The Writer magazine website. I’m in awe of you and impressed by how you do it all! I have two little boys and was just griping to my husband about how hard it is to write plus deal with people like this and you’ve done it successfully! You’re a big inspiration to other mom writers like me. Also, a fellow mom friend said we should all just wear shirts that say, “sorry,” on them because the world seems ready to attack when you have kids.

    • Thanks for your sweet words, Brandi (and for letting me know they posted the essay)! I browsed your site a bit — some great stuff there. And your friend’s shirt idea cracks me up!

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