THAT Mom

I round the corner of the grocery aisle, bypassing a sugary end cap display of Valentine’s Day goodies, when I hear it. Raptor-like shrieking and guttural bellows. Followed by the unmistakable toddler sqwak: “Yellow!” The toddler tantrum that’s migrated from one end of the store to the other has reached its peak at register 15. And something yellow is clearly either mortally offensive or exceedingly desirable.

Pushing my cart of food and — on this incredibly rare occasion — not children, I smile reflecting on my own plentiful experiences being THAT mom. THAT mom with the toddler flailing belly down in the cereal aisle. THAT mom with the nap-refusing child following me down every aisle in an unending tirade of tot tyranny. THAT mom wearing a breastfeeding infant while rushing a potty-training toddler in football hold across a crowded store shouting for her preschooler to keep up. THAT mom asking her toddler not to headbutt her sternum while telling her preschooler not to chew on his shoe — his freakin’ SHOE! — and coaxing her dramatic kindergartener mid-meltdown through the produce section. You know, THAT mom.. human birth control.

I sigh with relief that this time it’s not me. And head towards checkout.

I approach a register and peer down the lane to assess to line length. And: “YEEEELLLLLLLLOW!!!” rings out just feet in front of me. That’s when I realize I am at ground zero. Register 15.

Then I see it.

The eye roll.

The woman at the front of the line scoffs at the melodious cart behind her, eyes the cashier, and does a judgy eye roll towards THAT mom. If I trusted my aim, I would be tempted to chuck a box of black bean pasta at the judgy eye-rolling scoffer. But I don’t. So I don’t.

Then I see THAT mom. Long dark hair, which is beautifully wavy likely from lack of brushing rather than dedicated styling, steadily moving edibles from her car-shaped shopping cart to the conveyor belt while simultaneously kindly conversing with her one smiling toddler and patiently addressing the emotional upheaval of her second only slightly older toddler. THAT mom was a mom of TWO toddlers and she was completely capable of triple-tasking with the graceful patience of a Buddhist monk after having grocery shopped with said offspring, yet the child-free (at least at the moment) woman ahead of her could not muster enough emotional fortitude to stand without judgment or snark at the front of the checkout line? Cue yoga breath.
I push past and find the next register line brief. I load my groceries on the belt and say a little wishful prayer for THAT mom. I feel gratitude that this time it is not me in her position but I feel guilt that it is her turn instead.

Receipt in hand, I push my cart of bagged food out towards the parking lot and I see THAT mom parked along the side of the aisle. She’s rummaging through her cart — one toddler gazing at the ceiling, one toddler wailing — promising “I’ll find it!” to the tantrumer.

I stop my cart beside hers, pat her upper arm, and with a reassuring smile say, “You’re doing great.” She looks up at me, her eyes warm despite her mind swiftly spinning, and smiles. “Thanks,” she sighs.

As I near the doors I feel it. Tears in my eyes, lump in my throat, the familiar knot of exhaustion, the churn of anxiety, the wear of endlessly giving, the sting of judgment (both external and internal) that this time is hers and not my own. I keep moving.

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Allergy Mom Saved

Oh man, did I fail! I failed hard. And publicly. And the mom guilt was overwhelming. I’m 6-years an allergy mom; I should have known better!

When you’re an allergy mom (the parent to one or more children with allergies), the little things few even consider are monumental to you. What’s everyday to most strikes visceral fear into an allergy parent. What’s a minute kindness to the thoughtful is joyful tear-inducing and heartwarming to an allergy parent. What is an easily remedied oversight to the dietarily unimpaired is an irreversible Mom Fail for an allergy parent.

Yesterday my daughter’s class had a family gathering celebration, which featured a beautiful and entirely unexpected bountiful buffet of edible goodies. My daughter grinned as we stood in line for the surprise smorgasbord. As I grabbed a paper plate, my eyes darted from one platter to the next. Bagels and cream cheese, doughnuts, cupcakes, cookies, fruit, juice, coffee… it was a carb carnival. Giddy classmates across the buffet heaped sugary treats onto already full plates. I looked down at my daughter. Her smile was wilting. She’d seen what I saw.

Like my middle son and me, my daughter has a dairy allergy. She could eat none of the sweets. I shook off the guilt and tried for a spin. “Fruit!” I exclaimed, trying to make it sound incredibly appealing as I scooped fresh spoonfuls of delectable produce onto her plate. “Ooo! There’s melon and pineapple and, look, there are four different kinds of berries!” She strained to see down the table, then the smile was gone entirely. “Plain bagel?” I offered, knowing full well that a dry bagel was of no consolation. Mom guilt flaired.

I looked to my husband with an unmistakable “Oh crap!” expression. He shrugged, wordlessly communicating, “There’s nothing we can do.” Ugh, I’d Mom Failed… hard.

“Why don’t you go with Daddy to find a table and I’ll keep looking. Ooo, I’ll grab you some juice!” Juice is this side of a delicacy for our kids, so I figured that’d help something somewhat.

I was wrong.

I circled the all-purpose room full of sugar-shocked kids and chatting parents, and then I found them. My husband and daughter were seated at an empty table. I placed the plate of fruit and cup of orange juice in front of my daughter. Eyes reddened, shoulders hunched, she was too upset to engage. Just then a trio of bubbly blond buddies sat down beside us. They warmly greeted my daughter as they dug into their plates of dairy-laiden goodies. That’s when the tears came.

I rubbed her back in gentle circles with the palm of my hand, just as I did when she was a crying baby on my shoulder. “I’m sorry, sweetheart! Sometimes these things happen. Can I get you some mango?” I whispered to my daughter, trying to assuage her disappointment. “No!” “Do you want a bagel?” “No!” “Should we go for a walk in the hallway?” “No! You’re being mean.” I knew she didn’t actually think that I, personally, was being mean but as Mom you get all blame and little credit. And in this situation I was getting every shred of blame.

“What’s wrong?” One of her kind friends asked mid-cupcake. “She can’t eat the treats,” I explained. The girls looked emphatic but wisely offered my daughter space to process the disappointment. “Can I go back to the classroom and grab her lunchbox?” a thoughtful mom friend offered. I declined the loving gesture knowing desserts were the desire.

I looked at my husband, hoping maybe he’d have somehow miraculously discovered a solution. No dice. I took a deep breath and headed to the buffet for one last ditch effort, Hail Mary hopeful spin. That’s when I saw them.

SCHOOL SAFE CUPCAKES! I dropped on my knees and picked up the package, bringing it closer to my aging eyes to ensure it wasn’t some sort of mom guilt mirage. “No dairy… no nuts…” the packaging read. My heart leaped! I could’ve hugged that plastic packaging! I could’ve kissed whoever had the forethought to bring them!

I grabbed two of the allergy-friendly mini cupcakes and excitedly walked to the table. “I FOUND TREATS!” I squealed. My daughter’s spine shot upright, a broad grin bloomed across her tear-reddened face. She dug right into the safe-for-her goodies with giddy abandon.

“I don’t usually like cupcakes,” she said to me with bits of vanilla frosting circling her mouth, “but I like these!”

The gratitude I felt in that moment for those miniature, plastic-packaged cupcakes, for the individual who included them on the buffet, for the positive resolution of the disappointment was overwhelming. Who’d have thought I’d get misty-eyed over a cupcake?

That afternoon on the way home from school I reviewed with my daughter the pitfalls of the morning and better methods of handling such disappointments. “You have food allergies,” I explained, “so there will be times in life when you simply cannot eat anything at a gathering. Mommy won’t always be there to pack you food to bring. So you will need to find ways to access your inner happiness despite not being able to participate like everyone else.” My daughter nodded with an entirely straight face. “It’s not fair,” I said, speaking from a place of my own such disappointments, “but remember that you get to choose whether to let food ruin your fun or whether to have fun anyway.”

And that’s what life’s all about, isn’t it? Our choices in how we react to situations. We can choose disappointment and circular mourning, or we can choose joy and resilience. It’s entirely up to us.

Though, of course, an (allergy-friendly) cupcake makes just about anything better.