Before my husband and I ever talked about having kids, I always found it irritating and condescending when people used to say "everything changes when you have kids." And then we had kids. And then I was irritated all over again at how true it turned out to be.
I remember an incident when I was in my early 30s. I was with my friend Nicole at the Beverly Center Mall in L.A.. We had known one another since junior high school. So much history, so many private jokes shared -- it made for a fairly high riverbank of water under the bridge that bonded us.
We were working together in a Beverly Hills theater box office where snooty customers were always coming to buy tickets and ask stupid questions. At least that's how we saw it. On this particular day, Nicole and I were ranting and raving about one woman who had screamed at us, demanding a refund on her tickets because she said they were "partial view."
"I'll give her a partial view when my fist makes it's way into her cranium!" I yelled as we laughed in the elevator from the parking garage to Macy's. Of course, the thought of me ever getting violent with anyone, let alone this particularly large octogenarian with a perpetual plastic rain bonnet and painted eyebrows above an already too-bushy unibrow, was hysterical to us.
"She's a See-You-Next-Tuesday!" Nicole screamed out to me as the elevator doors opened. A mother with her preschool-aged son stepped into the elevator and the doors closed. I laughed some more.
"See You Next -- what is that?" I asked Nicole. Now I was laughing just because we both forgot why we started laughing in the first place and I couldn't believe how funny it was that we were both still laughing.
"It's C.U.N.--!" she yelled.
"Got it!" I laughed some more. "Yes! She's a F*ing -"
The doors of the elevator had opened and the mother turned to us as she headed out: "You realize you're not the only people in the elevator. Or on the planet for that matter. Watch your language around children!" The doors closed shut as an exclamation point to her scolding.
I felt like a deer caught in the headlights. I was embarrassed. No, mortified. Then defensive. Then, naturally, really pissed off.
"Who the f#@! does she think she is, telling us what we can or can't say in public?!" Self-righteous mommies, I thought. Nothing worse.
My friend agreed. "What a bitch," she said. "YOU watch our f#@king language!" "Yeah. She's a See You Next Tuesday!" And we both tried to laugh again. But it was forced. Not quite AS funny anymore.
"Nobody ASKED you to become a mommy. And if you don't want your kids to be exposed to the world that exists out there, then don't leave the house."I was certain in my position. Parents, so self-righteous and superior. And while I was pretty sure it was within my first amendment rights to say what I wanted in public, my feeling was that it was her job to be the parent and protect her son if she felt he was in danger.
Cut to fifteen years later. I'm walking down a long carpeted hallway in the building where my daughter visits a language specialist once a week. My son Jonah, age 4, and daughter Eliza, age 7, are skipping happily down the hall, hand-in-hand, in a rare blissful moment of what I call "Jack-and-Jillocence". I stopped them to wipe the remnants of dried frozen yogurt on their faces. I remember feeling a surge of "mommyness" as I reached for the portable wet-wipe dispenser tucked in my bag. We were standing just outside an open travel agency office, where we could hear a girl and guy in their 20s, mid-conversation:
"He's a c&!k-s*cking a$$hole and I hope he gets a$$ cancer!" Came out of one of them.
"Oh my God. You are so f#@king funny!" said the other.
I stopped dead in my tracks. Were they seriously spitting out profanities like that with the door wide open in a hallway leading to a chidrens' language center? It didn't take long before I felt my blood start to boil. Luckily, the kids didn't really register what had been said.
I sent the kids off to the waiting room as I took a beat to collect my thoughts and cool off before I entered this low-budget travel agency.
"Can we help you?" said the one who was so "f@#king funny"!
"Uh, you could have helped me about a minute ago before you vomited F-bombs practically in my kids' faces."
There's no apology. They both just look at each other and start laughing.
"That's great. Hilarious. Why didn't you just drop trou and take a shit on them too?" I added.
"There are kids passing by here all day! What's wrong with you?"
One of them looked embarrassed. But before she could apologize, the other one stood up, ready for a fight.
"Last I checked, this was a free country."
"To be verbally abusive to children? Hmm. Try again."
"Actually? Not my kids. But if you feel they're in any danger walking down the hall -- then you're free to turn the f@#k around and strap them in your mini van and keep them safe in the privacy of any f@#ck-free zone you feel you'd rather be."
I told myself I didn't have to have the last word. But it was too late. "Bet your parents are proud. To have a daughter like you who contributes that filthy mouth to the world we live in! Bravo. You're an inspiration, really. " And I left.
Who the hell was I? It's like I woke up one day and had become one of "them"... a parent. A "mommy"! Self-righteous. Condescending. Morally superior. Precious. Or was I just bitter because I was now more than ten years older and as many pounds heavier? Is there a natural shift that occurs when we realize we're responsible for more than just ourselves?
Whatever had happened, I got mine thrown back at me after the way I behaved in that elevator all those years ago. And sure, becoming a parent makes you more aware how our kids are vulnerable to the ugliness of the outside world. There's not much we can do about it if we don't want them living in a bubble. Everything becomes a "teaching moment" as Oprah, who's never had kids, might say.
But common courtesy isn't difficult. I don't know why I couldn't see it ten years ago in an elevator. Cause man, I was the one acting like a See-You-Next-Tuesday and I'm not proud about it.
See, everything changes when you have kids. Well, almost...
I'm still the guy who likes to eat Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream out of the container in my boxers. I just think twice before screaming out to Don: "F#@? ,THIS IS GOOD!"
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