There was a time not so long ago, let's just call that time "yesterday," when I would have judged you.
At first, I'd have judged you quietly, to myself in that moment the two of us shared without your knowledge (but not in nearly as creepy a way as that sounds).
My judging would then have continued later on that evening after the kids were in bed, when I'd become a tad punch-drunk thanks to the lateness of the hour. I'd crack wise and witty to my wife about your laziness, about how you'd rather keep your toddler distracted than engage him and be present as a mom, about how your kid is growing up perfectly suited to the modern, zombified culture of screens and listless adulthood.
Yesterday, I was an a-hole.
Today, I'm, well... I'm a little bit less of an a-hole. I've approached the end of judgment.
You were heading back to your minivan from the grocery store, crossing the street that separates the sliding doors at the entrance from the vast, sloping uphill parking lot. In a little over an hour, that very street would be abuzz with hardcore shoppers coming and going, and the primo spaces we both scored would become hot property worth fighting over. You were pushing a cart full of value-sized cereal boxes, carrots with their inedible greenery dangling over the edge, and bread so fresh the clear cellophane portion of its bag was steamed up. All of your foodstuffs were double-bagged in taupe, store-branded plastic -- for the handles, of course, so that they'd be easier for you to pick up, load into, and eventually take out of your car. I can dig the double-bagging, as a means of avoiding a paper bag going rogue all over your driveway, because we've all been there. Organic brown eggs smashed on the asphalt, good money wasted. Dammit.
Your boy was also in the cart, his little legs sticking out of the cold, square, metal-framed holes beneath the handle bar. He was held in rapture by the small screen of your phone. He seemed content, albeit relatively expressionless. That's a popular look these days.
I don't know what your morning had been like to that point, or what his was like, for that matter. Maybe he'd just come down from a fever, unable to go to day care for the past few days. Maybe you'd been scrambling to get your work done with a sick kid in the other room. Maybe your boss had been less than accommodating. Maybe that was rough. I don't know, but "yesterday" my smugness didn't permit me to care or to give any benefit of the doubt to you or him or them or anyone. Yesterday, your kid was a zombie and you were a lazy mom. Case closed.
But the world is rarely ever that black-and-white. The moments in which we vaguely interact with each other are single frames, the closest thing to still-life photography in an ever-rotating world. Only minuscule bits of data and backstory can legitimately be surmised from a flipbook worth of images around us -- one, one, one, one, one at a time. This is the information that we get and process and voluntarily choose to judge based upon. That was yesterday.
I knew all of these truths yesterday, but I consistently pushed them aside, making it easier to judge you, to get a cheap laugh, to hold myself in higher regard. I've had enough of that. Maybe you are a lazy mom and maybe your kid is a tech-obsessed zombie child, but I have no freaking clue if that is reality. All I saw was a mom finishing up her shopping and maybe needing a few quiet minutes to get her thoughts together, find her keys, load the car without distraction, and figure out a way to get that presentation over to her boss before lunchtime. Maybe.
Yesterday I had to paint to the edges of all the pictures, but today I'm OK with putting the brush down, leaving the canvases incomplete, and walking away -- back into my own life's portrait.