I almost cried in my 16-month-old son's music class today. Sadly, it was not my boy's sweet dance moves bringing me to the brink of joyful tears. Yes, the kid has rhythmic prowess, but nope -- wrong kind of tears.
You see, moms, dads, fellow revelers in merry toddler music-making, I've arrived at a fairly common toddler stage: Biting. Pinching. Pulling. General boyhood curiosity busting at the seams with pokes and prods.
And today, we got judged for it. Hard.
Allow this mama bear one preemptive caveat to the kiddie crime in question. My son Sam is a very affectionate fella -- let's just say he's never met a mom, babysitter, granny, little girl or baby he didn't want to hug. He's been known to reach out to strange women at the park for a little squeezing up. I'd be embarrassed about it, except he's so damn adorable about the whole thing. A 100 percent success rate of no hug denials! He's a lover, people, and you are just pretty lady roadkill on his path to Lovetown. Consider yourself warned.
Lately, though, Sam has been "expressing himself" beyond his hugs and hold-me-please puppy eyes. His biting and poking never seem malicious -- the smile on his face is more Barney than The Joker -- but it's forced this mom into helicopter mode for fear of an attack.
Perhaps I wasn't exactly the best heli pilot in music class this morning. There's a lot of movement and circle time chaos during "free dance" and I didn't reach him before he decided to get pokey. I've learned to take these incidents in stride. First, make sure the victim is okay. Second, apologize to the mom. Finally -- and most importantly -- sit Mr. Grabby Hands aside with a firm "No biting/no pulling!" reminder. Every mom thus far has been quite understanding with these few happenings Moms of boys have been particularly kind.
"He keeps pinching EVERYBODY!" shouts one mom over the music, shooting me a look of pure disdain. Clearly, not one of the cool ones.
She might as well have said, "What's wrong with you and your son?" That's how I heard it. Punched in my emotional gut, I went through the apology and victim check before chasing after Sam who broke through the circle. (A pinch and run for him, apparently).
After I rounded up my demon child -- the circle will NOT be unbroken, damnit -- my feelings began to run the gamut from self-loathing (am I incompetent?) to anger (kiss my baby's pinching ass, Other Mom!). All perhaps irrational, but nevertheless, they warranted an internal pep talk to get myself together.
But what? But who? Oh, yes... Bill Murray! Specifically, his turn as hilarious-yet-wise head counselor Tripper Harrison in the 1979 summer camp classic, Meatballs.
That's right. Meatballs. It's served me well in relationships, career and apparently now, parenthood. I'm not kidding.
Exhibit A: Tripper's motivational speech to his down-on-their-luck-in-life campers before the cross-lake Olympiad with a rival, more privileged camp:
And even if we win, if we win, HAH! Even if we win! Even if we play so far above our heads that our noses bleed for a week to ten days; even if God in Heaven above comes down and points his hand at our side of the field; even if every man woman and child held hands together and prayed for us to win, it just wouldn't matter because all the really good looking girls would still go out with the guys from Mohawk because they've got all the money! It just doesn't matter if we win or we lose. IT JUST DOESN'T MATTER! It just doesn't matter! It just doesn't matter!
Sure, this analogy might make more sense to a troubled, down-and-out Bad News Bears type of Little League team or even the current Green Bay Packers. But it's my go-to adrenaline rush for empowerment, people. Even in a toddler music class.
The connection? There is always, ALWAYS going to be a mom, a cashier at Target, a pediatric dental technician, an old lady in the grocery store or a FILL IN THE JUDGEY McJUDGERSON BLANK HERE who is going to make me feel like I just can't win at this parenting thing. Even if I have this, that or 99 percent of everything "right," something will be wrong to someone. Something. Whether it's the choices we make directly as a parents or X, Y or Z about our kids, if you have spawned, you will be judged for all that it brings. Simple, sad and true. (There's even a "war" about it. But let's definitely not go there.)
I'm aware it's a vicious cycle, too. Perhaps I misread that mom's tone. Maybe I read into her eye-rolling and it's my own insecurities that are tripping me up. And here I sit unjustly judging her for judging me. But whether it's them or me... us vs. them... it just doesn't matter.
I'll mess up. My kids will too. And thank God for that, because how else will we learn? My effort should go toward what DOES matter: strengthening our family through our life lessons and appreciating the loved ones who have our backs through the tougher stuff -- from toddler mayhem and preschool plights through teenage turmoil. Let our community of support be the ones who hold our hands. Worry less about the lady in music class who didn't want to.
We'll work hard to get Sam over his "personal space" issues. More importantly, he'll learn that hurtful words, unspoken judgment and lack of support can't steal our merry, music-making shine.
It just doesn't matter.