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A Stranger Shamed Me Right Before My Eyes

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I woke up with a searing headache and a foot to the face. After I'd worked on a freelance project until 3 a.m., the kids were up with the sun and, of course, I was, too. The state of the house... I won't even get into that. Honestly, nothing was right this morning, but what ever is when you've been dealing with postpartum anxiety and depression for, like, EVER?

So, you know how sometimes you just see the day tanking fast and you decide to abandon ship and take the kids out? Somewhere. Anywhere. That's what we did.

They lasted about four minutes at the mall before the whole trip started getting hairy. The 4-year-old: poking, whining, antagonizing, arguing. Then the baby started crying. And crying. Very unlike her... she just doesn't do that.

Except she did today.

I've been seeing a therapist for over a year now, and this moment is one we've dissected a few times. Without getting into all the boring details of My Own Head, I'll just skip to the end part where I try to find a way to hit that reset button and change the direction of our day.

Mission: Pretzels.

When we first became parents, my husband and I made clean, real food our number one priority. But, two kids later, we've settled in at about 80/20. Sometimes, grab-and-go foods are just a necessity, and soft pretzels are one thing on our "bend the rules" list. They don't contain dyes, have fairly simple ingredients, and while some might cry "gluten!" on us, when you weigh them against bags of candy or head-sized cinnamon buns, they're just not that bad. Especially when the three of us share them.

So off we headed to our pretzel mecca. The kids were smiling and happy and the pretzels smelled awesome. Find a bench, breathe, regroup, shop for something to wear to a meeting with my main client tomorrow. In my head, I kept hearing my doctor: "Anxiety is just your body's fight or flight instinct. Face it head on."

Just as we began to pop our first pretzels, I looked up to see three of the most heavenly looking children I've ever seen. Long, curly hair, with outfits that were so slightly yet perfectly mismatched they could have lived on a magazine page. Then, the dad. Well dressed, with a thick Australian accent, asking his kids to behave so he could check work emails on his iPhone (they did), and good-looking enough to make me quite aware that I hadn't showered and I couldn't really be sure there wasn't any food on my old maternity shirt.

Yes, maternity.

I somehow felt both small and large all at once.

That's when I heard it. One model child, seeing ours, asked if they might have pretzels, too. Dad's response nearly knocked me on the floor.

"No, you may not have pretzels. You may never have those pretzels. Not if you were starving to death -- STAHVING to DEATH -- would I ever, ever buy you garbage like that. That kind of food will KILL YOU."

OOF. Mind you, this guy was about two feet from me. His comments were pointed and deliberate and filled with disgust aimed right at my face. I sat there, in that moment, realizing that I had been mom shamed right there in the mall.

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I wanted to sink into the floor. Because he was right. I fully agreed with him. I had already been beating myself up over making a choice I didn't particularly like. But I also wanted to rise up and yell at him, too. Yell that I have been working unimaginable hours trying to establish a new business on my own after leaving my comfy cubicle. Yell that I just registered for a half marathon and I harvest asparagus and spinach from my yard every day and that my kids eat ALL THE GREEN THINGS and that I know I'm failing every single day because I just can't meet these expectations I set up for myself and I DO know how to make better pretzels at home but OH MY GOD THE TIME THERE'S NEVER ANY TIME.

And seriously, doing things I never thought I'd do -- like feeding my kids mall snacks -- is becoming pretty flickin' commonplace around here these days.

Then, his flawless wife bounced out of Hollister (of course she did) and off they went, surrounded by a soft, hazy white light, leaving me feeling like I'd been punched in the stomach.

Because you, Mr. Haughty and Successful Australian Stranger in the mall, have no right to try to shame me for taking a moment to just let things slide. I'm very well aware of my own shortcomings, but I see no need to make my kids so well aware of them that they start making up shortcomings of their own. I didn't shame you for lining your obedient children up on a mall bench while you checked work emails (nor do I shame the iPhone-toting playground moms who are so popular to pick on these days).

I'm seeing a lot of "let's stop judging" pleas lately, but I don't think that's the answer. I judge. Most of us do. Just keep that nonsense to yourself. Because there's a very good chance that the mom being looked down upon is pretty well aware of whatever judge-worthy thing she's doing, and she just may be judging herself over it harder than any stranger ever could. But she's trying. We're all trying. And if a cup full of pretzels is the worst thing to happen to my kids today, well then we all just might make it until tomorrow.

Oh damn. I still have nothing to wear to my meeting.

High fives all around, moms.

This post originally appeared on ABCs & Garden Peas.

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