Today I had some errands to run after dropping E off at school. Since I am babysitting, I had all 4 little kids with me. I am quite a sight wherever I go, and I usually get lots of second looks as people see 4 small children, close in height, and age. I get many questions as to how old they are, if they are all mine, if they are twins, etc., etc. So I wasn't too surprised in Target when an older woman stopped me at the end of the aisle and asked, "Are these your children?"
"Well, not exactly..." I started, ready with my usual stock response of 'these two are, these two are friends'.
But I was interrupted mid sentence as the woman jabbed her finger at me and snapped, "You need to teach them manners!" And then she turned on her heel and walked away.
My smile froze on my face as I tried to process her remark. It was so unexpected, and so rude, I was taken aback. I herded the boys toward the next aisle and tried to figure out what prompted her remarks.
I admit the kids can sometimes get out of hand, running down the aisles, yelling, or touching merchandise. When this happens I usually reign them in, making them walk with their hands on the cart. In fact, we had just been at Costco and the boys had been getting rowdy, and I made them sit in a time-out as I went through the checkout.
I thought back over the last few minutes. I hadn't been totally focused on their behavior as I was pondering the bed linen selection, trying to see if anything would work for the girls' room. As I perused the shelves, squinted at price tags and considered color and pattern choices, the kids were pretending to have no arms. They pulled their arms into their shirts robot/transformer style ("Ch-ch-chk") and then proclaimed they had no arms. I absent-mindedly commented each time "Aww, that's so sad, you don't have any more arms!" or "That's too bad, I really liked your arms". Then they would gleefully pull out their arms and say, "They're right here!".
So, they weren't being silent, and it might have been a little noisy as all 4 children vied for my attention, but they certainly weren't acting crazy or disruptive. The two little girls were sitting in the cart, and the boys were standing close by. As I turned the corner I remember the woman talking to the sales clerk and they both looked at me as I started to come down the aisle. The sales clerk said to the woman, "Well, thank you for bringing it to my attention". She must have been complaining about the kids and hoping that Target lady would say something to me. But when she didn't, this woman immediately stopped me at the end of the aisle, blocking my way with her cart, and decided to take matters into her own hands.
After she walked away, I went hot and then cold, trying to think of something to say in response. All I could think was "What?" It was so unexpected, I felt like I had been sucker-punched. I kind of wish I had the "where-with-all" to give some kind of snappy response, but even now, with time to think about it, I can't come up with anything.
This whole experience is a good reminder to me not to judge other moms as they are out and about with their children. I don't know what kind of day they have had or if the kids are hungry, tired, or sick. It is not for me to pass judgment on other moms' parenting skills. A little understanding and empathy go a long way.