Every Sunday, someplace between the hours of 8am-1pm, you could find my family standing in the back of church. With four young children and my brother’s adorable habit of pretending to shoot people with his thumb and forefinger, I think it was really the only place in church we felt spared from prying judgement of staunchy parishioners.
So when my baby went ballistic in the middle of Mass today, the back of the church was of course my sanctuary.
In the church I attend nowadays, the back is much larger and can fit many parents with their animated children. But as the congregation spewed prayers, Brady spewed vomit on my new coat and screamed. I tried a bottle, a pacifier, various toys, and rocking, but the only thing that would soothe him was pacing around with him. So I carried Brady and walked in a circle, trying to keep track of what the priest was saying. And as I spun towards the other families holding their quiet little angels, I saw that all eyes were on me. And I have to say it: it was the first time Brady had ever embarrassed me.
When Mass ended, I gathered up the diaper bag, my large purse, and the baby carrier and heaved them over my arm and shoulder. Though it may not sound like much, I’m sure I looked like those men who carry concrete blocks in the World’s Strongest Man Competitions (and it felt like it too), for a young man who was also standing in back rushed to open the door for me. He was maybe a few years younger than I am, and he followed me out, offering to help.
As is my way, I refused, huffing, puffing, and maybe sweating a little as I walked the quarter mile to my car. And to my surprise, this guy walked with me.
“Are you sure you don’t need help? I know how heavy those carseats can be.”
I smiled and assured him no, it was good exercise. (That’s usually my go-to response when someone asks if they can help me.)
The guy nodded and pushed on in conversation: “So, are you babysitting the little guy for the day?”
I stopped for a second. Then said something eloquent like “Well, yeah, I’m like, his mom I guess.”
I have a gift for spoken word when I’m caught off guard.
Here we go again: did I seem more like a babysitter? Is it not obvious that I am a mother, by the way I walk with and talk with and hold Brady? I don’t think the guy was trying to flatter me into saying I look young. Comments like these bug me and stay with me. Probably because of the fact that, despite my intentions- I am competitive with other moms. And I don’t mean it like I challenge them to footraces or a test of wit or something.
I have this image of what a mother is supposed to be in my head. Calm, collected, patient, loving, quick on her feet, always knowing what her children want. And when I look at other moms, they’ve got it. I long to ‘have it’ so badly. When my baby screams and I can’t stop it and everyone stares at us and I get told that I look like a babysitter, it bugs me. I wish it didn’t, but it does.
Do I not look like I can handle it? ‘Cause I can handle it.
And I have to keep telling myself that.
But I have to wonder what my son will see me as. Do I just do the bare minimum to keep him happy? Will I always know what will calm him down? Can he at least see how much I love and care for him, how desperately I am trying, when other people can’t?
I wonder if I will ever have an answer.