“Oh, yeah, you should see what she feeds her toddler,” Gina confided, leaning across her desk. “It’s all chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese. Total garbage.”
“That’s unbelievable,” I replied, shaking my head. “I can’t believe these parents that feed their kids such unhealthy nonsense. It’s all laziness. Like, how long does it take to poach a chicken breast and steam some broccoli? Ten minutes? Ten minutes to give your kid some actual, real food? It’s not like she even works. You’re telling me she can’t find time in her day to cook her kid a meal?”
These catty words have haunted me for more than half a decade. Words spoken arrogantly and carelessly in a quiet office between two women wearing clothes that had never been puked or pooped upon. Words that passed between two sets of faces dressed in makeup that was not applied over a screaming child propped in a bathroom sink. Words that did not contain that slightest taint of outright exhaustion or misery.
Raising a child is easy. Just ask someone who has never had one.
We were harsher than usual dissecting this particular mother’s parenting tactics because, quite frankly, we didn’t like her. We hadn’t liked her much before she had children, and now we simply loathed her. She didn’t have to work; she got to stay home with her two adorable children and didn’t have to deal with actually leaving the house and having any other kind of responsibility other than raising her children – which, we had clearly determined, was barely a responsibility at all. Her kids ate nuggets! They watched Elmo! I think they might have even taken naps! For God’s sake, what was this woman doing with all that extra time she had?
“And you should have seen the tantrum Haley threw,” Gina added, shaking her head. “And she just stood there and let her scream. It’s like, God, take some control over your kid, you know? There’s a reason kids behave like that.”
“It’s just bad parenting,” I agreed. “You let them know that there are consequences. There’s no way I would let a kid act like that.”
“So I just couldn’t wait for them to leave. What chaos.” Gina stood up and stretched. “Now let’s take ourselves and our disposable income out for a proper lunch over which we can discuss our ironic amusement over various current events.”
I hear my own voice echoing in my head upon occasion. “How long does it take to poach a chicken breast?” It taunts me; it sticks its tongue out at me. I could throttle my former self if I chose to waste any sudden time-traveling abilities on that peaceful, snotty moment between two smug, childless women in their 20s. The question I had posed was a riddle, and it would be a few years before I discovered that the question itself was irrelevant. It doesn’t matter how long it takes to poach a chicken breast. Your toddler’s not going to eat it anyway. Plus, since you haven’t found even the smallest slice of time in which to go grocery shopping in 10 days, you’re out of chicken anyway.
As far as children behaving badly, my expectations of my boys’ behavior has, as of late, reached shockingly new lows. I’ve decided it’s a win as long as they are not the worst children in any given room that contains at least 10 other children. Andy could be lighting his jacket on fire while Alex commits bank fraud in the corner, but as long as there’s a third child in the room who’s contemplating treason, then I’m still doing something right. At the end of the day, having a kid that’s slightly better behaved than at least one other out-of-control child – isn’t that a goal that most moms can get on board with?
I have, of course, become that woman that I so unfairly and enviously judged. It wasn’t until I was fully entrenched with staying home full time with two small children that I began to understand the full scope of what was on my plate. And it certainly wasn’t a poached chicken breast and some steamed broccoli. I do the best I can, but my kids eat nuggets, watch more TV than they should and throw tantrums.
My advice to anyone who has not yet had children is, go ahead, say what you will about moms and their kids – but always beware the ringing echoes in your ears.