Monday, 8 February 2010

What kind of mother are you!?

Something I've never experienced before happened to me a few days ago... Not being a parent (yet) I have never experienced the kind of wrath that is obviously swimming around in playgrounds, soft play areas and school yards: the massive judgement of parenting skills.

Is that something that is rife all over the world? And if so, how do you, as parents, cope with it?

A few days ago we were asked to look after two of our nephs for a whole afternoon and into the evening. By way of entertaining them we decided to take them out in the snow. Just a short trip down to our local shopping area, which has recently benefitted from the opening of a new soft play, saw my hubby and I receive many a judgemental look from passers by. Not that they were all necessarily negative looks, but I could still read the intentions of those looks as we tottered our way down, soft play bound, all wrapped up in our hats, scarves, Ben 10 gloves and Thomas wellies... Some were thinking 'Aw, how cute, a lovely little family out for a stroll in the snow' or 'Aren't those boys adorable?'. All lovely looks which made me proud (although I'd like to think, in my more optimistic moments, that I couldn't possibly look old enough to have a four and a two year old... dream on dreamer!).

But then there's the less than lovely looks which scream 'You haven't done your child's jacket up tight enough - can't you see there's cold air getting in there!?' or 'Tsk, look at that stain on your child's scarf! How could you possibly let him set foot outside with such filth on display?' or 'How could you let your child pick that snow up and then drop it carelessly a few steps further along - you'll burn in hell for that!'. I was a nervous wreck of guilt about my bad parenting (even though I'm not even their Mum!) and lack of control over my 'errant' toddlers by the time we arrived, tottering on the ice and fighting through the crowd to get into the soft play.

When we arrived at said play centre there was, just leaving, a heaving, sweating, over-excited, sugar-fuelled marauding mass of small children who had obviously just screamed, scratched and bundled their way through a school-mate's birthday party. The very sight of the wriggling, chattering, wailing cloud of children filled me with a terror I'd never experienced before. Hubs, the boys and I managed to squeeze in through the door before being forced to take refuge, pressed uncomfortably up against the condensation-covered window to wait the departure of the aforementioned rabble before we could even hope to set foot into the play area ourselves. Is this how it is going to be!?

Once inside things settled down a little. The exiting crowd had obviously been the majority of the place's custom that morning and those left behind all seemed to breathe a collective sigh of relief at the sight of them, all togged in colourful winter clothing, heading home.

The nephs stood obediently while we stripped layer upon layer of clothing off them (we'd been left with strict instructions as to which boy should have which hat, which liked his hat on this way, which liked to leave his scarf dangling thus... it's a minefield I tell you!) and, with trepidation in both our eyes, we took them firmly by the shoulders, pointed them in the direction of the entrance to the soft play area and ushered them forwards into battle.

Things seemed to be going marvellously and we seemed only to be receiving the lovely kind of judgemental looks from those spread around the place. Gazing around the place I was fascinated by the other parents and carers around the room. Some looked exhausted, others immersed themselves in the escapism that is the 'Daily Mirror', choosing to read about the infidelities of famous sports people while their darlings flung themselves around their padded haven like so many miniature, hyperactive Hannibal Lectors.

We were doing so well.

Then a scream eminated from the ruckus, unnoticed by the hubs and I who were deep in conversation with an old school friend's parents. It was Neph number two who had followed his older brother up into the second level of the softness and had momentarily found himself lost. Dazed, confused and no doubt intoxicated by the overwhelming smell of toddler sweat, he let out a bone chilling cry that had every parent in the place jumping to ensure it wasn't their heir in peril. Yes... every parent. Which meant hubs and I carried on regardless, completely oblivious to the world-ending nature of events. Then came the horrible judgemental looks. 'How could you ignore your child in his hour of need?', 'What kind of parents are you anyway?', 'You don't deserve to breathe the same air as us responsible parents'. The tirade of poisonous thoughts rained down on us from every corner of the room... and still we had no idea.

"Is that your child screaming?" asked the lady next to us, adding in, with a thought and accompanying look 'you worthless excuse for a mother'. Immediately hubs and I snapped back into the harsh reality of childcare and rushed to neph's aid. Once coaxed out of the offending tight spot he stopped crying immediately, as if someone, somewhere had found his mute button (please let our own child have one of those!). Sensing I really should look somehow like I knew what I was doing I fell to my knees, pulled a piece of tissue out of my sleeve (I've seen mothers do that as if they're some kind of learned magician) and rid his face of the slimey goo making a bid for freedom from his nose. All better he headed straight back into the fray, no harm done.

I, and indeed lovely hubs, felt the bizarre need to explain that the neph wasn't our child and was, indeed, our neph, explaining away our lack of reaction to the blood curdling scream of earlier.

Apparently, when you have your own children, their very own brand of noise drills its way, unperturbed by any goings on, into the skull of the mother, leaving no shadow of doubt that it's your child in need. This, of course, is something that we didn't know. I'm sure any parents out there reading this will know exactly what I'm talking about but it was news to me.

Anyway, despite all the withering looks, judgemental eye rolls and whispered conversations of condemnation we experienced that neph-sitting day, it did nothing to put the hubs and I off our continuing journey to board the good ship parenthood.

Thanks to the gorgeous nephs for breaking us in really quite gently and we look forward to having you grace our household again soon. Love you lots xxx