Many years ago, I managed a clothing store that catered to teenagers. At back to school time, tons of kids came in with their moms for new fall wardrobes.
One afternoon I was helping a teenaged girl at the dressing room who’d come in with her mom. I was familiar with them both and I’d gotten a chair for her mom while the daughter did a changing room fashion show, to pick out her new clothes for school.
At the time, I prided myself on an uncanny ability to discern pregnancy in women very early on. An arrogant, very faulty ability, I was soon to learn.
I glanced at the mom and decided that she was with child. Wishing to show off, I asked her, “When are you due?”
Oh yes, my friend, I royally screwed up. But I pranced into faux pas land with my head held high, singing at the top of my lungs.
Her head swiveled around at the speed of light, and she gave me an incandescent side-eye. “What did you say?”
I had already realized my idiotic mistake and since I couldn’t turn back time, or make myself disappear, I tried to obfuscate by distraction.
“What do you do? Where do you work?” If I’d had a bicycle, I could have backpedaled to Missouri.
That was the day I decided to never assume a woman’s reproductive status unless there was a child actively exiting her body.
This policy was hammered home to me the day a woman ringing me up at Food Lion asked me if I was with child. I answered her in a nasty tone that I felt her thoughtlessly cruel question deserved, “No. I’m just fat.”
A few years later, a different clerk got the same tone and dirty look when she asked my forty-ish-year-old self, “Ma’am, do you want to use your senior discount?”
So, Gentle Reader, when in doubt, don’t…just don’t.
Very near our house is a new neighborhood full of young adults and empty nesters. Once or twice a day my dog and I walk the streets. With the combination of a large, striking dog, and an overly garrulous woman who could find something to chat about with a stone, we’ve made many friendly acquaintances.
And I’ve been privileged to witness many young couples becoming young families (But I never jump the gun and assume—I wait until I’m told, or there’s no other explanation for what looks like the smuggling of a prize-winning pumpkin by a formerly svelte young woman).
Once baby’s arrived, seeing them reminds me of the sleep-deprived stew of cluelessness and terror in which Petey and I constantly swam after The Kid was born. It’s sad, but true that almost all new parents spend the first few years worrying away what should be treasured and enjoyed.
This precious time passes in what seems like the blink of an eye, and hindsight colored by fear and exhaustion is mightily skewed.
In an effort to help parents be more present, I have a few thoughts that I have shared with clearly overwhelmed moms and dads. And, they’re either extremely polite and diplomatic, or my words are actually helpful.
I choose to believe helpful.
Here’s the sum total of my great parenting wisdom: Relax, and cut yourself some slack. You’re doing a much better job than you think you’re doing. As long as you feed them, clean them, and love them, it’s gonna be ok.
And besides, humans don’t remember anything much before they turn three. So that means you’ve got 36 months before any of the dumb stuff you’re sure to do actually counts.
Thanks for your time.
Contact debbie at firstname.lastname@example.org.