Monkey and I were at the public library for the story-time we try to go to every week (we frequently miss due to hospital appointments or post-surgical stuff). I was stressing out a bit because Monkey was very wound up, running around grabbing and stacking things and almost running into people (sometimes actually running into them) and so forth. I tried to calm him down, did some joint compressions which attracted curious looks from other parents. He didn’t break his skull or anyone else’s so we’ll say I succeeded.
Afterwards, I was chatting with an older woman who was there with her granddaughter. We talked about insubstantial subjects, like camping and reading programs. She asked where I grew up and this was where I started to feel a bit uncomfortable, like she was sounding me out. And then she asked me if I was a stay-at-home mom.
I told her yes, because that’s the truth. Her response? “You’re lucky. I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, but I had to work.” So saying, she got up and left.
I sat there alone, fighting back tears while Monkey finished his snack. I fought tears all the way to the car and then let go.
Of course, it’s true: I am lucky. I’m lucky in lots of ways and privileged in some. But she made a snap judgment that went way beyond that. She made a judgment about my whole life and my whole character and decided that I wasn’t a person worth her time.
I wish I’d said something to her. Something like, “Lady, you don’t know a damn thing about my life. You don’t know that I come from a family of abuse survivors or that I have at least one psychiatric condition I struggle with every day. You don’t know that I had to quit my minimum-wage job because I was being made to work alone with violent schizophrenic clients while heavily pregnant, thus putting my baby in danger – the baby I’d just been told had a tumor that might be cancer. You don’t know that my son’s second birthday, combined with the birth of an acquaintance’s new baby which should be a joyful thing, triggered traumatic memories and feelings around my son’s birth.
“You don’t know that I can’t put my son in daycare even if I wanted to. He was on oxygen equipment full time for more than a year, and I quarantined him (oh, the isolation) for much of that year, mostly going to the hospital for appointments, tests, and surgeries. You don’t know that he continues to have therapy three days a week and surgery every couple months with extensive aftercare that I am one-hundred per-cent responsible for. You don’t know that every time he gets a cold I have to have him on a pulse-oximeter and watch for retractions; usually he ends up needing oxygen, sometimes has to be hospitalized. For a cold. How would this work in a daycare setting?
“You don’t know that I have no social life, no close friends, barely any support system. You don’t know that my husband and I used to work opposite shifts and barely see each other, or that he now takes frequent business trips. You don’t know the financial sacrifices we’ve made for me to stay home, that we get medical and minimal food assistance and are still scraping by paycheck to paycheck.
“I am NOT some spoiled princess lying around at home while my husband brings in the cash. I am a therapy mom, a hospital mom, a low income mom. I work hard. I cry a lot. I worry. I feel lonely and overwhelmed. I am exhausted every single day.
“But you didn’t bother to ask about any of that, did you? I don’t know what your experience of mothering was like, either, but I would have listened if you’d stuck around to tell me.”
Can we please move past the “mommy wars”? Can we move past the suffering contests? “I have it harder than you” – who can say that and be absolutely certain it’s true? Can someone whose family was killed by genocide say it to someone whose brother was murdered? Can a woman who was gang-raped say it to a woman who was raped by one person, or to someone who was sexually abused for years in their childhood? Should we have the gang-rape victim and the CSA victim battle it out on a reality TV show – “There were ten of them at once!” “Well mine went on every day for six years!”
If that’s grotesque and inappropriate, why is it OK for moms to do this to each other?
How can you compare suffering when the same experience doesn’t even affect the same person the same way? Do you take into account an individual’s capacity for pain – their learned coping skills – their history – their temperament – their faith – their expectations? Does the same experience affect the same person in the same way at different times in her life? How can you compare suffering?
More fundamentally, why do we even want to?