I forced my kid to eat Mac ‘n’ Cheese last night. The one night this week she didn’t eat pizza. Granted, we live next to a high-end organic food store that sells slices of delicious pizza cooked in their fire oven (of course) for two bucks. And she has activities right after school and it’s really super duper easy to grab a slice. She used to love Annie’s brand Mac ‘n’ Cheese. When she was a toddler, I mixed it with vegetables. Even kale. Kale! And she gobbled it down. But she’s been a connoisseur of the finer hot dogs and slices of cheese pizza for the last year. Finding a reasonably priced, made-from-scratch slice of cheese that’s always sitting under a heat lamp two blocks from our apartment was a delightful find.
Friday, after school, we were walking with our neighbor (whose son also had pizza every day this week) to the hippie store for an early dinner. It was me, my 8-month-old daughter, my neighbor, and our two kids who are 6 and 7, jumping around singing “99 Problems” with most of the bad words bleeped out. We got to the store and I order my kid a slice of cheese, and she eats most of it while I wait for my deli items to cook. (They have a fantastic noodle bowl bar. OMG.) I ordered her another slice, and the girl behind the counter looked at me like I let my kid graze the bulk candy section.
We all sat down and the kids were crazy and the baby’s making that screaming noise and all these people are walking up to comment on how cute she is. An old couple sat a couple of tables down and smile at us. My friend and I talked over the big kids arguing over facts on the Presidents and the baby’s loud noises and her son saying “bitch” whenever he thinks he can get away with it. The entire time I’m thinking how great this is. My neighbor, my full-time single mom friend, eating together with the kids. All at once! Like, sitting down and eating a hot meal together in the midst of chaos, laughing, and trying to talk about adult things without our kids knowing.
Then the old guy two tables away yelled at me.
“Can you please keep your baby from screaming?!” he said.
I thought he was joking. The baby was totally happy, eating my car keys in her reclined position with one foot up on the table. She wasn’t crying. She was just making that noise that she makes all the time. I hadn’t even noticed it. The old man’s wife gave him an elbow and he shrugged. I tried to avoid his stink eye for the rest of the time we sat there.
A woman with a sleeping infant strapped to her chest sat next to them. She quickly ate a snack and got up to leave at the same time we did. My neighbor and I’s older kids were throwing away the trash and putting the dishes in their bus bins. Her son started to put a glass bottle in the container for aluminum, and she started comically yelling, “No! No! No! Don’t put it in there!” like it was the end of the world. Which, I guess, in that store it could be seen as such.
Granted, our kids were boisterous and noisy. They were talking about farts and righteous poops they’d taken at school that day. They were singing their own edited version of “99 Problems.” But as the other woman with the baby got up to leave, the old man said to her, “Enjoy your child.” Like he blessed her or something.
I stared at him for a few seconds, tempted to shout at him that I enjoyed my children just the same, even though they were screaming in the dining section of an upscale supermarket. But I didn’t need his blessing. I didn’t care if he thought my kids were unruly.
Now, of course.
Because five or six years ago, as a new single mother, if my daughter threw a temper-tantrum in the middle of a grocery store isle and an old lady came up and commented on how full my hands were, I took it as a blow to my parenting. Not just that, my single parenting. Like the comments came to me free, and more often, because somehow I thought they knew I was on my own. That I struggled to find work. That I needed government assistance. That I couldn’t afford to pay for child care or groceries. I thought every time my daughter acted up in public, it was a reflection on my parenting. My single parenting.
My neighbor and I walked out, laughing at ourselves, and the old guy. The kids trailed behind us, still singing the song. “I got 99 problems but a B ain’t one.” And I had to agree. Single mom as I am. I got 99 problems, but a bitch ain’t one.