This summer, I sat quietly in the shallow entrance to the water park’s wave pool. The calm water meant an almost empty pool. Waves are way more fun. My daughter swam around performing underwater dance routines and timing how long she could hold her breath. I delighted in watching her and, let’s be real, enjoyed the quiet.
Just beyond my feet, the most adorable little girl splashed and explored next to her older brother. She was so precious. Chubby cheeks, pig tails, life vest. She looked like the little girl on the Coppertone bottle, complete with the cute tan line. No swim diaper either, so best guess, totally toddler age, around two or three years old with the water hitting her just about hip height.
While playing, she bent over just a bit to reach towards the bottom of the pool. As she bent down, she fell face first into the water. The life vest kept her floating but it also prevented her from getting up. It was a bit too big.
I watched her for just a second. Kids are smart and if we give them a hot minute, they might just surprise us with their ability to stand up on their own. But not that day. She was not able to stand up, instead, she was fighting the oversized life vest just to keep her face out of the water.
So I jumped up and stood her up.
Easy peasy. Crisis averted.
Not two seconds later, the little girl’s mom arrived and scooped her up. She immediately, and I mean possibly even before the little girl was in her arms immediately, began apologizing to me and explaining how she was just RIGHT THERE and she had been watching and she’d seen it happening too and she was the mom and she had been running towards her and she wasn’t far away and she wanted to wear the life jacket like a big girl and she just took her eyes off her for one second…
And, y’all, she continued to stand right beside me explaining her failures as a mom for the next five minutes.
I was doing my best to keep watching and admiring Pumpkin during her elaborate underwater ballet while also reassuring the mom it was fine, I was right there and I could see she needed a little help. No big deal. Glad she was okay, glad we were both there to help her, glad she seemed totally unfazed by the incident.
The poor mom finally left. Either because she felt she had apologized enough or because she ran out of the energy to continue apologizing. I felt exhausted for sure.
My heart broke for her. I wish I had not been trying to watch Pumpkin swimming towards the deeper end of the pool on her own, I would have given her my full attention.
And I would have said this,
“Friend, it’s fine! You’re fine. She’s fine. My reaction to your daughter needing a hand in the water is in zero ways a criticism of you as a mother. She was here, staying with her brother, playing happily. Wearing a life vest. No one would have expected it to prevent her from standing up straight. No one’s crystal ball works that well. You’re not a bad mom because you got to her two seconds after I did. My reaction was to help her, not turn around and search for her mom. I’m not judging you for sitting six feet away. You’re doing a wonderful job as her mother. She’s fine, you’re fine, we’re fine, EVERYTHING IS FINE!”
I’m not sure when Motherhood became a competitive sport only that is is one now. And maybe it’s because I am a 40-year-old preschool mom or because my first kid seemed to be nothing like the babies my friends had but either way, I’ve never really participated in the sport.
And believe me, it’s not because I don’t like sports.
Consider me a mother who officially declined the offer to participate in the draft.
And the good news?
You can decline the draft too.
Moms, let’s be real here if you are reading this and if you have read twenty parenting books or zero parenting books, you’re a good mom.
If you have WebMD’d symptoms or texted your nurse friend or had to call Poison Control because your kid figured out how to dead climb the cabinets and prove child-proof pill bottles less than ACTUALLY child-proof, you’re a good mom.
If you read superhero picture books or Pulitzer-prize winning literature or only bible stories straight out of the King James Bible, you’re a good mom.
If you buy a family pack of McDonald’s Chicken Nuggets or stir-fry some tofu with vegetables in coconut oil or scramble eggs from your own chickens free-ranging in the back yard and sprinkle some non-dairy, non-GMO, organic cheese on top, you’re a good mom.
Work outside the home, work in the home, work from the kitchen table, work only during school hours, work only in the middle of the night when the house is silent, you are a good mom.
And the key to finding the courage to decline the draft for the Professional League of Mom Guilters?
Make a choice. Change your thinking.
Nothing you have done or are doing has to continue.
When the lady behind you in the check-out lane begins making silly faces at your adorable toddler attempting to scale the side of the grocery cart, smile back and thank her. Then smile at your kid because TODDLERS ARE CRAZY and this too shall pass.
Choose to be thankful for ladies who make silly faces so you can get through the darn check-out line.
When your mom friend is confessing how overwhelmed she feels thanks to her growing pile of laundry or her kid’s diagnosis, or the training she had to take from someone who’s NEVER DONE HER JOB, stop yourself from offering advice, telling her about your biggest problem getting Junior to knock it off with those 14 hours straight of night-time sleeping, or bragging about the presentation you created for new trainers in that other department.
Choose to shut your trap and listen without waiting for your moment to jump in and talk. About yourself.
When you feel as if you might just be drowning in dirty-bottle-scrubbing or soccer-mom-shuttling or tantrum-throwing-confusion or single-parent-hood or doctor-appointment-managing, ask for help and don’t be embarrassed to do so.
Sometimes, admitting you need help grants permission to other moms to fess up to the same need.
When you see another mom walking calmly into the store wearing a kid, pushing two quiet kids in the race car, and another well-groomed one walking next to her, decide not to assume she is better than you in any way nor that she believes she is better than you. Instead, honor her with a smile, be grateful she’s got it under control IN THAT MOMENT, and move on.
Decide no one is judging you. And you won’t judge others either.
When the car behind you in the Please Put Coffee in My Veins Now line is driven by a woman in a two day-old top knot and rubbing her head with that haven’t-slept-in-a-week-exhaustion on her face, pay for her cup of legal mood-altering substances.
See people who might need a bit of kindness and then be that kindness.
Motherhood is hard enough without checking every mother in every lane on every side of you for comparison. And assuming they are doing that as well hinders instead of helps. No one is out to get you or shame you or embarrass you, and if, by chance, someone does, know that says more about them than about you.
Make a choice. Change your behavior.
Decline the opportunity to be drafted for the Motherhood Competition.
I promise the mother who picks up your kid from being attacked by an oversized life vest is not keeping score. And she’s hoping no one is keeping a score on her either.
Photos by Unearthed Photography and Good News Studios.