I have a confession.
Today I took secret pleasure in Another Parent’s Shame.
A woman about my age, with a boy and a girl about my childrens’ age, looked extremely harassed at the supermarket checkout.
She had flushed cheeks, angry eyes, a frown like you wouldn’t believe, mussed-up hair, and was wearing the uniform of stressed-out school holiday mums – tracky dacks and a stained baggy T-shirt.
As her children nagged her for lollies, gum and expensive kiddie magazines, they also fought, frolicked and touched Everything. Including Mum.
Mum had clearly had the misfortune of needing just a few essentials – milk, eggs, bread and juice – but having to do it with two antsy rugrats by her side. Throw in a speed-challenged checkout chick and she was losing her patience. (Apologies to checkout people everywhere – I know most of you are fab, but this one either 1. hated her job so much, she couldn’t summon even one iota of enthusiasm, or 2. loved it so much, she wanted it to last as long as possible. I like to think it was the latter.)
Anyway, for this Mum, a quick shop had turned into a Supermarket Challenge From Hell. (Forget Survivor – just have ten exhausted parents negotiate a normal family supermarket shop dragging a couple of kids around them without breaking into swear words … now that’s a reality show!)
Finally, as one child (the boy) swung the younger one (a girl) into the counter, who promptly burst into tears, Mum cracked. “Be quiet, stop fighting, shut up – and stop touching me!” she snarled. I almost expected her head to spin around. Everyone else’s in the vicinity did!
But my heart went out to her, it did. For there, but for the Grace of God, went I.
Just days earlier, I had found myself in the same situation. We’d spent a mostly delightful morning at the movies, but fuelled up on fizzy drink, popcorn, and the latest Hollywood offering, my kids were overstimulated and tired. A nasty combination.
Still we needed a few necessities at home, like milk and bread, so I bravely soldiered forward into the metropolis that is Foodtown. Within minutes, one child had stubbed his toe and claimed he needed to be carried (but is 7 ½, so that was SO not going to happen), and the other one decided to go out in sympathy, by wailing and trying to climb into the trolley and on top of the eggs. Like the aforementioned Angry Mum, we also found ourselves in a painfully slow check-out queue.
The kids whined, complained, fought, and begged for crap they know they’re not allowed to have. They both tried to climb me, like koalas up a tree. Finally, I felt my own Exorcist-style moment coming on.
“Stop it!” I growled, in a voice that I swear, I never knew I had. Time stopped. People stared. A few people sniggered, but most of them (thankfully) looked at me with sympathy.
The kids just laughed. “Funny Mummy,” Harmonie said. “How did you make that sound?” Chase added, his eyes wide with wonder.
At least my outburst had the desired effect (stopped their antics), and we made it through the check-out unharmed.
Hence my sympathy for today’s Mum.
For today, I was not her. Today, I had dropped my children at a fabulous school holiday program involving sports and lots of disgusting science experiments. Childfree at last, I immediately indulged in one of my favourite activities. Not drinking wine, not enjoying a spa, but shopping. Alone and Unhindered.
And it was bliss!
But seeing that other kids play up, and other Mums lose it in public too, somehow made me feel like I wasn’t alone …