"I'd never let my kid watch movies while shopping," she starts, eyebrows raised. "They should learn and experience."
I cringe for a split second and then paste a big smile on my face. "The great thing about being a parent," I reply, "is that you get to decide what kind you want to be based on yourself and what kind of kid you have." I try to be gracious and understanding because I know how much she will need it one day, should she actually ever have kids.
I've become really good at secondary reactions. My training ground has spanned the almost two years of my son's life.
When he spit up directly in my mouth? Small cringe, big smile. "Oh was that a little too much?"
When he picked his nose and tried to make me eat it? Small cringe, big smile. "Thanks but no thank you."
When he falls, trips, tumbles, or outright eats it hard on the pavement? Small cringe, big smile. "Woah! That was a big wipe out, dude! Are you ok?"
You see, my first reactions, the split second ones, those are who I am as a human. The grimace at unkind words from a cashier at the grocery store, the chuckle when a squirrel "scolds" my son and he comes running to me for protection, the tears when I can't get the baby to sleep and I'm exhausted and exasperated. That's me. For better or worse that's my humanity, the part that feels first and thinks second.
Those secondary reactions, they are who I want to be. They are the parent that I strive to become. The calm, even person who is gracious and understanding when someone rolls their eyes and mutters "lazy" when they think I'm out of earshot as I roll my cart away. The parent who smiles at spaghetti sauce on the walls because it means the dude is eating well, even though it sucks to clean the walls every time. The mom who made it out of the newborn fog and can lend a hand to other new moms. The human who is confident in herself but not so stubborn that she can't adapt if needed. The parent who second guesses herself a little less each week, even though I feel that number will always be approaching zero, even if it never quite gets there.
Because here's the thing: sometimes you do things to be a great parent, sometimes you do things to be a good one, and sometimes you do things to survive the best you can and keep the tiny human you have sworn to protect in one piece while simultaneously taking care of all your other responsibilities.
Sometimes you get judgement for that, but other times you get a helping hand from other great parents in your community.
They're the ones who give your kid a snack and let them tear around their backyard the day after you get into a car accident because they know you need a little extra help. They're the ones who hold your newborn and wash your floors while you get some sleep, any sleep. And the really good ones catch your eye at the grocery store and smile and give a little nod when both of your kids are melting down and you're on the last aisle before you can checkout and release the kraken, or you know, your two year-old from those "seat belts" in the carts.
The really, really good ones don't even need to have kids. They're the ones who do things differently than you, they may even disagree with your style, but they keep it to themselves. They follow Amy Poehler's advice "it's good for them, it's not for me," and they cringe for a split second and then smile because they know that we are both humans first and parents second.
Guest post written by Kaeli Decelles. Kaeli writes things in her head while she goes about her life as the principal wrangler for an almost two year-old dude. Occasionally she gets a chance to write something down. Sometimes it's a grocery list or a recipe, but, when she remembers, it's a funny story that happened the other day (or months ago, who can remember specifics?). Her husband is the most understanding man currently living with two human tornadoes.
Photo by Looking Glass Photography