So I’m walking into Sam’s Club the other day, a store that already I don’t much care for. Something about lots of giant containers of things, “vats” of mayonnaise and peanut butter and big boxes of breakfast sandwiches that take up too much room in the pantry and the fridge and freezer but that may make us savvy shoppers, my partner is convinced, and that make us major contributors to a consumerist culture, I am convinced. But anyway, I’m walking into Sam’s and I see this woman with a toddler in her arms sitting at one of the tables over in the eating area in the front of the store. She is holding the child’s butt up to her nose so she can sniff it and then, after not acquiring the evidence she sought, looks down into it diaper to see if she can locate a mess down there. “There is no dignity in mothering, I swear,” I said to myself.
Now, I remember those days well. I remember doing those diaper checks and that, of the two options, being a toddler butt-sniffer is preferable to getting a gander at all that nastiness down in that diaper. I don’t remember choosing that option at the front of a store, quite in front of people who were buying vats and cases of food but hell, I can’t swear, with any degree of accuracy, that I never did it. That stuff all just gets so interwoven with the rest of the demands of mothering — reasonable and un — that the less dignified of one’s tasks don’t even stand out anymore.
I remember being in the regular grocery store, quite content as I put my groceries on the register belt because my toddler son was quite content — and I really needed him to be that way right there while we were confined at the register — because he was playing with my wallet. A bad idea, I know, but he was occupied and I was so grateful of that simple fact for just a few minutes. As I put the last item on the belt I turn my attention to him only to find that he is chewing my very best photo of the two of us, the photo I take out and show people of my sweet little boogie who I now would rather like to throttle. I remember saying with tears in my eyes, “My God, nothing is sacred.” I’ve since taken that photo out once (only once) to show someone, mangled as it was, and thereafter retired the photo to a wallet location not seen by anyone but me.
As I’m writing, I’m thinking I have some of my least favorite memories at the grocery store. Excluded from these, mind you, is the one about my daughter following me down the aisle with her new and shiny and red and loud tap shoes. This never became a memory because that image came to me while I was at the store seriously considering buying them for her just for “fun” but luckily, that horrible image — me exhausted and trying to think and plan, and her tap tap tapping away behind me — prevented me from making a decision I’d surely regret; I hid the shoes up on a high shelf.
So I saved myself from that one but there were other memories. Like my children coming up to me complaining of various itching body parts — identifying them by their proper anatomical name — which, you may want to know throws strangers off guard a bit. There was the day when I was in the middle of painting my daughter’s room a hideous shade of pink, to my dismay, and I was in cutoffs and looking not particularly fit for human consumption but she, she was in a golden gown and elbow-length black gloves and big hat, the latter two of which my friend, who I then would rather have liked to throttle, bought her. So she has this getup on and I’ve got paint and cutoffs on (does anyone say “cutoffs” anymore? does anyone actually wear them?) and she will have no part of any plan to change her clothes, so the two of us set off for a paint re-supply at Lowe’s. Her walking slowly so that everyone could get a good look, all these older women telling her how lovely she looked, her telling them that she knew this, and me really trying to get in and out of the store wholly undetected but alas to no avail.
There’s the time that she was passing around these stickers — sparkly little bears on skateboards — and had us all put one on. My mother was talking with a woman over at her church later that day and remarked to herself that the woman seemed to have “the fakest smile” she’d ever seen. When my mother got in the car and looked in the rearview mirror she realized that she still had that stupid sticker on her cheek. No dignity.
There’s the time I started lactating right before I went to class because I had called home to check on my son and heard him crying in the background and the milk began to flow to comfort him. This would have been fine if I’d been at home rather than walking into a college classroom, soaked at the breasts, to teach. The list goes on, of course — my son nearly climbing over the restaurant booth which I’m too tired to care about much but the strangers into whose booth he is crawling seem to; the dentist telling me that my elementary school-aged son is a “real talker” (OMG, what was he telling you?). This post is really just too short to really capture the humiliation of it all. But I’ll bet, if you’re a mother and reading this, you know what I’m talking about. It’s harsh terrain, motherhood.
BIO: Dr. Mama (Amber Kinser) is a writer, feminist mother, professor, and speaker who lives in Tennessee. Check her out on Facebook, follow her on Twitter @DrMamaWit, and see her webpage. Kinser writes for the MamaBlogger365 series each Thursday at the Museum Of Motherhood, Mamapalooza and Mamazina Magazine.