Wouldn't it be nice if we could control the memories that our minds retain — and leave behind those that we'd rather just forget? When I think back to my first Summer as a new mom, there was a lot of happiness, a lot of haziness, and one afternoon in the park that left me too awestruck for words.
The baby was about 3 weeks old, and I was still figuring him out. I was feeling pretty good about myself for getting out of the house (this was a brownstone with a whole lot of steep, concrete steps out front, mind you) with the stroller, the baby himself, and my other "child," our 120-pound Bernese Mountain Dog. Off we went to the park, where the goal was simply to get everyone some fresh air and exercise.
About halfway through our loop, the little guy started wailing. I stopped, looped the dog's leash on a bench, and checked the baby's diaper. Nothing. I tried nursing him. Not interested. Just held him. Nope, not that either. I lowered the sunshade on his stroller and draped a swaddle blanket over it. Still, he kept on crying. There's really no worse feeling for a mom than that of helplessness, and I racked my brain to figure out what else might be wrong (I hadn't yet accepted the fact that sometimes, babies just cry, for no rhyme or reason). Unable to come up with a better plan of action, my crew and I kept on trucking. I figured the best we could do was head toward home, where the poor little guy could at least be sad in private.
And that's when it happened. I'm willing to bet that, in 15 years, if you were to ask me where in Prospect Park this incident occurred, I could still point out the exact spot. A woman — probably in her mid-40s — walking toward me, stopped dead in her tracks. She didn't speak to me. She SCREAMED at me. "I'm so SICK of seeing you women in this park with these babies that you don't even want. He's crying. Pick him up! You're going to traumatize him. Pick him up! Can't you see that's what he needs?"
I was stunned. Literally speechless. A million thoughts were racing through my head, but not a word came out. Not want my baby?! How could she even insinuate something so absurd? She shook her head, muttered some obscenities, and went on her way. Tears in my eyes, I peeked in at my little boy, hoping that he hadn't heard any of this (I know, I know, he was only a few weeks old) and that he knew that, of course, I wanted him, more than anything else in the world. The fact that taking him out and attempting to juggle a baby in my arms while pushing a stroller and walking an enormous dog would have been incredibly dangerous was beside the point (trust me, I'd considered it). She simply had no right to criticize my parenting — especially not in such an extreme way. For the rest of the walk home, I ran through what I should have, could have, would have said had I not been so caught off guard. Alas (thankfully), the moment had passed.
I'd like to chalk this woman's behavior up to some bigger, deeper issue that she had going on in her own life (as the saying goes, "Be kind — everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle"). But regardless of her personal issues, and whatever her reason for reprimanding me really was, I hate that those hateful words are a part of my earliest memories of motherhood. We're all doing the best that we can as parents. If my best at that given point in time wasn't sufficient to a complete stranger, then that's her problem, not mine.
In retrospect, if I had the chance to go back in time and do more than stand there like a deer in headlights, I think that I would have smiled and said, "We're actually just fine — thank you." Then plastered warning flyers to other moms with her face on them all over the neighborhood (just kidding . . . sort of).