At a Pampered Chef party I recently attended I encountered a woman with her two-year old in tow. She immediately struck me as someone who was highly cranked on coffee, or possibly meth, with her loud voice, overly forced facial expressions, and huge arm movements... she brought a lunch box full of tupperware containers of fruit and vegetables for her young daughter to eat. She also struck me as the type of woman who says Happy Anniversary to her husband on Facebook.
She was fascinating. I couldn’t help but watch her and wonder what she would do next:
-She adamantly proclaimed that she needed all her meals “on the go,” since all she does is drive her kids to ballet and ice skating and guitar lessons and karate classes...clearly she had not recently received enough accolades for her extreme parenting measures.
-She also praised her daughter for being so smart because she sorted the pistachio nuts (she put the shells in the shell dish). Genius.
-She also thumped her butt up and down on the couch and yelled repeatedly while trying to answer the hostess’ questions about the product being displayed...
Then, she spotted her two-year old drinking out of a water bottle.
Her response to this event was akin to someone responding to a cancer diagnosis ... If you had simply watched the fear and the anger surging through this woman, you would have sworn her daughter had just been impaled on the paring knife.
“Whose. Water. Bottle. Is. This?” she franticly asked every person in the room. Three times.
For at least five minutes, I watched her. At one point I thought she was going to cry; her body was shaking.
She discovered through her thorough investigation that the only grandmother in the room had broken the seal of a brand new water bottle that the tiny girl had brought to her (because she wrongly assumed that it was hers). The shame. The grandmother was scolded and rebuked by frantic mom for not checking with her first. The grandmother apologized. Then she was then subjected to Parenting Tips. It was like listening to my six-year old give ice-skating advice to Wayne Gretzky.
I must not have disguised my fascination with her all that well because at one point she looked at me and said, “I’m sure you think I’m crazy.”
And all I could think to say was, “Is your daughter not supposed to drink water?” in a nice voice.
And she hunched her shoulders over and said, “That’s not it... it’s just that...this water belongs to someone else.” And then the desperate plea of, “Whose water bottle is this?” began again.
And I was terrified to think how this woman would respond to an actual tragedy.
I had so many questions I wanted to ask her:
-what is wrong with you?
-are you worried that someone in this house has a horrible disease?
-is this the first time you’ve taken your child out of your home?
-did you forget to take your medication today?
-would you like some vodka?
It wasn’t until after I left that I thought of some nice things I could have said to her. Sometimes I believe that we are too shocked to consider polite gestures. At least I am. Because I do remember those days when you’re doing all that you bloody can to keep your child safe and healthy meanwhile keeping yourself somewhat sane. With no sleep in your system to support those efforts, a tiny mishap can indeed throw you over the edge. I’ve been there. And I should have empathized with her.
It’s a strange mirror to look into when you find yourself looking back at who you were and see yourself so ridiculous.
Up next: Why I’m secretly hoping Kate Middleton’s child is born with a Cleft Lip.