There’s an epidemic spreading across our great country. It’s a disease that seems to plague young and old alike, across all nationalities, races, and strikes both genders equally. The long-lasting effects of this sickness don’t linger with the infected, but rather those they infect. What is this dreadful disease?
It’s the inability to shut the hell up and mind our own business.
When you have little kids, people think it’s okay to stop you in public and say whatever they want to you. Their words are more shocking if your children are from an interracial coupling, and heaven help you if they aren’t your color and therefore don’t “look” like you. The more kids you have, the more extreme the comments. People have asked me if I’m their nanny, babysitter, or au pair. They’ve asked me about fostering, adoption, and related expenses. They’ve put me down for being a teen Mom (I was 25 when my first was born, but I look young), for overpopulating the world, and for not knowing when to quit. I’ve been asked if I know what causes it. I’ve had “alternate hobbies” suggested to me. Some try to “compliment” me by saying they “don’t know how I do it” or suggest their wife/daughter/partner can’t handle the one or two they have and stand gap-mouthed while I move my children through the store/parking lot/playground. One lady stopped me recently and said she couldn’t figure out how you could have so many kids so close together with no multiples and I offered her a lesson on the birds and bees.
You might be thinking these are benign comments made between adults and what’s the big hairy deal?
EVERY SINGLE COMMENT WAS MADE IN FRONT OF MY CHILDREN.
My young, impressionable, innocent children. These beautiful little souls with big eyes and bigger hearts.
I’ll admit it–I didn’t think much about it either. Until today when we stood in line in a store waiting to check out. We’d put all our items on the register and were waiting for the person in front of us pay when another customer got in line behind us. She surveyed my crew silently for a few minutes, then looked at me in astonishment and delivered the line I’ve heard the very most, “You sure do have your hands full!”
If you ask any parent with several small children they’ll tell you they hear this constantly. I get it at least twice every single time we leave the house. I rattle off the usual comebacks and blow it off. But today was different. As we left the store, my oldest, who just turned 6 last Thursday, looked up at me with her big brown eyes and asked, “Mom? Why did that lady say your hands were full when all our stuff was on the register? Weren’t your hands empty?”
I felt gutted. Completely sick to my stomach. She had heard this seemingly benign comment between adults and wondered what it could mean. Kids are literal so she looked for the literal meaning in the comment, not at all realizing what exactly was being said.
How do I tell my daughter this woman was implying she was a handful? That collectively, she and her sisters and brother were considered too much. This stranger who doesn’t know us, our story, or anything about us made a snap judgement based solely on the number of children in our family with no thought about our character. We are overwhelming to her.
My children are not a handful. Do they have their moments? Of course. They ARE overwhelming at times. But they are good, sweet, loving kids with impeccable manners and gorgeous souls. I get through each day because of the amazing little people they are. They are truly the biggest blessing in this world and how dare you, complete stranger, imply anything different?
I looked back down at her. “Well,” I said slowly, choosing my words carefully, “sometimes when people see us out in stores or restaurants, they’re surprised by how many kids we have so close together. They feel like they have to say something but don’t quite know what, so they say Mommy has her hands full because they think you guys must be hard to take care of all day.” She nodded in approval of my explanation and we piled into the car.
My mind swirled as we drove. Did she fully understand what I meant? Was she aware of the negative connotation behind the comment? What other comments had she paid attention to but not asked me about? My heart ached for her that she lives in a world where perfect strangers feel it’s appropriate to spew their verbal diarrhea at us simply because of the size of our family. When did common decency and decorum fly out the window? Hadn’t people been taught to say only nice things or keep it to themselves? I shouldn’t have to come up with retorts like, “My heart is full, too.” Because I shouldn’t have to field these kinds of comments just to buy some milk.
I wondered how she would handle these comments as she grew up. Would she have the ability to stand up for herself or would she give a polite smile and not respond? Would she internalize the words or let them roll off her back? She has such a sweet, vulnerable soul, but can she help her younger siblings draw inner strength when presented with less-than-favorable comments?
I want to plead with the people of the world.
UNLESS YOU’RE SAYING SOMETHING POSITIVE, DON’T SAY ANYTHING AT ALL!!
This also includes the comment that makes me the angriest. “Oh, you finally got your boy.” Do you know what that means to the three girls I had before him? You’re making them completely insignificant. You’re implying we kept having these useless girls, hoping to finally get the male heir. Why do YOU care?
STOP ASKING IF PEOPLE ARE GOING FOR ONE MORE OF THE OPPOSITE SEX.
The children can hear you! They’re wondering why you’re saying these things and are drawing conclusions about what they mean. The comments are unnecessary to begin with. You don’t have to say everything that pops into your head out loud, so for the love of all that is holy, KEEP IT TO YOURSELF.
“Mom?” her soft voice startled me. “I think the next time someone says that to you, I’m going to tell them to mind their own business.”
I think she’ll do just fine.