I realize that I have this almost insatiable need to be nice. I apologize for this or that and feel totally guilty if, in retrospective examination, I may have accidentally made some comment to someone that seemed rude or self-centered. I have a need to be nice. Almost at the expense of anything else—including my children.
So I pretty much surprised myself because I just got back from a brisk end of the day I-have-way-too-much-pent-up-energy-from-molding-my-3-year-old-all-day walk and while I was on it, I wasn’t nice. I paused with husband, 3-year-old on his tricycle (with the parent push stick extended from it which is awesome because it actually ensures that little man will move at the pace that I need to move by this time of day), and baby girl in the Ergo at the park near our house that overlooks the ocean for a serene let’s all breath and watch the surfers moment (though that always sort of stresses me out also because then I start thinking how long has it been since I’VE surfed and when do I get to surf again) and some random park-goer saunters over to us exclaiming “BABY!” and reaches out with her knuckle and places it right on baby girl’s cheek and starts, literally, saying “coochy coochy cooooo!”
And did I mention that it’s FEBRUARY which means cold and flu season and remember baby girl spent 2 weeks in the hospital battling a respiratory thing that would have killed her in a 3rd world country and it’s TUESDAY and I’ve had a stressful day and pretty much no one wants to mess with me on Tuesday. You see, Tuesdays are the only day that husband leaves at 7am and gets back at 5pm and I don’t have an ounce of help during the day. No 3 hours of preschool in the morning on Mondays and Wednesdays. No awesome little college buddy that comes to play with little man for 2 hours on Thursday mornings. No nana and papa’s house on Friday afternoons. It’s Tuesday. And those of you who do this same dog and pony show EVERY day are playing your miniature sad violins on your two fingers to me right now for boo hooing as I am. But Tuesdays around here are long days and it was Tuesday. So by the time 5pm comes on Tuesday, I clearly need to go for a walk and not talk to anyone for at least 30 minutes or I might just accidentally bite someone’s head off. I can happily come home and fix dinner and kiss sniffling baby girls cheeks when she gets tired and do prayers with little man before bed AFTER I have had a walk.
So when random stranger reached out for baby girl, I literally flinched, stepped back, and said “please don’t touch the baby since it’s flu season” and turned my back on her. Yes, I was pretty surprised at myself. I wasn’t nice. Mama bear came out of her cave. And there were people all around me who were watching and yes they noticed. And yes, it WAS odd for her to reach out and she might have honestly been slow (as she seemed a little off in demeanor) or a foreigner with different personal space preferences and usually I would probably have humored her with a grimace on my face. But not today. Not on Tuesday.
I was so thrown off by the whole thing that I left little man and husband at the park and pounded my way home getting as much aggression out as possible on the pavement beneath me. As I walked away, I processed the whole thing. Why was I so thrown off by the incident? Why was I typically more afraid of offending someone than harming my own child? It IS February and a touch from random stranger could inflict a week or two of illness on my child and I will be the one up and night, suctioning snot out of baby girls’ nose, hearing baby cry in discomfort, and possibly passing on said sickness to little man and even husband and me. And all the while random stranger would be happily on her way not experiencing any of the consequences inflicted on my family because I was nice.
And interestingly, when husband got home he told me he was proud of me. Maybe it’s not as important to guys to be nice.
A friend of mine from church told me how she returned after a long day of work to her 7-month-old at home with the nanny and the TV was on and she didn’t like it at all but she didn’t say anything. She was being nice. But gosh darn it, she’s paying the nanny and she’s not paying the nanny to have the TV on with her 7-month-old. A 3-year-old would be different but there’s no reason to have a TV on with a 7-month-old. My friend was nice.
How often am I nice—are we nice—at our own children’s expense?
Another friend just told me a story that one-upped me. I was relaying my incident to her and she said, “I’ve got one for you!” and continue to relay a story of going to the market with her 8-month-old attached to her in a front carrier and outside a homeless man asked her for some change and being a better woman than I am, she took out a dollar and gave it to him (he can’t buy alcohol with a dollar, she says). As she handed it over, the man reached forward and instead of taking the dollar, patted her 8-month-old with his adorably awesome spiky Asian hair right on the head. My friend said she saw the hand coming at her in slow motion—and still today sees it in her mind in slow motion still coming at her—and there was nothing she could do about it. But being the amazing person and science nerd that she is, she decided that since touching babies raises our endorphin levels, she probably increased the happiness in that man’s day and how often does a homeless man actually get to touch a baby anyway? Like I said, she is a way better woman than me.
I remember when little man was a baby and I was in my new mom freaked out fury and I would try to go to the grocery store with him in tow in the tiny window of time I knew I had between feeding and naptime when he would be awake and happy and dashing through the store bulldozing my grocery cart in front of me and inevitably a white-haired little old lady with all the time in the world would start making goo goo faces at baby little man and I would have to stop. Stop. Stop and hold my clenched fists while chunky-cheeked little man would smile and grace her with his butterball giggles. And I knew that baby little man would probably be the highlight of her day and she would tell all her girlfriends over bridge that afternoon about the cutest little blonde baby boy she saw at the market and all I wanted was to continue my 100-yard-dash through the store grabbing whatever shelf items found their way into my cart through haphazard arm spasms.
There were days where I would grit my teeth and breathe and be nice. I would be still because I knew the pleasure I was allowing was far more important than my agenda even if it meant that baby boy might fall asleep in the car and who knew if he would transfer to his crib that day or suddenly be UP and my attempts at the work I needed to do would have to be postponed until little man’s bedtime (and who knew if I would actually have energy then anyways?). But there were days when I would also smile at the little old lady and keep bulldozing my cart through the aisle because I knew that’s what I needed to do to keep my sanity for the day.
Nice. So yes there are times to be nice. And sometimes being nice is the right thing to do even if it’s the hardest most frustrating thing for me in the moment. But I also think there are times when we don’t need to be nice. When being nice is coming at the expense of our children then maybe being nice isn’t the most important thing. Maybe, sometimes, mama bear needs to come out of her cave.