I was grocery shopping with Dylan the other day. Ordinarily, I despise grocery shopping. So much so, that I have thoughtfully devised, revised and finally finalized, a three-part online ordering system that eliminates, entirely, the need to ever step foot in a grocery store. But if Dylan is excited and willing to do something, even if it’s grocery shopping, it immediately becomes my new favourite activity.
So Dylan and I are schlepping around Walmart (he always chooses Walmart because he is intimately familiar with their toys section) and he’s being quite the little helper. He’s sitting in the cart reading out the items on our grocery list, helping me put produce into bags, picking the best-looking melons, directing me to the appropriate aisles and asking for every sugary snack under the phosphorescent lights. Normally Dylan falls asleep in the buggy shortly after we arrive, so I was pleasantly surprised and basking in the joy of our little culinary adventure.
It was in the kosher foods section where things took a dark turn and I almost committed my first criminal offence. The would-be victim of my almost-crime was a middle-aged woman with a hairspray helmet of hair and, as I would soon discover, an enormous air of self-righteousness. As we strolled by, she was riveted by the ingredients on a box of Tam Tams, no doubt hunting out hidden gluten or GMOs or some other nonsense she heard Dr. Oz lament about on his seemingly medical but yet purely advertorial TV program. We happen to stop near Ms. Walmart-who-thinks-she’s-in-Whole-Foods to look for some Wacky Mac when she noticed Dylan happily sitting in the cart with a big pile of groceries on his lap. She glared at me over her red reading glasses, pointed at Dylan and then asked, “don’t you think he’s too old to be sitting in the cart?” Dark Helmet doesn’t know it, but she almost died that day.
Things I considered saying in the moment but didn’t:
“Don’t you think you’re too old to be alive?”
“HE HAS NARCOLEPSY YOU STUPID TWAT!!”
“The jerk store called, they’re running out of you.”
Numerous other profanities.
“I wasn’t aware there is an age limit for sitting in a buggy. Can you please direct me to the clause in the buggy manual where it states five-year-olds are too old to be in buggies?”
“WHY IS THIS ANY OF YOUR FUCKING BUSINESS?”
As my blood boiled and the potential rebuttals flooded my head fast and furious, I was simultaneously contemplating the type of response she was worthy of receiving, while cognizant of the fact that the insanely smart five-year-old parrot in my cart would hear, absorb and internalize my every word.
The response I ultimately chose was a simple “no” and to graciously spare her life by deciding against smashing her head in with a broken bottle of Kedem grape juice.
Aside from rage, and a renewed promise to raise narcolepsy awareness, I walked away from that moment in utter shock at the ease, heedlessness and nonchalance with which that wicked woman passed judgment on me, my parenting abilities and my son. Who is she, to judge me? What gives her the right? Why are my parenting choices any business of hers? And probably most baffling of all, why does she even care? We weren’t hurting anyone. We weren’t endangering anyone. Our actions didn’t affect her in any way whatsoever, and yet, for some reason, she felt compelled to comment.
It was that day, that I decided to quit judging others (save for gold Corolla drivers obviously). For good. Cold turkey. Just like that. Silently judging and admonishing others, I realized, had become somewhat of a Pavlovian response to anyone doing anything differently than me. Hairspray Helmet Head did aloud, the very same thing I often did internally, which really doesn’t make it any better, just less obvious. It was time to break the habit, if for no other reason than to never appear as horribly daft as Ms. Anti-Gluten. Of course, she had no way of knowing that Dylan has narcolepsy and that he was physically unable to walk through the store, but that’s exactly why she should have refused to pass judgment and kept her mouth shut. Lesson learned.
But wait, there’s more! This summer, Rylie spent 7 weeks at overnight camp in Ottawa. For some reason, this elicited strong opinions that people decided were necessary to share with me. You may think it’s quite strange that people had any opinion on the matter, let alone negative ones, since the only ones affected by this decision were Rylie and my increasingly depleting pocketbook, but clearly, that didn’t stop people from chiming in with judgment. Many people told me it was too long for her to be away at such a young age. Countless people told me it was too far away and questioned what would be done in an emergency. Lots of people perfected the art of casting passive judgment by telling me they could never send their child away for so long at such a young age and were surprised at how easily I could. Interestingly, none of my unsolicited adjudicators asked me why I decided to send her for the whole summer. Maybe, just maybe, there was a carefully thought out and researched reason? Likewise, many people were quick to judge me for frequently sending wildly over-the-top camp packages, including complete strangers like readers of an article published in the Washington Post that featured one of my packages. Once again, no one gave me the benefit of the doubt. Everyone hastily jumped to the conclusion that I was spoiling my daughter and ruining the true spirit of the camp experience. But maybe, just maybe, there was a method to my creative madness?
Like Tam Tam Lady and the package haters, we rarely, if ever, know all of the facts or fully understand the circumstances when we pass judgement on others. So let’s not. Let’s assume the best in people, rather than the worst. Let’s give people the benefit of the doubt instead of jumping to conclusions. Let’s exchange criticism for praise. Let’s be educated instead of ignorant. Let’s be curious instead of judgmental. It’s just like Jack Handy said, “Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you criticize them, you’re a mile away and you have their shoes.”