There was a time not so long ago, let’s just call that time “yesterday,” when I would have judged you. Quietly. To myself in the moment we two shared without your knowledge but not in nearly as creepy a way as that sounds.
I would be again judging you later, to my wife that evening after the kids were in bed and I’d become a tad punch-drunk thanks to the lateness of the hour. I’d crack wise and witty about your laziness, about how you’d rather keep your toddler distracted than have to actually engage and be present as a mom, about how your kid is growing up perfectly suited to the modern zombified culture of screens and listless adulthood.
Yesterday, I was an asshole.
Today, I’m — well — a little bit less of an asshole. I’ve approached the end of judgement.
The judging begins
You were heading back to your minivan from the grocery store, crossing the street that separates the automatic sliding doors at the entrance and the vast, sloping uphill parking lot. In a little over an hour, that very street would be a buzz with hardcore shoppers coming and going and the primo spaces we two scored would become hot property worth fighting over — and some just might.
You were pushing a cart full of value-sized cereal boxes, carrots with the inedible greenery dangling over the edge, and bread so fresh the clear cellophane portion of its bag was steamed up. All of your food stuffs were double bagged in taupe plastic, for the handles of course, so that they’d be easier for you to pick up, load into and eventually out of your car. I can dig the double bagging, as a means of avoiding a paper bag going rogue all over your driveway, because we’ve all been there. Organic brown eggs smashed on the asphalt, good money wasted. Dammit.
Your boy was also in the cart, his little legs sticking out of the cold square metal framed holes beneath the handle bar. He was held in rapture by the small screen of your phone. He seemed content, albeit relatively expressionless. That’s a popular look these days.
Excuses, you could have had them
I don’t know what your morning had been like to that point, or what his was like for that matter. Maybe he’s coming down from a fever, unable to go to daycare for the past few days. Maybe you’ve been scrambling to get your work done with a sick kid in the other room. Maybe your boss has been less than accommodating. Maybe that’s been rough. I don’t know, but “yesterday” my smugness didn’t permit me to care or to give any benefit of the doubt to you or him or them or anyone.
Yesterday, your kid was a zombie and you were a lazy mom. Case closed. But the world is rarely ever that black and white and the times in which we vaguely interact with others are single frames, the closest thing to still life photography in the ever-rotating world. Miniscule bits of data and back story can legitimately be surmised from a flip book worth of images around us — one, one, one, one, one at a time. This is the information what we get and process and voluntarily choose to judge based upon. That was yesterday.
I knew all of these truths yesterday but I consistently pushed them aside, making it easier to judge you, to get a cheap laugh, to hold myself in higher regard. I’ve kinda had enough of that. Maybe you are a lazy mom and maybe your kid is a tech-obsessed zombie child but I have no freaking clue if that is reality. All I saw was a mom doing her shopping and maybe needing a few minutes to get her thoughts together, to find her keys, load the car without a single distraction, and figure out a way to get that presentation over to her boss before lunchtime. Maybe.
Yesterday I had to paint to the edges of all the pictures, but today I’m OK with putting the brushes down, leaving the canvases incomplete, and walking away back into my own life’s portrait.
A version of this first appeared on Out with the Kids.
Well done, Jeff. Thanks for the moral reality check that many of us need.
Now I’m going back to my own portrait.