I would hate myself if I saw myself that night. A sniping, shushing shrew, hissing at her kids in Subway to Sit down! Be quiet! Stop doing that! We were causing a scene, and I knew it. Two moms, 5 kids, 6pm. The witching hour. I should have known better than to take them out to eat on a weeknight. After a long day at school. After an hour at the gym. But our friends were going, my husband wouldn’t be home for dinner, and frankly, it seemed easier for everyone to just go to Subway.
But it wasn’t. Of course it wasn’t. This one wanted pizza, that one wanted lemonade. OK, but you’re sharing. You never eat your food. I’m not paying for food you don’t eat. Yes, Mom. I know, Mom. Of course after two bites they were begging for chips and chocolate milk. No fair! He got… I wanted… You never let me…
The two 3yos were standing on the banquettes, jumping up and down. Stop that! That’s not how we act in a restaurant! The older kids were kicking each other under the table, tipping back in their chairs. If you don’t sit up right now we’re leaving!
I wolfed down my meal, barely tasting it, while simultaneously passing the shared lemonade back and forth. Food falls to the floor. Drinks spill. Hands grab. No fair! He got a bigger sip than me! I am aware of another parent nearby, a dad ordering food with his well-behaved son. I recognize the half-smile, half-smirk. Poor lady. Glad it’s not me. Glad we’re past that age. I avoid his pseudo-sympathetic eye. I’m not in the mood to play that game tonight. Yes, I DO have my hands full, ha ha. You’ve been there, too, huh? Where is Dad when you need him? Ha ha. It takes too much energy.
Mentally I run through a list of potential explanations and personal faults: Were the kids just tired? Hungry? Had they not gotten enough outdoor time? Too much screen time? Was it selfish of me to drag them to the gym instead of letting them play outside? Was I being unreasonable to expect them to sit quietly and eat their food? Should I have made us all go home for a healthy, home-cooked meal instead of fast food, even though they never ever eat what I cook so why do I even bother? Do other parents have more patience than I do? Or are their kids just naturally better behaved? Am I a terrible mom?
Really, it all comes down to that. Most days, I think I’m a pretty good mom. My kids are loved, fed, clothed. Other people tell me they’re (mostly) well-behaved. Smart. Funny. Polite. I read books to them, help them with their homework, take them to swimming lessons and doctors’ appointments, dry their tears, give them hugs.
On other days, I feel like I’m failing at everything. I don’t read enough parenting books; they feel like a chore. I don’t do enough activities with them; I’m too tired. I yell too much; I don’t have the patience. Better kids would be more grateful; better moms would be more selfless. Just another harried mom yelling at her poor kids, I would have thought if I’d seen myself that night. My biggest fear is that my kids will see and remember me that way, too.