It’s around 11:30 pm on a Tuesday, and I’m standing in the Urgent Care waiting room holding my sleeping, 50 lb 4-year-old. We’ve been there since about 9:00 pm, and I’ve survived hours of him wailing (not an overly dramatic word selection, it was definitely wailing), thrashing around, and writhing in pain from an earache. We took trips outside, made headbands from ice packs, looked at the fish, sang songs, watched a show, and everything I could think of to distract him (mostly unsuccessfully). He’s finally asleep, fully conked out with his head on my shoulder, feet dangling loosely at my sides. I pay the front desk person and am waiting for my father-in-law to bring the car around. I’m leaning my face against my son’s soft cheek, snuggling him and appreciating the moment of peace.
A spry old man appears in the waiting room. He keeps looking at me, sort of smiling, sort of looking at my son. He eventually comes closer and says, “You can put him in a wheelchair you know.”
“Oh, no thank you. I’ve got him.”
“It would be easier for you if you set him down.”
“Thanks, but I don’t want to wake him up. I’m fine, really”
Still, he persists. “You don’t have to be SuperMom. He’s really big for someone little like you to hold. You don’t have to be a hero.”
Ooooohh this guy doesn’t know who he’s talking to...
I replied, “Yes, he is getting to be a big guy. But really, we’re fine, thank you...” as I beelined it to the bathroom to get away.
Ugh, what is up with people giving parents unsolicited advice? I really am not down with getting mansplained in Urgent Care.
Honestly, it made me mad because the interaction brought up an insecurity in me. I thought, “Oh, what am I doing? Maybe I should put him down. Maybe I’m being overly indulgent. Maybe I am going to hurt my back. Maybe to everyone I look like an over-functioning parent. Am I acting like a hero? Maybe I am SuperMom-ing right now.” (See how I just made that a verb?)
I wish I were immune to worrying what other people think, but I’m still working on that.
So I checked in with myself and my body. What is going on for me? What do I want?
True: Straight up I didn’t want to deal with more wailing if my son woke up when I put him down. That was unpleasant. My back did feel tired, but just prior to that conversation I had been resting it (ironically, by sitting in a wheelchair with my son in my lap), and it was okay now. I know my body is strong.
Also true: I didn’t need to hold him, I may have been choosing to “do it myself” instead of getting help, setting him down might protect my back. But the defiant part of me started explaining: I put my body on the line for him all of the time; it started when I carried him in my belly, when I birthed him, and now when he tires me from constant motion, snuggles, and his unusual habit of pinching elbows. Oh, the explaining...it felt good, but that’s how I knew I wasn’t quite to “truer” yet. That and my chest and shoulders were still tight.
I took a minute to breathe. My heart swelled as my son’s chest moved up and down with mine. I breathed in his earthy smell from playing outside in the sun that day. And as I breathed, I got in touch with myself, my knowing as a mother, and I was clear:
I simply wanted to hold my sick baby, even with his terrible breath (whoa, seriously). It brought me joy to be there for him, in that moment. If I want to hold him after a hard night when he’s suffering, I’ll hold him. The insecurity melted away, and I stood quietly snuggling my son.
One thing this man said is true: someday my son will be too big for me to hold and rock. So for now, I’ll comfort my sick baby however I please. Unsolicited advice be damned.