In my current state, I knew I could not survive the 50 mile drive home from my mother’s house yesterday without something sweet. And unfortunately, any viable options were not to be found in their usual spot at the bottom of my Longchamps tote, thanks to the evil cat. She has a $3 a day Zone Bar habit, the wretched beast, and in the absence of one in my bag at 3 am when the urge seems to strike her, she’ll settle for anything high-caloric in there. Every morning I wake to a half-gnawed, cat saliva-coated piece of something formerly edible strewn about the house. Every morning I wake to Nate just telling me to remember to zip up my damn bag at night, already.
I knew there was a Starbucks along routhe 9A and so I figured I could make do with a Rice Krispy bar and a mocha decaf something-or-other. (I’m not an efficient Starbucks orderer. They always correct me for asking for the drink before the decaf part, then roll their eyes when I tell them I want it “in whatever size the medium is called.” Stuff it, baristas. You know it’s a medium, I know it’s a medium, so just give me the damn thing in the medium cup and spare me the attitude.)
I glanced back at Thalia who was just starting to doze off in the soothing light of dusk and I found myself faced with a dilemma: Do I leave her in the car right in front of the (safe, suburban) Starbucks for a moment or do I rouse her, unstrap her, and drag her inside for the two minutes it will take to secure some sugary substinence?
These are not customary issues that NYC moms grapple with; we’re more likely to debate whether we leave the baby in the apartment for five minutes while we race down to the basement to dump another load in the washer. The car conundrum was new to me.
About a mile away from the coffee shop, the decision actually started to stress me out in a way that should be limited to the SATs and felony trials. Reasonable, Laid-Back Me knew that if I left Thalia in the car for all of 120 seconds she’d be totally fine. I could park right in front of the entrance so I could see the car at all times. I could even wait to go in until I was sure there was no one else on line. It was sooooo not a big deal.
But then Anxious, Mommy Me weighed in rather strongly with the opinion that Reasonable, Laid-Back Me was absolutely insane.
“Why risk it?” she said, before bitch-slapping her adversary into submission.
Why risk what, exactly? That Thalia might somehow, miraculously learn how to undo her 5-point car seat harness, leap into the front seat and hotwire the car? Suddenly break into a life-threatening rash that I could have prevented had I noticed it within the first 12 seconds of its initial appearance? Bum a cigarette from a passer-by? Surely there was some risk involved here, even if I was hard-pressed to name it just yet.
And then, there was a third voice that caught me by surprise.
This one asked not, “what if something goes wrong?” but, “what if you get caught?”
As if a cop might happen by and arrest me for child neglect. As if the paparazzi hangs out in the bushes around quiet Hudson Valley area strip malls just waiting for evidence of Britney-esque parenting to splash across the pages of Dumbasses Weekly.
Even so, even the most remote possibility of facing the negative judgment of peers, parents, bystanders–the press–was compelling. Very compelling. As I sat in the idling car, weighing my options just feet away from that blessed coffee counter, I envisioned message board chatter, blog talk, the New York Post for goodness sake: PREGNANT YUPPIE ABANDONS INFANT FOR STARBUCKS FIX. They’d have more sympathy were I a crack mom running inside the welfare office to grab my check.
Oh yes, were I to leave Thalia in the car for a moment, surely my life as I know it would end.
And so I took her inside.
And I was annoyed at myself the entire time.
What kind of world are we living in where we parent by looking over our shoulders, more afraid of the judgments of others than any actual harm that may come to our children? The cocktail playgroup non-controversy, the sanctimommies, the uber-boobers versus formula feeders–it’s all too much to bear at times.
I want to say I don’t care what people think, but I’d be lying. Even as I roll my eyes at the germaphobes, ignore the city-haters, dismiss the Dr. Sears disciples who show up here from time to time to condemn my choice to help my daughter get a decent night’s sleep, their comments haunt the back of my mind every so often. I want people to think I’m a decent mother. I want people to smile at my well-behaved toddler in a restaurant and decide that its the result of good parenting. Despite my tagline, I want people to think I know what I’m doing. At least to my face.
It’s been said that we mothers are often our own worst critics. Are we? Or are we just trying to beat everyone else to the punch?