ULTIMATE RANT | Mommy Culture’s Great Expectations

It’s okay to hope for a good samaritan, as long as you expect a Larry David…

By Allison Perry | Telluride

I’m going to do something I have not yet done: address a rant that has since been removed from Sweet Rants, although I have no idea why.

Last week, I noticed a rant from a woman whose name I cannot recall, chastising another woman for failing to help her young child who had apparently slipped and fallen on the sidewalk. Our ranter goes so far as to say that not only did this other woman step over her flailing child, but also neglected to ask her if she needed help even in light of the fact she was also carrying a baby. In her rant, the offended mother questions the woman’s morality, or perhaps it was her humanity, I can’t remember exact words, but she definitely cited the lady for having an utter lack of decency.

The comment section was full of supporters taking the side of Mama Bear, with one lone dissenter (male), who said something to the effect of “teach your kids how to walk better.” I don’t know if he was joking or not, but, to my chagrin, it was urged by more than a couple of people that he be ousted from the group.

Wow. Not siding with moms and kids can have dire implications for free speech, huh.

OK mommies, before you come after me with torches, let me clarify I would personally have helped the woman in this instance and I fully support her right to rant about it. Her rant was not offensive, nor is it, in and of itself, outlandish. I think this rant touches on the constant battle raging between the haves and the have nots – the “I have kids” versus the “I have no(t) kids” – and I thought the commentary that ensued as a result of the rant was exponentially harsher than anything contained in the rant itself.

While I (again) would personally have been happy to help out this woman and her child, I also personally see nothing wrong with the fact that there are some people, women and men, who want nothing to do with kids, and who have made the decision that their time and their interests are far more important.

Sure, it’s selfish not to help someone on the sidewalk who needs help, but whether kids are involved or not, being selfish is a god given right, and the expectation that adding kids to the equation will change this is unfair and unrealistic.

Larry David, for example, not only would have stepped over this child, he probably would have gotten pissed that he almost tripped and fell on his way to a lunch.

No matter how many babies are brought into the world, their existence changes only those directly involved in raising them. Nobody else should, or does, change. I have been seeing lately a lot of what I refer to as Mommy Culture. Maybe it should be Parent Culture, but the former has a nicer ring. Mommy Culture occurs when parents assume, contrary to reality, that their decision to have a child should somehow change how other people react to them.

When kids come into play, it seems the parent contingent can be all too eager to extend a duty to all of us have-nots, not only to sympathize with the fact they are raising kids, but also to internalize the way they feel about kids and parenthood, and act accordingly.

Want to know what happened the last time I helped somebody else’s fallen child? Hmmm…let me recall…oh yes. I had about two hours to ski before work, was test-driving an ankle injury I’d been nursing for about a week, and saw a small boy fall near the top of Coonskin, closely followed by his dad, who crashed into him. The boy began screaming. Then the dad screamed “Oh my god, his arm’s broken.” I popped out of my skis, and ran as fast as I could in ski boots to the liftie at the top of the Gondola, feeling stiff bones and ligaments grinding in my ankle with each frantic step.

“Call ski patrol!” I gasped.

“Are you sure?” he replied, clearly certain I was exaggerating.

“Yes! yes…his dad says he broke his arm. There he is! He’s still crying!”

Right as the liftie pressed the button on his radio, the father walked up and said the kid was fine, as the liftie gave me an “I told you so, hysterical woman” look, amidst incredulous stares from every onlooker in a 100 foot radius.

As I trudged back to my skis, I realized bitterly that I wasn’t going to be skiing much that day or the next, because I would be sitting on the couch with an ice pack on my freshly aggravated ankle.

Let’s just say this: had I seen a downed kid on main street later that day I probably would have stepped over him too.

Kids exaggerate, kids cry first and think later, and kids fall. A lot. And only the parent knows how to deal with their own child, and how to gauge when their child might be seriously hurt, at which point I’m pretty sure they’re all capable of asking a stranger to help or call 911.

I’ve seen so many toddlers transform from falling, to screaming, to laughing in a matter of seconds, my knee-jerk assumption when I see tears and snot bubbles on the face of a two-year-old is that he’s probably fine, and unless I am directly instructed by an adult to call 911 or help, it’s all good.

Moreover, with other peoples’ kids, even the most well intentioned gesture can metamorphose into Stranger Danger instantly, especially when the gesture requires laying a finger on the child. I know a lot of people, parents included, who are hesitant to ever touch another person’s child.

Some people are just awkward and uncomfortable around children, and avoid any interaction and contact at all costs.

Contained within the rant, or its commentary, I found a statement insinuating the woman who did not provide help would be an unsuitable mother. This is extremely troubling, completely judgmental, and totally unfair.

I talked to plenty of parents about this rant, good ones at that, and at least half of them said “My kids fall down all the time. That’s how they learn to get back up. And to walk.”

Did they agree helpful bystanders were nice? Sure. Did they expect it? No. Moreover, do they feel the need to bash any and every person who doesn’t extend a helping hand in the day-to-day shitshow that it raising children? Not even a little bit.

As a childless but well-intentioned and helpful bystander who loves children and hopes to be a mother herself one day, I am still finding myself sick to death of Mommy Culture, especially the need to exalt and celebrate parenthood unquestioningly and constantly, to define bearing children as the only path to a life of fully realized potential, and the villification of women who don’t wear their maternal instinct on their sleeve.

At 33 it’s bad enough when my father reminds me that if I don’t have kids in the next two years my firstborn will almost certainly be a clone of Rainman.

Lately, even in the progressive Never-Never Land that is Telluride, I have found myself directly or indirectly diminished for not being gaga over babies.

Take the woman who blatantly cut in front of me in the line for Cowboy Coffee one morning. When I politely, but firmly, asked her if she had seen me (and the three people behind me), she rolled her eyes towards the baby in her arms, smiled, and said “Oh, sorry, you know how it is…” while refusing to move to the back of the line.

Do I know how it is? I know I was late to work because of her.

Hmm. I didn’t know that her choice to have a child meant that I, along with society, agreed to give her special treatment in the line for coffee, and, presumably, everywhere else.

How come the guy on crutches didn’t also get to cut the line, since it is a safe bet he was probably have a lot more trouble standing and waiting than the rest of us?

And speaking of crutches, where was my apology when a young child ran full speed and head-on right into my lower leg one fine day in Boulder, clearly unaware that I had recently had knee surgery and was barely able to walk, let alone get hit right in the stitches?

Want to know a secret? Kids have hard heads.

I mentioned this to his mom, after picking myself up off the ground assistance free, who offered me a wan smile and a shrug, and not even the feeblest attempt to reprimand or corral her whirling dervish of a child, before ambling on. Apparently Mommy Culture is not isolated to small towns. Don’t worry though, mom checked her son’s head before walking away from me, while I seethed and looked for a bush to throw up in.

If the situation had been reversed and it was my dog, say, who had run into her or her son, recent surgery or not, I’m sure I would have gotten screamed at and possibly sued.

Mommy culture not only bestows line-cutting privileges and permission to maim others as long as it was by accident and your kid is under six feet tall, it also allows spurning of non-parents now for things as benign as facial expressions.

God help you if you roll your eyes at a crying baby on a flight or in a restaurant. You might be the recipient of an “Open Letter To The Woman Who Rolled Her Eyes At My Baby On US Airways Flight 3345 To Amsterdam” or a Facebook status directed at all the insensitive assholes who don’t’ understand how insanely, cruelly, unfairly hard it is to be a parent. (“We have a BABY! How DARE you not pay our feelings the utmost deference!”)

Look, parent, we all understand your baby’s crying is louder in your ears, and that you are exhausted, and perhaps embarrassed and frustrated. But remember this,: you chose to have a baby, you love that baby, and it’s precisely that type of love that makes you far better equipped to deal with and empathize with the baby’s crying and screaming as we crawl across the Atlantic Ocean in a glorified beer can with wings, or try to eat a civilized dinner the one night a week we aren’t trying to MacGyver a Goulash Casserole in our tiny, pathetic kitchens.

Your baby’s crying might be ruining both our experiences, however you’re the only one who voluntarily signed up for the both the costs and the benefits. So let me roll my eyes, or sigh loudly or, if I’m particularly disgruntled, throw you a bit of a stink eye. If you were able to deal with child birth, I’d think you would have realized that life is bigger than taking things like that personally, and I’ll feel bad about it later and silently wish you good luck and an apology.

Maybe it’s the jaded New Yorker in me, or maybe it’s the fact I have been alive 33 years without having a kid, but to all the mothers and fathers who suddenly expect everyone to empathize with them, and to help them out no matter what is going on in our lives, I would say this: be thankful for a good samaritan, but don’t expect anything beyond a Larry David. For every person who picks little Timmy up off the icy sidewalk, there are going to be ten curmudgeons who step right over him on the way to do something they think is far more important.

Mommy Culture might never be fully reconciled with the non-child-bearing public, although I do know a lot of parents who have not succumbed. But perhaps we could all make it easier on ourselves if we stopped having expectations and just learned to laugh at each other.

Ok. You can all burn the witch now.



Allison Perry

Allison Perry was born and raised in New York City and earned a BA in Political Science from The University Of Wisconsin - Madison and a JD at Case Western Reserve University School Of Law before moving to Alaska with the hopes of becoming the next Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer. Although she went so far as to pass the Bar Exam in Sarah Palin's playground, she became disillusioned with law and decided to pursue her dream of becoming a journalist and a photographer. She moved to Colorado in 2010 and after a few years ski-bumming and retailing, she was finally able to transform her freelance writing into a full time career at The Watch. Allison believes local journalism is an essential part of living in a small town, and strives to write objectively, in plain English, with a critical eye and a dash of sarcasm here and there. She is stoked to be a part of the San Juan Independent.