Today I had an encounter of the weird kind. Quite upsetting actually, although I'm forcing myself to laugh. Laugh in the face of nutters, right?
There I am, bubbled in the babble of morning mayhem - striding up the road to school, three kids in tow, ten minutes late and dealing with the normal emotional meltdowns that cover young girls like an invisible aura. Poppy was whining and whinging and lagging behind. She stayed awake last night longer than is required for happy family life, and was making sure everyone knew about it. I did the only thing one can to survive a day of endless crying and hysteria - I ignored her. I strode on ahead and she scooted about 4 feet behind,crying and shouting. At some point, I turned round and told her to grow up and hurry up. So far, so normal. (Just to point out, there are plenty of mornings - when the required amount of sleep is had, that we all skip to school singing songs and chatting our heads off).
Suddenly a young man walked past me and as he did he turned to me angrily and snarled, "It's hard being a child. How dare you treat her like that. You're one of those angry mothers you see everywhere!"
Once I'd picked my chin off my shoes, I spluttered out an incoherent retort along the lines of 'How dare you! How dare you comment on something you know nothing about. You know nothing about me or what I'm going through!" Did he walk away? Did he apologise? No! He stopped, turned and shouted at me in front of my three girls. In a furious attempt to just get rid of him, I told him to 'clear off!" Honestly - no stronger. Where I found the self-restraint not to swear I don't know - probably the look of horror on poor Daisy's face. Suddenly another school mum appeared, saw what was happening, and literally chased him away up the street. I hid my upset from the girls and carried on to school. But I was bruised. He might as well have slapped me. A complete stranger called me a bad mother in front of my children. His words pressed down on me all day, like a large thumb crushing my head. Every insecurity, every pore of guilt that I have ever felt came gushing through me.
And then I had coffee with my friend. She has three daughters too. And last week she was on her way to the shops with them. Like mine, she had one in a pram and two were scooting a bit ahead of her. Suddenly a man approached her and said (and I quote, lest you think I'm joking) "If you let those girls go ahead of you like that, they'll get lifted by a paedophile!" My friend spluttered some shocked reply, and he retorted, "you need to let a roar out of you and control those kids!"
So there we have it. One week, one road, two men giving us mums some advice. I'm a bad mother for shouting at my child, and my friend is a bad mother for not shouting enough.
We can't win, can we?