I'm allergic to confrontation. But I also have a Mama Bear inside me that will come out when needed.
Last month we hosted two of my brother's kids for 3 weeks. That meant that for almost a month I was basically a mother of 6 children age 4 to 11. As we went about our business, we had a couple encounters where kind strangers would say, "Wow! What a big family!" Or something equally innocuous. I would smile warmly and simply say, "Two are cousins." But we did have one incident that wasn't so innocent.
I had taken the kids to the dollar store on the way home from another activity so I could pick up a few items and a craft project for them. They were pretty squirrely, but not really bad. I want to emphasize that they weren't being really rotten. But they were taking up a lot of space in the aisles, touching things, doing a little bit of wrestling, and saying, "can I have this? I want to buy this!" a lot. They were each being typical kids. Multiply that by six, and together it was starting to make me nervous. I usually expect much better/quieter behavior from my kids when we're shopping so I was on edge and was anxious to get done and get out of there!
We got into the checkout line. There were a couple people in front of us and so our cart was almost up to the belt. An old man with a cane tried to walk up alongside us in line but couldn't get through so he walked all the way around to come through the other way. Evidently, he was looking for something specific in the checkout line, right where me and the six kids were standing. I tried to move the kids out of the way for him, but I couldn't move the cart very much due to the long line of people behind me. Plus, the kids were too busy talking and playing with each other to really listen to my instructions. I did the best I could and got us moved out of the way a teeny bit.
The old man never said, "Excuse me," or "Can I squeeze through?" or "I'm looking for a doohicky. Do you see one there?" or anything like that before he moved on. I figured that was the end of that.
But then a random lady who was standing two places behind me gets my attention and says, "I think that man was trying to get past you but all your kids were in the way!"
I was taken aback. For a split second I thought that maybe I was in the wrong and that I hadn't done enough. So I timidly said, "Oh. I was trying to move us back a little. I think it was ok." Then I turned to start putting my items up on the belt. But this Shrew wasn't done.
She loudly started criticizing the size of my family. "How many kids are there with you? 1...2..." I kid you not, she was counting out loud how many children I had with me! Given her tone, attitude, and other comments, it was clear that she thought I had too many. As I put items up on the belt I could feel the Mama Bear rising up. No one messes with my kids (whether they're mine or nieces/nephews!) So I cut her off and said clearly, "There's 6. Yep, there's a lot of them." Then I stopped, turned to face her, and said, "What was I supposed to do, leave half at home?!"
As I turned back to my cart she called me out for getting defensive. I replied that yes, I was getting defensive because I didn't understand what her point was. These were my kids and of course I'm going to have them with me. At that point, I had started to cool and didn't want anymore of a conflict. I was kind of shaking, was keenly aware of the kids' behavior, embarrassed that maybe they were being a problem, and just wanted to get out of there.
(At one point my nephew had chimed in, "two are cousins!" because he had gotten used to us saying that. But I didn't think this Shrew needed to know that. I was ready to claim all six of them! So what if all six were my biological children! It's no one else's business how big my family is.)
Shrew said that she was just so surprised to see so many children in one family and that it was really weird to see them all at the store in the middle of the afternoon. I told her with kind of a "duh" attitude that it was summer vacation. By this time we were second in line and the checkout lady heard everything that had gone on so she backed me up and assured the Shrew that it's not weird to see kids during the day because it was in fact still summer vacation.
Shrew just couldn't believe that this was relevant because she asked (again, still with her same aggressive, confrontational attitude), "But why aren't they all in summer school? I was always in summer school all day." By now I was really confused. The checkout lady and I both tried to explain that summer school isn't really a "thing" anymore. Only a few schools (especially at the elementary level) do summer school and it's only a few hours a day, and not for the whole summer. The woman in front of me in line even chimed in to say that even at the high school level, it was only a 4 week program for her son.
Her next comment took the cake. If I was confused before, now I was dumbfounded. She said, "But how are they going to get into college?!" What? What planet was this girl from? The checkout lady and I looked at each other and then told her that summer school was irrelevant and not a factor at all when it came to college admission. Especially when it comes to elementary school! We tried to explain that some high schoolers take summer classes to make up credits or try and graduate early but that was it.
I didn't dare tell Shrew that we homeschooled. Her head would have exploded.
Thankfully, at this point the conversation was finally over and it was my turn to get rung up. Another checkout line had opened up so Shrew went over there and got through quickly. After she left, the checkout lady and no less than three customers stopped to talk to me and show me support. They all said they had kids, that the Shrew was being rude and wrong, that my kids were being well behaved (really!), that I shouldn't be embarrassed, and that I was doing a good job raising them. I was still a little shaky (remember, I'm allergic to confrontation!) and hearing all these kind words brought tears to my eyes!
Seeing the worst and best of humanity at the same time in one day was a very interesting experience!
I'm so thankful to those kind strangers that were willing to take a few minutes to support a fellow parent. We're all just trying to do our best here! We need to show love and build one another up! I hope that if I ever witness a fellow parent struggling like I was, that I will go out of my way to reassure them that they're doing a great job! I know personally what a difference that can make!