An essay by guest blogger Jennifer Gooch Hummer
There are a few things in life you hope you won’t be. A convict. A dentist. A bad parent. A spoken word artist.
But sometimes the thing you most don’t want to be, hijacks your life.
I didn’t want to be humbled by a Happy Meal. But then one day, I was.
This is how it happened: I’m sitting at a picnic table in the toddler park with my new baby in the stroller and my 3-year-old daughter ready for lunch. Along comes another mother, (tall, thin, pretty; basically crushes it), also with baby and toddler. They sit across from us. Hello’s are exchanged and she pulls out her Tupperware filled with fresh cut this or that, a low cane sugar juicy-juice, and what looks to be homemade—probably GF with hidden broccoli puree snuck into it—cookies. I pull out a Happy Meal: 6 piece chicken fingers, mountains of fries, a toy laced with lead, and a shake.
“Hey, she gets a toy,” Other Mother’s daughter points out.
I glance at Other Mother, ready to apologize when she shakes her head, sighs, gathers up her total of six ingredients, and her children, and storms off.
Okay. Maybe her daughter did start to pee a little right there at the table, and perhaps an emergency evacuation was necessary.
But putting all potty problems aside, it felt like she was trying to get away from me.
And suddenly I was ashamed.
Not because Other Mother was passing judgment on me—something I will never know—but because right then I knew that had I been in her shoes, I would have passed judgment on me.
I know it. And I know what I would have thought too, and it would have been something like this: Really? A Happy Meal? That’s the best you can do, Lady? Then I would have trotted off on my high horse and felt superior for the rest of the day.
Truthfully, Other Mother had barely glanced at our Supersize Me moment before airlifting her daughter to the safety of the stall. But it didn’t matter because the damage was done. I had been humbled by a Happy Meal.
I should have remembered from my waitressing days. Fresh out of college, studying to be an opera singer, I was slinging hash in a breakfast joint. You learn a lot when you sling hash. For one thing, people can be rude. And mean. And impatient. And it’s possible that you may want to switch their decaf with regular just to make them suffer a little.
Until you start listening.
Then you might overhear how that ornery woman had just come from visiting her husband in the hospice. Or that impolite creep had just lost his job. Or daughter. Or savings. Or maybe that jerk really did need to take that call after he’d so rudely flagged you over. Maybe he’d just lost his dog.
But I’d forgotten. And I think it happened when I became a mother.
Becoming a mother is scary. I don’t care how many siblings and babysitting jobs you’ve had. And you won’t either. It’s terrifying. It should be illegal. No one should be allowed to leave the hospital with a newborn unless handcuffed to a baby nurse or paramedic.
I had no idea what I was doing. My own mother was three thousand miles away, my husband was on the road, I had no nanny, no nanny-dough, and I was exhausted, puffy and overwhelmed.
In hindsight, I think this was about the time I stopped the listening and started the labeling. Moms and their Hummer-sized strollers taking up the entire sidewalk. Puh-lease. Moms letting their kids walk around with pacifiers. Gross. Moms bringing their own potties to the park. Really? Labeling made me feel good, and more importantly, better. And better meant I wasn’t the worst. At least I wasn’t doing any of those annoying/unsanitary/and just plain gross things. At least I wasn’t feeding my kid McDonalds.
If I had been the Other Mother that day, the one riding off on her high horse, I would never have known that that little girl had just come from pediatric ICU. That three days earlier she’d been diagnosed with juvenile diabetes and that now, for the rest of her life, she would be injecting insulin to stay alive. And I most certainly would never have known that the only thing that mother could get that little girl to eat that day, was a Happy Meal.
So now I have a rule. It takes three seconds for me to be re-humbled by a Happy Meal. One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi is all I need to bring back that exhausting, overwhelming, ice-in-your-veins fear of losing your child to a diabetic seizure. I hate it there, that picnic table, but I make myself go whenever I hear Other Mother and her horse trotting up.
And then I thank my daughter for introducing us.
Jennifer Gooch Hummer has worked as a script analyst for various talent agencies and major film studios. Her short stories have been published in Miranda Magazine, Our Stories and Glimmertain. She has continued graduate studies in the Writer’s Program at UCLA, where she was nominated for the Kirkwood Prize in fiction. Currently, Jennifer lives in Southern California and Maine with her husband and their three daughters. Girl Unmoored is her first novel. Please visit her at jennifergoochhummer.com.