When Charlie was a few weeks old, past homeowners of ours invited us over for dinner. The couple is wonderful company; retired, well-traveled, intellectual and engaging. I always love visiting with them because the conversation flows easily and when we leave I always feel like I’m leaving a family gathering. The husband is warm-hearted, crass, and has an opinion about everything, mainly because he has experienced everything. The wife is the definition of motherly, sophisticated and also has opinions she loves to share. Where the two don’t seem like they would have that much in common, their opinion on opinions must have been their binding tie.
That day I prepped to bring Charlie with us for dinner, packing his diaper bag and mapping out the nursing-to-bottle timetables that we would be hitting during our visit. I felt completely prepared and put together. I had mascara on for the first time in weeks. My bra had an underwire. I was leaving the house in a car and not pushing a stroller. I felt prepared to present “Dani as a mom” to these people we knew and loved spending time with.
When we got there Charlie seemed to be doing well. He was quiet and docile and agreeable with strangers. Or I thought he was. Really, he was working on something big in his diaper. Within 30 minutes of being there, that surprise showed up in the form of a blowout to end all blowouts. Derek and I laughed nervously, making jokes as we tried to minimize and clean up the wreckage. Under the watchful eye of one of the most put together matriarchs I’ve ever seen, I reached into the diaper bag and realized I’d forgotten to pack something pretty pivotal for newborn care… a spare change of clothes. I had a zip-up fleece. That was it. I rummaged around a few seconds more, letting the anxiety mount, but knowing the results would be the same. Finally, I relayed the situation to Derek in a side-mouthed whisper, mild panic entered his eyes to match mine. With shame brewing in the pit of my belly, we zipped up the fleece and had a quick debate on whether it should become pants or a shirt before landing on letting him go pantless the rest of the night.
My son was pantless in a home where dress shirts are starched, pressed and buttoned to the top button. He was chillin’ in his diap in a home where drinks are actually served in crystal glasses. I might as well have been the one who was pantless. We laughed it off, apologized profusely and tried to move on.
As evenings at their home typically progress, Derek and the husband meandered off to tour the house and revisit the conversation on its craftsmanship and design. This left me with the wife and my “no pants dance” son. We got to the topic most new moms face when talking with a seasoned mom; how I was doing postpartum. I said what any mom would… I was fine; tired and worn out, but loving learning about my little poo-filled wiggle worm. It was when I confessed that I felt like I never had time to actually make dinner at night and that the microwave and I had become close friends that things got weird.
“Oh honey, don’t you dare become one of those drive-thru moms who just microwaves meals for their children. Charlie deserves better than that!”
I sat there like I had been slapped in the face. How was I supposed to respond to that? I could point out that Charlie currently got the most home cooked meals I could ever dream of making as he was 9 weeks old and exclusively nursing. Should I let her know I was still working remotely 30 hours a week, while taking care of Charlie by myself from 6am to 7:30pm, 7 days a week? I could have taken the time to praise the home cooked quality of Marie Callender's frozen pot pies. But I just sat there.
Driving home that night, I just got more and more confused. McDonald’s was a frequent pit stop for us growing up. We called Top Ramen, “Special Noodles”. I didn’t feel deprived. I have never in my life looked back on my childhood and thought, “hmm, I really deserved better than family night Wednesdays at Fuddruckers”. So I just tried to brush off her comments.
But I recently realized that her comments have continued to haunt me. They haunted me at Charlie’s 6-month birthday when I traded in my magic bullet and bags of fruits and veggies for shelf-stable puree pouches because it was just too much. They haunted me at his first birthday when the transition from breast milk to whole milk was harder and more stressful than I thought it would be. And it haunts me to this day. Today, I have a closer and deeper relationship with my freezer and microwave than I know I will ever have with my oven and kitchenaide. I am that mom that would kiss the inventor of the crockpot if I could. I’m the mom who shoves Eggo waffle sticks in the toaster every morning while simultaneously stirring instant mac for a lunch box that is already stuffed with green beans from the can and chobani pouches.
I have to constantly remind myself that it’s okay. That I’m not a bad mom. That I’m not a lazy mom. That Charlie isn’t receiving less than he deserves. Charlie goes to bed with a full tummy. Charlie goes to bed with a face that was (unless teething) imprinted with more smiles than frowns that day. And he goes to bed exhausted from a day of play, not a day of disappointed wonderings at why he wasn’t given a meal made from scratch.
We are all trying to do and be the best that we can for the people in our circle; our friends, our parents, our siblings, our partners, our children. People will always, always have their opinions. Heck, that is the beauty and the beast of Mom Tribe. But it is how we choose to process those opinions that matter. For me, I know I can’t nor will I ever want to be a mom that has a homemade meal ready, 3 times a day for my family. The very idea makes me want to crawl into my bed and never get out (I mean the dishes, people!!). So I try to take her well-intentioned opinion and process it, find peace with it, and move forward with confidence that my time and energies are probably best spent elsewhere.
And you know what, when I drop off Charlie at daycare, I see rows of snack bins stuffed with the same things the one labeled “Best” has. And that gives me added comfort. If you are “one of those moms” like me, maybe you will find comfort in that too.
Play to your strengths. Let go of the guilt built on your weaknesses. And love on your babies. That is all any of us can do. You got this, mama.