Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A Napkin. It's What's For Dinner.

A pic from that day! Love this crew!
Has it really been a week and a half since I’ve written? Please don’t give up on me, dear readers! I have no good excuse for my absence other than the usual busyness of life.

If you’re a regular follower of our Instagram feed, you’ll know that we’ve been on the go, enjoying this warm weather, preparing to do more doodling/painting/music-playing, and organizing the apartment. All good things.

But the one thing weighing on my mind this morning is something that happened a few weekends ago, and I could really use some mommy-input here. Did I do the right thing?

We went out to eat with my in-laws at a local pizza place, with 3 kids in tow, including E. It was your typical kid-chaos, which I’ve contentedly settled into – sweet, loud voices hollering, “When’s the food coming?” “Can I get a drink?” “I need a napkin!” and the stomping of sneakers against tile floor as all 3 found their places and prepared for a busy meal.

My daughter, well-trained by day-care mealtime, fit right in. She had the same wiggle in her step as the rest, the same excitement in her eyes, and her head bobbed around to take in every fun detail of being out and about with her clan of cousins, parents, aunt, and uncle.

I settled into my seat, sitting across from my bouncing, giggly toddler, and I smiled as I tried to calm her by focusing all her attention on one simple task – watching me cut a delicious slice of cheesy pizza. She climbed on her knees for a better view then hopped back down to a sitting position to get more comfortable – constantly moving.

I happened to glance up, over her head, to a family sitting behind us. The mom gave me that look. You know the one – her eyes got big with… oh, what’s the word? Disapproval? Surprise? Sometimes I know immediately the reason why a fellow mother gives me this look. Usually it’s because my daughter is having a particularly difficult day and just happens to be swinging off some piece of fancy furniture or architecture in a public place, screeching like a pterodactyl.

(And I am proud to say that I’ve learned to just not care. I laugh it off and go on with my day. This is life with a toddler. Some days good, some days bad, and I know in my heart that most moms must know that. And if she’s judging me for laughing off a particularly rough moment, then she’s not the type of person I want to know or be friends with and certainly not the type of person whose opinion matters.)

But this look caught me completely off-guard, because it was very deliberate (for one), and (two) I had no idea what triggered it. Other than the fact that my daughter was a little wiggly in her chair, and we were all being a little loud with typical mealtime excitement… (Me included. “More pizza, please!”), I just couldn’t come up with an explanation. I went on with my meal and wrote off the woman’s look as, I don’t know, indigestion, I guess? Her children sat, eating in silence.

As the meal went on, the woman’s son, who I later learned was nine-months-old, started waving and smiling at my daughter. We waved and smiled back. I noticed that he was chewing on a wet napkin – the brown kind that they have at most restaurants. It was starting to fall apart.

My mom anxiety kicked in, as I watched him slowly eat half the napkin. Both parents were on their cell phones (no judging here, we do the same sometimes). So, I let the kid enjoy his paper-meal. “It’s none of my business,” I told myself, “Ellie has eaten a few bites of napkin in her life, a nibble of paper-towel. She’s chewed on a playing card before.” I took a deep breath.

Then the kid started to choke on what was left of the napkin. Gagging. Gasping for breath. My sister-in-law was watching, too, and she grabbed my arm.

“Okay, now we have to say something, right?” I whispered to her.
“Yes!” she replied nervously.

This wouldn’t be easy. I am not a judgmental mom, and I would never criticize another parent (except later, in the privacy of my own home, when Mark and I were lying in bed before falling asleep saying, “Oh my God, did you see that!?”).

And, of course, if my intuition was right, I could already sense that this was the type of mom who seemed content judging every other family in the restaurant but would not take kindly to a “judgy” eye being turned on her – even though my only concern was for her son’s oxygen intake and digestive tract. I would have to tread lightly.

I got up quickly, as if I was headed to get something at the front of the restaurant, and I casually put my hand on the arm of the gagging infant as I passed by. I said cheerily (and in an “Isn’t life grand!?” tone), to get the father’s attention, “He sure is enjoying that napkin! Haha!” The father looked up from his phone and quickly pulled the napkin out of the baby’s throat.

The mother looked horrified – not that her baby had been choking, I’m not sure she ever realized that – but that another mother had even passively mentioned, literally in passing, that her child was eating a napkin.

She quickly jumped in to defend herself, “He’s fine!” she blurted. Then she tried to laugh off her knee-jerk reaction, “Ha! Well, you can tell that this is our second child! We're very relaxed about it.” The father was equally defensive and began listing the many nutritional qualities of paper napkins.

“Oh, my daughter has eaten her fair-share of napkins, too, and she’s my first!” I blurted, through forced laughter, trying to ease the tension.

It all added up to one awkward situation that I quickly excused myself from. I made my way to the front of the restaurant where I faked needing a fork and rushed back to my table. I elbowed my sister-in-law to indicate relief in being done with that "Holy cow!" moment. The father turned back to his phone, and the child kept chewing his napkin.

I doubt that mother will ever make it over to my blog, to my small corner of the Internet, where this strange mom is now admitting to belittling the signs of a choking infant, in order to save the embarrassment of a mom who was obviously very concerned with how she was perceived by other parents in the restaurant… but on the off-chance that you are reading, I just wanted to tell you that:

We’re all in this together. It’s okay if you let your toddler chew on napkins to allow yourself 5 minutes of freedom to check Facebook or read an important text message. I won’t judge. And it’s okay if you didn’t even know he was eating the napkin or choking on it. He’ll survive. And, if it looks like he might not survive, I’ll step in to help.

The only thing I ask in return is that you not widen your eyes and look at me with disgust when I turn a blind eye to my wiggly, loud 2-year-old, so I can enjoy my same 5 minutes of peace. And maybe a kind word or smile would have helped. A look of knowing that we’re all fighting the same battle.

Yeah, that would have been nice.

What about you, moms? Have you had to step in to help another mom and been caught off guard by the reaction? I’d love to hear your stories!

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