An open letter to the well meaning people in Trader Joe’s

Picture this: a woman in her mid-thirties. Hair in a messy pony tail, yoga pants, UGGS and a sweatshirt on. Her two small children are energetic, talkative and sometimes impatient. The young girl, maybe 2? 3?, is pushing a child sized cart next to her mother. Even as the mother warns her daughter to “be careful”, the young girl pushes her tiny cart into a wall. There is laughing, chatting and then, coming as quickly as it leaves, crying. The baby is in the cart this whole time and is chewing on whatever he can get a hold of- a toy, an apple, the shopping list, his shoe….  You’ve seen this woman in the store…or you’ve been this woman. I was this woman the other day.

I was in Trader Joe’s the other day with my two children. They are 2.5 and (almost) 1, so they keep me on my toes, but I was armed with a list divided into categories, applesauce for my son and the multiple activities that Trader Joe’s provides for my daughter.6a00e554d86f248833013484b79c1d970c-800wi But, she’s a toddler and about half way through the store, she got excited and her small cart (with our juice, yogurt, black beans and apples, toppled over and brought her down with it. She often bounces back from that kind of spill…but that particular day, I was not so lucky. So, on came the screaming and the crying. As I bent down to sit on the floor with her and help her calm down, the advice started coming. A woman nearby shared, “You know, they have lollipops here.” Then from another patron, “Maybe you shouldn’t let her carry such heavy items in her cart, they tip easily.” Followed by: “Your son is chewing on his shoe…”

Thank you. Really, thanks for the support. But I’ve got it. It might not look like it, but I promise, I’m good. And that, I think, was the source of my frustration as I gathered my daughter up and replaced the shoe with Sophie– these strangers were making me feel like I wasn’t capable. With a smile on my face, a lot of F-bombs in my head, and my son’s rogue shoe in my hand, I made my way to the check out and told myself to ignore the well-meaning tips. Because they are well-meaning. But does that mean they are actually helpful?

Upon reflection, I started to think about how often we assume our way is the right way or we know the answer to the problem. How often we believe that we know what’s best for everyone else out there. This video certainly speaks to how some parents feel an innate right to judge others for their choices. Who am I to tell any parent, or anyone for that matter, how to conduct themselves? I may make different choices, but does that make them better choices?

Ultimately, I want to be quietly supportive when I see a mom with a kid melting down in Target. I don’t need to tell her what to do- I assume she knows what to do. When I talk to my friends who don’t have kids, I don’t want them to feel like they need to defend their position.  When I speak with my students and they share varying opinions on feminism, gay marriage, and abortion, I feel happy they were comfortable enough to share. It isn’t up to me if people buy organic. I hope they are deciding instead of sliding into these choices. I want to talk to people and have good conversations, not judgmental ones. My husband and I try to make informed and thoughtful decisions…sometimes we miss the boat, but that’s ok. As my Dad says, “That’s why they make erasers.”

The thing with the Trader Joe’s experience is that everyone who shared small tips or suggestions with me had good intentions. I’m good with advice when I ask for it, but maybe on that Trader Joe’s floor, while my daughter was crying and my shoe-chewing son was looking on, I needed some quiet support.