Like most any Southern California June evening, it was gorgeous tonight. I came home, the kid was in a good mood, there was plenty of daylight and I needed to be outdoors.
I popped the kid into the stroller, grabbed both dogs and decided to take advantage of the expanse of sidewalks and safety of my neighborhood.
My phone rang. The person calling was someone I needed to talk to.
As a multi-tasker, I shook some Cheerios onto the stroller tray, strapped one of the dogs to the handle, grabbed the other dog’s leash with my left hand, opened our gate, answered the phone with my right hand and took off down the block.
The person on the other end of the phone was a co-worker of mine and we had been missing each other’s calls recently. See, we’re part of this team and we needed to collaborate and share ideas because our team is in a good spot to make some positive impacts and we had to talk through it.
So I’m walking down the street; the kiddo is enjoying the outdoors, the dogs are sniffing – and peeing – on every patch of grass, and I am breaking it down on the phone. Everyone in my family at that moment was happy.
Our street is heavily lined with trees – big ones that give off a great amount of shade and where the sun was in the sky, it was providing ample daylight but wasn’t blinding or overly hot.
I turn a corner and see a lady walking her dog. She is pointing at me and making hand gestures like the two of us are competing in a game of Charades. I look around and notice nothing out of the ordinary. Dogs are fine. Kid is smiling, Cheerios in her hand and crumbs on her face. I’m on the phone. I give a half-hearted head nod.
Then I realized something.
To the layperson, it looked like just another dad way out of his element acting like he was in control when the chaos around him seemed otherwise. This woman probably thought the Apocalypse was happening when she soaked in this view.
Ohmygawd, that man has a baby and two dogs and is on the phone! How dare he! I should call child protective services!
I looked at her again and she was waving her palm over her head. Then I realized she was telling me to put the stroller shade over my kid’s head.
And then I got pissed.
Look, I didn’t tell you to wear a rose-colored V-neck shirt that was a size too small, tucked into your khaki shorts from Ross.
And flip flops with socks is not a good look for anyone. And I sure as hell didn’t tell you to get that ridiculous haircut like you’re trying to look like Carol from The Walking Dead.
So why are you trying to control what I do as a parent?
My kid was happy. The sun was not in her eyes. It was not hot. We were actually in the shade when this happened. I was dominating the multi-task game.
It’s not like I was swinging my kid off a Paris balcony with a towel around its head like Michael Jackson.
I’ll do shitty enough things as this child’s father, but what gives you the right to judge me based on a sun shade being rolled up? Maybe if I had told you that when I do put it above my kid’s head, she cries because she likes absorbing God’s green earth, sun be damned. And maybe because I had everything under control with two dogs, a kid in a stroller and a phone conversation and since you could barely dress yourself, you should back off and let me do the parenting.
I was openly being judged and had done nothing wrong. In fact – I was doing everything right. I was taking my child for a walk, I was taking my dogs for a walk, and I was engaging in a great work conversation with someone I needed to talk with.
Sorry for being awesome.
We all judge other parents. It makes us feel better – even if only a small amount – about our lot in life. But when my judgment courses through my brain, it will be because you’re holding your kid upside down by the ankle while shopping at the grocery store. Or when you shove your kid to the ground to get to the swing at the playground. Or when your eight-year old is allowed to watch R-rated movies.
When I truly screw up my kid’s development, then you can step in. Until then, let me decide what’s working and not working for my child.