I tense up before I even walk through the door of the school gym. I have to pause and scan the immediate area for any sign of danger. As I enter, my guard is up and my anxiety does not ease until I am in my spot with my back against the wall.
Sounds dramatic. But I am the ostracized mom. The one that did The Thing that was whispered far and wide, among parents and kids. Before, I was just another random parent, or at the minimum known as my daughter’s mom. Now I am The One. Talk about her and make sure to avoid her.
Scrutiny from others is rarely comfortable, but when it intertwines with your child, it is nearly unbearable. We’ve all done things we are not proud of. Done something clearly unacceptable, even by our own standards. Maybe too much to drink at the Friday get together for the classroom families or said something to another parent (or child) that was considered a crime in some countries (or both). Most often the case, we’ve done something in which only one side of the story is told. And we are judged. Labeled. Stared at. Talked about. We have options of course, to demand the world listen to The Truth. But to do so causes lines to be drawn and names dragged through the mud. It only perpetuates The Thing to grow and continue to circulate. And in the end, makes it worse for your child. But the explanation still feels like it would be a band aid to the open wound of The Thing, making it feel better. It won’t.
As much as we like to say, “it doesn’t matter what other people think”, deep down we all have the desire to be accepted, or for some of us, just not be noticed. How envious I am of those parents who are only faces, who have the freedom to hear about things others have said and done and just nod their head quietly. They have never thrown back the extra glass of wine and broke the television at Mr. and Mrs. Smith’s house at the neighborhood Christmas party. Or told a mouthy, bully of a minor child to go fuck themselves. Loudly. At the football game. With the principal watching.
Or something much worse than either of those.
When I see a talker, whether child or adult at this point, I take in who they are speaking with. I have to tell myself that it is unlikely they are talking about me and The Thing. My mind and my heart rarely connect when I tell myself that, and I’m left with a tangle of determination to “get over it” and the damn near physical hurt of a scarlet letter. I look to see if my own child is witnessing the circulation. Her resiliency is apparent, or her oblivion, as she does not ever seem to pay attention the way I do.
Until she does. Then she runs over, hugs me, and tells me she loves me. With no explanation. And then I know she saw or heard The Thing being discussed, and it was her way of reminding me I am worth more than other people’s gossip. I realize The Thing has now led to my own child comforting me. And I want to hang my head in shame.
Yes, I feel ashamed and embarrassed. I wish I could erase it. I know in time it will dissipate among the masses and it will be completely forgotten once another parent is labeled as The One. But I won’t forget. I will relive it every time I see a certain person, or I am back in a certain place. I’ll look at my child and think about how sorry I am, as they are a casualty of my bad decision. I am not perfect, and I try to find the lesson in The Thing to ease my pain.
If we are lucky, we find other ostracized moms. Others who have also been subjected to a jury without a trial. Who do not speak up, because their side of the story ignites a bigger flame on both sides of the fire, and leaves even the healthiest places scorched. When the next person becomes The One, let us remember there is more to a story than the glamour and gasping that the talkers crave so much. Remember that The One has a piece in them that wishes they could have a redo, so they can stop reliving The Thing. And when we see them walk into the gym, give them a nod to know they are not alone.
About the author: Liz J. is a mom of three daughters who uses writing as therapy, and has never submitted an article until today. No social media links or blog sites. Just a mom trying to do her best with what she has and what she knows.