Shirani Alfreds is an expat mother of two living in Shanghai. She will be writing about her experiences in a regular "Dragon Mama" blog for Urban Family.
So I never thought I’d be one of ‘those’ mums, you know, the ones that differentiate between the ‘us’ and the ‘them’? i.e. the ones that have children vs. the ones that don't? If you’ve never met any of these people, lucky you! I’ve found those attitudes rather demeaning, either in their superiority (‘I have procreated and know everything’) or self-imposed martyrdom that parenting is so hard (the underlying implication being that they are somehow better people for having children).
Puh-lease, get over yourselves, parenting in most cases is a choice. I’m also one of those people that thinks a person is a person, regardless of mother/parenthood, though I recognize that others might define themselves by this. Hence, I never really ‘got’ the ‘us vs. them’ thing in seven years of parenting until I recently encountered a serious medical situation with my one-year-old.
It all happened when our 15-month-old had crackly breathing, and was super cranky along with a high fever. So, of course I took her into the doctor. After blood tests, being probed here and there, being made to drink medicine, and being held under a nebuliser (from the perspective of a toddler this is a very scary, noisy smoke machine that clamps over your mouth and nose – not nice), she was also subjected to an X-Ray. Suffice to say not only was she screaming her head off by then, but I was on the verge of a very teary nervous breakdown myself. (Two nights of sleep deprivation with a sick child possibly contributed to this). That’s when the ‘us’ versus ‘them’ surfaced in me right at the doctor’s office:
“You want me to leave her alone on that scary-ass cold-as-steel X-Ray table with a high fever, stripped half naked with a strange old man yelling in Chinese at her? DO YOU HAVE BABIES?" I wanted to roar.
“You want me to nebulise her three times a day? Great, I’m sure she’ll sit still, and allow me to put a clamp over her vital breathing organs that resembles and sounds like Darth Vadar’s grand-aunt on a pack of smokes a day? SHE’S A TODDLER FOR GOD’S SAKE! KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS?"
"No problem, after three hours stuck here to diagnose my very sick baby with broncho-pneumonia I’ll wait even longer for you to get the bill sorted. WHAT THE HELL IS THE MATTER WITH YOU? DO YOU EVEN HAVE CHILDREN?"
Those were my three melting-down points when the ‘us vs. them’ gremlin surfaced. To be honest, I have no idea if any of those people had children or not, but my guess is that they probably did, and the problem lay more in my sleep deprivation and worry - the two very motherly things that in those moments defined me.
In fact, I can safely say that in the entire three hours in the doctor’s office I was nothing else but a mother as I could think of nothing but my baby’s health, what was going to happen, calming her down and just loving her to pieces to make sure she was ok. Being my own person didn’t even enter my mind and I didn’t need it to. The episode taught me that more than the inefficiencies of the medical system, sometimes in order to personalise your experience within it, you have to get a little…motherly.
Thankfully, our little one is bouncing back slowly and showing signs of toddler mayhem again. At our follow up check, as I waited for the bill (patiently this time), she helped herself to some water in a cup, pouring it randomly as is typical of her age. I didn’t restrain her as I usually would, relieved she was back to her curious ‘exploratory’ self. When I looked up, the cashier was staring in horror and I thought, smiling at her, ‘Yeap, you don’t have kids.’
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