By the time my daughter Ravenna was seven weeks old, I had mastered parenting. Confident in my ability to meet her needs, I decided it was time for our first mother-daughter day out. A local outdoor mall boasted a beautiful new women’s lounge with ample space to nurse and change diapers. Perfect. I packed the kitchen sink into the diaper bag and ventured out.
Ravenna smiled at me from her stroller as we sauntered through boutique stores and treated ourselves to overpriced outfits and pastries. We basked in the early Spring sunshine, so precious and rare in Seattle.
While standing in line at Jamba Juice, Ravenna began to display her adorable little hunger cues: sucking her fingers and flapping her mouth like a fish. Being the stellar mom I was, I responded immediately. I marched with confidence, green smoothie in hand, toward the lounge.
I expertly backed the stroller through the door of the sparkly new space, and my happy, easy-going baby completely lost it. She howled. She turned beet red. She unleashed those oh-so-heartbreaking real tears. There is a polite word for this in the parenting world: a meltdown. The term I’d actually use is not appropriate for polite company.
I scrambled into a chair and yanked up my shirt. I hunched and twisted, trying to position the flailing creature on my breast when a stream of milk started spraying uncontrollably out of me. It drenched my clothes, the chair, and Ravenna’s screaming face, and collected in a puddle on the floor, along with my ego.
Over the chaos I heard an unmistakable sound. Retching. On a couch not ten feet from me, a woman was vomiting into a clear plastic bag, apparently forgetting that she was steps away from six perfectly good toilets. Her young son sat next to her, staring at the cascade of milk pouring out of me.
I was gagging and sweaty when Ravenna calmed down enough to latch. My spine was a mobius strip. Then in the sweet oxytocin-release of the moment, I caught glimpse of another woman in the corner. She sat perfectly upright in her chair, designer nursing cover draped regally over her silent baby. She gazed peacefully across the lounge with Buddha-like stillness, the epitome of womanhood giving life to the next generation of humanity. Her serenity was a knife in my heart. She was the perfect, confident mother I’d thought I was when I left home.
The fleeting calm was followed by an explosive blowout. As I struggled to clean poop off my baby and the pristine white changing table, I accepted defeat. Holy Mother Mary folded up her nursing cover and floated out the door. Patient Zero moaned on the couch, dry heaving. I grabbed the melted smoothie and the remnants of my dignity and limped out. My reflection in a store window later showed me that I’d forgotten to pull my shirt back down.
I arrived at the car in tears, but the more I shared this story with friends and family, the funnier it became. As a mom, I get to participate in the unscripted sitcom of life in a whole new way. And if I try really hard, I can start to view it as a blessing. That day was raw, and real, and it made me a stronger person; this couldn’t have happened if I didn’t open my heart and allow that baby to wiggle her way in.
I learned two things at the mall that day: to embrace the unpredictable absurdity of parental life, and when going out, to always bring a bottle.
About the Author
Jessica Towns works full time as a nose-wiper for an almost one year-old. She lives with her husband Will in Ballard, spending her limited free time writing, drinking coffee, and spacing out. Jessica has a civil engineering degree collecting dust somewhere.