Reminiscing on The Toddler Death Stare

I remember coming home from the grocery store when my daughter was 3 years old and bursting into tears.

The trip had pretty much been a perfect grocery store experience.  There had been no meltdowns, no hanging around by the sliding doors for all of eternity marvelling at their wonder, no pestering for dolls or magazines or onions (I'm not kidding about the onions...)  It had been easy going, smooth sailing, even pleasant.

Until we reached the checkout.

The lady serving us took one look at my little girl and uttered the words that have followed us round for her entire life...

"Oh my goodness!!!!  Her hair!!!!  Look at her beautiful hair!!!!"

(She has awesome hair.)

Then...the killer question: "How old are you?"

My daughter offered this lady only one response: The Toddler Death Stare.

The checkout lady shifted uncomfortably in her seat while I answered on behalf of my daughter and thanked her for the compliment, before paying and getting the hell out of there.

In the car on the way home, my daughter happily recounted every detail of the trip.  She read the roadsigns out loud and reminisced about the "kind lady" who loved her hair so much.

Yes, my child could speak.  She just chose not to in that moment.  And in every other moment of social interaction with a stranger for the first 4 years of her life.

I remember on this particular morning, all those months ago, it all just felt...too much to handle.  So I got home and I cried.  I cried because my 3 year old wouldn't converse with a checkout tired must I have been?!

(I really was tired.)

Yet I wasn't tired of my daughter and her watchful ways, nor of her attachment to me or our easygoing, relaxed and connected days.  I was tired of other people's opinions on those things.

Because our society sneers at toddlers who show strong, biologically appropriate attachments to their mothers.  Our culture expects toddlers to chit-chat with strangers, while simultaneously reinforcing the mantra that 'children should be seen and not heard'.  Our kids are expected to race off into preschools without even a second glance back, yet stick to our sides like glue at the grocery store.  With so many contradictions, it's easy for the self-doubt to start to edge into a sleep-deprived mum's psyche.

I'm here to tell you, tired mums, that society has a lot to answer for.

I get it, I really do.  It's easy to get lost in the crazy when the world is telling us that our kids should be: loud/quiet, outgoing/relaxed, funny/serious, affectionate/reserved.

Take it from me, the years are short (...the days are indeed long, and don't get me started on the nights...) and quite simply, what other people think of us is none of our business.

Let them judge my child for being quiet.  The same people will be judging her loud moments too.

Let them judge my child for being cautious.  The same people will be judging her daring moments as well.

Let them judge my child for being attached.  The same people will be judging her for her confidence in the years to come.

This I am sure of.

Let them keep their judgements.  They have nothing to do with us.

At the time, I remember feeling like every other child in every other grocery store in every other town was happily chatting to checkout assistants about the intricacies of their pensions and whatnot...why wouldn't my child speak in those moments?  Was it me?  Was I stifling her?  Was I not encouraging her?  Am I that much of a social recluse that she had absorbed my implicit 'don't speak to me' vibes?

And then something happened.

She just...grew up a little.  Matured slightly.  Got a little bit older.

I didn't coerce her into chatting with strangers, nor did I stifle her chatter with a sudden dose of extroversion (I can assure you that my own Death Stare is alive and well...)

And so with this natural maturity, came two things:

  1. Volume.
  2. Opinions.

Today, as we cruised the grocery store together, I was the mum telling my kid to "put the tomatoes down."  I was the mum saying "no" more than "yes" as every single item in the store was touched, prodded, jiggled and hurled at our trolley.  I was the mum holding her breath when the checkout lady followed the hair script (yes, she still has awesome hair) and asked the killer question...and not because I was worried that she might not say 'enough', but because if ever there's a chance of saying too much, my girl will grab it with both hands...

As I ushered my ever-chattering, dancing daughter out of the store, I couldn't help but catch a glimpse of the mum and toddler duo at the next till along.  Even from a distance, I could recognise the mum's unease.  I could see her fleeting panic and embarrassment.  I have not forgotten The Toddler Death Stare.

If only she knew.  If only she knew that in a mere year or two's time, she would be looking back at those days of peaceful, mama-centred shopping trips and wondering what the big deal was.

Our children are who they are in the moment they find themselves in - and no matter what society's outdated and often damaging expectations of these tiny-yet-ever-maturing humans are on any given yourself above the judgements.  Trust your children above the unsolicited advice.

Hear me when I say, you're doing great mama.

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