The other day I was head sucker, I mean counselor, on duty at Mom Camp. We were at the California Academy of Sciences, fooling around, waiting to go up on the neato living roof and blind the crap out of our eyes trying to see the Transit of Venus by pushing the tourists wearing $65 San Francisco fleeces out of our way.
It was a warm June day, by San Francisco standards. The kids were in shorts. I actually carried my hoodie in my giant mom-purse instead of burrowing inside of its warm hoodiness. The tourists didn’t need the fleeces. But I understand why they were chilly. I’m from Texas where the temperature is fifty degrees warmer so I get it.
I know I digress, but it’s okay. The relative warmness of the day is essential to this story.
Since it was a delightfully balmy 62 degree day, I forced the kids to stop gawking at all of the crusty old taxidermified animals, and I put them outside to tear it up in the sunshine. We had some lunch. Chilled out a little with some nice kid chatter: “what would happen if a real earthquake happened while we were in the fake earthquake exhibit?” and “did you know that my friend was on the toilet during an earthquake and the toilet broke?”
The little girls soon ran off to play “Family” by climbing around on the sea lion sculptures and hollering at each other over who gets to be the big sister first.
The big kids dutifully sprayed on some sunscreen to protect their translucent Northern California flesh from the rigors of a rare sunny day. They launched into the sort of creative free fall that earnest progressive white parents lust over: a complicated plot involving submarines and being stranded on an island and earthquakes and flesh-eating crabs. Totally awesome.
I lurked near the older children, eavesdropping and playing with my phone, wishing I had remembered to bring a Chelsea Handler book or at least a douchey magazine. But I still felt at peace. The kids were happy. Venus was about to slither her way across the face of Mr. Sun. The warm air felt good on my own translucent skin. And it was actually a nice day in the summer in San Francisco for crying out loud. I smiled into the sky and closed my eyes for a minute.
And then a shadow fell across me.
I opened my eyes to see a woman in a long skirt with wild curly hair (I’ll admit, not unlike my own shredded wheat-ish mess) standing in front of me and one of the big girls in my group. A limp ergo baby carrier hung from the woman’s waist.
She stared at the big girl and back at me, a crooked, expectant smile parting her nude lips.
“I can still smell that sunscreen,” she said directly to the big girl. Then the woman turned and cocked her head at me, looking for my reaction.
Still in my stupid haze of sunny day joy, I nodded my head and smiled, thinking that the hippie mom was just making small talk.
Hippie Mom hovered over us like she was waiting for something. I kept grinning like a geek. For some reason I felt like saying, “Far out.”
“It was very intense,” she finally said. And folded her arms and scowled at the ten-year-old child to let us know she meant business about the scent of the sunscreen.
It suddenly dawned on me that the woman had gone out of her way, crossing the open yard outside the museum, to fuss at a little girl about chemical sensitivity. Seriously? Seriously.
I sat up straight and pondered how to respond to this. A few choice words crossed my mind: Like asking her if the Tibetian prayer flags outside her house in Berkeley were what led her to try and shame a little girl. Like does she go about her whole life marching up to strangers in judgment? Like who the hell does she think she is?
Then I remembered being a new mom, full of dogmatic indignation that everyone else was doing this whole parenting thing wrong and the even more overwhelming certainty that I was for sure doing this whole parenting thing wrong more than they were. But did I ever march up to a stranger and tell her that her sunscreen offended me? Did I ever hover over a little girl, waiting for an acknowledgment of my overblown sense of righteousness? I don’t think I did, but I’m sure I was a total asshole in some other way.
So I took a deep breath, put on my best fake, I mean compassionate, smile and looked up at the judgmental mommy with the hairy armpits.
“I’m sorry it bothered you,” I said and I forced some dimples. But behind my ginormous sunglasses my eyes squinted up in a glare. And fuck off, they secretly added.
“Thank you,” she gave an earnest nod. “I hope the sunscreen works for you.” She spun around and sang after her toddler, a child with a traditional male name but who wore an all-pink outfit and had longish hair. I’ll let the cliché rest there.
I turned to face the child I was with who had just been targeted by the Hippie Mom’s virtue. Was she upset?
The girl and I faced each other and both of us busted up laughing. I’m sure Hippie Mom heard it but I don’t care.
“Ready to go see the Transit of Venus?” I asked.
“Uh-huh!” she giggled. And a sweet little bond passed between us.
I nodded and shook out my own mess of windblown hair. “Far out.”