I had to tell a child for the millionth time that we do not yuck another person’s yum. We do not look at something someone else is eating, and express our opinion that their food is gross; we do not observe someone else’s passionate interest and then volunteer, unasked, the information that we think that interest is stupid and boring and a waste of time. Oh, you don’t like every single thing liked by every single other person? HOW INTERESTING, HOW UNIQUE, WELCOME TO THE HUMAN RACE. We can use empathy to consider how bad it would feel to have someone sneering at what WE like, and know that we should not sneer at what THEY like.
Later that same day, I was thinking about how tempting it is, at this stage of parenting, to idealize the earlier stages: I see someone out with a baby in a baby carseat, and I just want to tell her how LOVINGLY I remember it: the sweet little baby companion in the cart, cheeks within easy squeezing-reach! But wait: when I was in that stage, I rejoiced in the times I did NOT have to take the baby with me to the store. And I absolutely did not want to hear how I should cherish every moment. I wanted to hear how cute my baby was, YES. I wanted to be asked how old the baby was and what the baby’s name was, YES. But I did NOT enjoy being told again and again by what seemed like an endless procession of older ladies that I should be appreciating every moment, and that it all went by so fast, and that I would be sorry when it was over that I hadn’t appreciated it more. Because, as I also remember, that stage was filled with a weeping lack of sleep, and babies who cried unless they were held even when I had things to do that were incompatible with that, and blow-out diapers right after baths, and having to constantly assess the well-being of a child who COULD NOT TALK, and treasuring the two minutes I could be by myself in the bathroom, and having fantasies about getting sent to prison so I could be by myself, and so on.
I was NOT cherishing every moment, NOR SHOULD I HAVE if I wanted to continue being counted among the sane: some parts were just TERRIBLE, and we don’t have to pretend they weren’t, let alone feel guilty in advance for not ENJOYING them enough. Hearing someone else claim to have gone through this same stage and to have emerged thinking of it as the best time of her life made me feel like RUNNING SCREAMING INTO THE SEA. Oh, it’s all downhill from here, then? GOOD TO KNOW, BRB FLINGING MYSELF OFF CLIFF. Oh, I’m going to REGRET not CHERISHING the diaper that required me to mop up the baby as best I could with rough brown paper towels in a public bathroom, then wrap his soiled clothes as best I could in more paper towels so that I could get them home, then wrap the baby in a blankie and go back out into the store to buy him a new outfit on the spot so he wouldn’t have to go out into the sharp winter weather without clothes? In the future I will be looking back on this moment as belonging to THE BEST TIME OF MY LIFE? THANK YOU FOR THAT GIANT DOSE OF DESPAIR ABOUT MY SAD FUTURE, OLDER LADY.
(What’s funny is that one of my happy memories ACTUALLY IS the time Elizabeth threw up in the car when my mom and I were almost to Target. She mostly just got it on her clothes, so we stripped her down to her diaper, put her clothes into a plastic bag I kept in the car because car-barfing was not rare, cleaned her up with baby wipes kept in the car for the same reason, and then went into Target and I had the excuse of buying her the darling four-piece mix-and-match Carter’s pink elephant pajamas I’d really wanted to buy her. I went through the line with Elizabeth and the pajamas while my mom waited with the cart and the other kids, and I took her right into the bathroom and put one set on her, and then we continued shopping and she looked adorable, and I felt so RESOURCEFUL to have handled the whole situation, and so HAPPY to have those cute new pajamas.)
Anyway, thinking of both of those things on the same day made me realize one is the flip of the other: we shouldn’t yuck someone else’s yum—but also, we should try not to yum someone else’s yuck. If we know from personal experience that a particular stage of life is filled with loveliness but also with suckiness, we should avoid rhapsodizing about the loveliness in a way that makes the other person feel as if they can’t admit to any suckiness, or as if they alone are finding it sucky whereas WE found it wreathed in roses and angel-song. When someone else is going through an experience universally acknowledged to be rough (even if also glorious), we should avoid telling them it was the best time of our life, even if we now remember it that way, even if it turns out it actually was. It’s not going to sound like good news to the hearer.
Similarly, I saw someone posting on Facebook about something they were worried about, and someone else commented “I’d love to have that problem,” and then added a mention of her own problem, which was indeed worse, and yet the original person’s complaint was not about something anyone would “love to have.” It should go without saying that we do not tell someone else that their worry/problem/issue is actually a POSITIVE thing when compared to our own problems. We do not yum someone else’s yuck, or act as if we think they should be yumming it.
I remember what was my favorite thing to hear, as I was walking through a store with a fussing baby and fretful toddler. I would be fighting my way through a store, and someone would hold a door for me and I would thank her fervently, and she would say, “Oh, no problem—I remember those days!” Or if my child was being loud and unpleasant in a store, I loved to get a sympathetic look from another mom, combined with “Oh I’ve been there!” Do you know what those words told me? That I was one in a long line of women going through this same experience—and that other women had LIVED THROUGH IT. That one day, I would be able to hold the door for someone else, because my hands would be free. And that I would think, “Oh, how nice that my hands are free,” instead of thinking, “OH GOD, MY HANDS ARE FREE AND NOW I AM MISERABLE AND I REGRET NOT REVELING IN WHAT I ONCE THOUGHT WAS MISERY AND NOW PERCEIVE AS PURE JOY WHEN COMPARED TO THE FRESH HELL THAT IS MY LATER LIFE.”