Things people say

babblemouthSince being divorced and becoming a single mom, I’ve noticed that people sometimes assume things about me — my relationship status, how I spend my time, who I am. I’ve been collecting these tidbits for a while now and thought I’d share them with you. I know some of the people were well-intentioned; I just find it interesting (and puzzling) about what people will say to a complete stranger. I suppose this happens to everyone, right? I mean, when I was pregnant with Drama Girl I remember the man sitting next to me on the plane telling me (unsolicited) all the reasons why I should quit work to stay at home with my child. His main line of reasoning: “No one can love a child like his mother.” Well, no shit, Sherlock. But that doesn’t mean a child can’t be loved by more than his mother!

We all say strange, silly or just plain foot-in-the-mouth things now and then — I have, too — but next time you see a single woman with children try to avoid these:

Flashback: A few years ago

Scenario 1: I’m out shopping for kids’ clothes by myself. Another mother and I are scrounging through racks of clothes looking for the right sizes for our precious ones. She says, “If only our husbands knew how hard this was!” If only.

Scenario 2: I’m selected to be one of the parent volunteers for my daughter’s kindergarten Valentine Day party. I’m invited to the party planning meeting (sort of like this one — ha, not quite!), which is held at 9:30 a.m…just late enough to be inconvenient for a working parent who commutes over 20 miles each day to her employer. I walk into the cafeteria in my professional dress garb. One of the mothers smiles. “Oh, right. You’re our working mom!”


Later she was explaining some elaborate craft that included little IOU’s for the kids to fill out — “IOU a hug” or an IOU for keeping the toy room clean, that type of thing. The Party Mom explained that she was going to pre-address all the IOUs to save time — that is, to “Mom and Dad.” But she had decided against this, lamenting that a child might not have a mom and a dad due to divorce, death, one parent being jailed for assaulting a lame-brain homeroom mother trapped in a 1950’s time warp…

Needless to say I wholeheartedly agreed we should let each child decide who should receive the IOU. (Note that the first part of this story became the premise for my essay in the Chicken Soup for the Working Mom’s Soul. Hey, use what you’ve got!)

Flashback: Last year

Scenario: I’m at the unfinished wood furniture store buying a bookcase. I’m going through bookcasethe delivery details with the 70-something man helping me, and I make a comment about having the guys deliver the bookcase right into my family room so I could stain it in there (after everything was prepped and covered, of course). This way, I explained, I wouldn’t have to find someone to help me move the bookcase up from the more logical places people stain furniture, like a garage. The man suggested I should have my husband help me move the piece. I chuckled and said I didn’t have one of those at home.

He seemed confused by this. “Oh, I assumed everyone who came in here was married.”

Is there a local ordinance I’m not aware of?

Flashback: Last month

Scenario 1: On the way back from my grandmother’s funeral I’m standing in line at a Starbucks on the Ohio Turnpike with my very fidgety kids. A mom standing next to me with her own fidgety kids grumbles: “If only our husbands knew how hard this was!” [she may have said something a little different, but it definitely had the same meaning as before]

Scenario 2: The kids and I are dining in the hotel restaurant on the same trip before heading over to the funeral home. The bloated, gold chain wearing night manager comes over and wants to make small talk. (I think he’s also checking me out. Ew.) He asks how we are, what brings us to the area, etc. I tell him why we’re there and try to discourage further talk. He’s oblivious and keeps talking.

“Oh, so dad didn’t make the trip?”

I want to say “no, but I’m sure his girlfriend is keeping him company.” Which is FINE because we’re not married anymore. But that isn’t the worst of it. The worst is when the manager then asks the kids if they’ve tried out the pool – the big pool, the one with the hot tub, the one with the…

T-Rex looks at me. “Mom, you didn’t tell us they had a pool!”

No, son, I didn’t. On purpose. Because I knew we wouldn’t have enough time to enjoy it.


Scenario 3: We’re in the church during my grandmother’s funeral mass. Long story short, the priest is using the analogy of a child being born and learning how terrific life is outside the womb to explain how my grandmother is in a better place now where her spirit thrives and that she would not want to come back. Anyway, he invites Drama Girl up to the front as part of his sermon. He looks at her, then at me. “This is your daughter?” he asks me. I nod. “Dad isn’t here today?” Here we go again. I shake my head and grit my teeth.

He goes on to ask my daughter if she came from my belly and if she remembered being in there. (She doesn’t.) He glances over at me at one point and asks, “You did carry her — right?”

No, Father. My lesbian lover and I had an aging rock star fertilize my Drama Egg in a test tube and hired an atheist surrogate to carry her for us.

need to keep praying

I didn’t say that — you know, considering the circumstances and all. But you can be sure I was thinking it.

(The hands are a little reminder to keep praying for me!)

I don’t know — do strangers ever say strange things to you? Or do I give off a special pheromone that makes me special?


9 thoughts on “Things people say

  1. Gah! People are so tactless!! How do you handle it?

    Unfortunately all the tactless comments in my life are not made by strangers, but instead by my inlaws. Awesome. At least I know to expect it.

  2. You don’t give off special pheromones that encourage people to say stupid things to you, Susan. Some people are just stupid. The next time someone asks you why “Dad didn’t come,” get the offspring out of earshot, look the inquisitor in the eye, and tell ’em, “Dad is dead.”

    That’ll wipe the stupid looks off their faces.

    I don’t understand the stupidity of the priest who said your grandmother’s funeral mass. Has he never performed a funeral for a youngish person before? Is it in the realm of possibility that you’re widowed, or–heaven forbid–divorced? Has he not ever met a divorced woman with children?

    How is he in the position to guide people spiritually if he has no idea of what goes on in their daily lives? If this priest is a Catholic, isn’t that an argument for allowing him to marry? (I’m a Catholic who suffers an approach/avoidance conflict with the church.)

    I like the guy’s homily about your grandmother’s soul being in a place she wouldn’t leave, but the rest of it….

    And, as for that woman at school, who referred to you as “working mom,” don’t get me started! I can’t stand it when women divide themselves into these silly categories. I have a friend who stays home with her children and is drunk by noon. My sister-in-law works all day in a hospital and races home to help her children do their homework and take them to activities. Whether or not you work outside the home has nothing to do with your quality as a parent.

    I am praying for you!

  3. MinivanBohemian says:

    I think many of these times people are really trying to be friendly and make small talk. (I know that I would have said something like the lady scrounging for clothes…when you feel under appreciated, you want to find a sympathetic person who shares your plight. What she should have said was, “I wish their under-appreciating tools-for-fathers understood how hard it is to stretch a freaking buck. Let’s take our savings and go get hammered.” Or something similar.
    I think if you had been a dad at a hotel with the kids they would have just assumed that you were divorced and kept their big fat mouths shut.
    We are not so “PC” towards women like we are towards people with disabilities or ethnic groups. I think Hillary Clinton finds herself hated by people merely because she is smart, successful, and ambitious without apologizing for it.
    Let’s take our savings and get hammered, and then burn our bras. (But only the ones that are kinda ratty anyway. I look really flat without a bra…)

  4. Geez, Susan, I think you have had some doozies. I can’t think of anything I’d write in a post about this topic — no “I can’t believe s/he said that to me” moments come to mind. I agree with Terry: Some people are just thoughtless/clueless/stupid. And that priest? I do have a good clueless priest story — the one at my cousin’s wedding who likened marriage to getting up on the cross (I think the message was supposed to be “sacrifice.”) We were all chuckling afterward over that one.

  5. Lauren: I “handle” it (if you could call it that) by smiling — if necessary, with something I imagine to be a glare or a wry smile. Not an impressive comeback, I realize. Perhaps that’s a good strategy for handling your in-laws. Smile and nod, make it go away. Oh, my heart goes out to you on that one! Hang in there…

    Terry/Mini/Chris: You raise a lot of good questions and points. I *do* think the moms I met were just commiserating, Mini; I really didn’t hold it against them. Just an observation that I’m sure I wouldn’t have even noticed if I was married — I guess it’s experiencing conversation from a different perspective.

    I also agree with the fact that we women are often our own worst enemies (like we need THAT). As I think I’ve written on my blog before, the work/stay-at-home “debate,” for example, is plain nonsense — even if we all can back up the stereotypes on both sides with real, live examples. It’s a personal choice, and I know plenty of kick-ass moms wearing each of those labels, including my readers here. We’re all trying to do the best we can for our kids, our families and ourselves(last!). Why other people feel the need to identify one “category” as right or wrong is beyond me.

    Why the salesman at the furniture store thinks only married people shop there is also beyond me. That is my personal favorite! And why the priest asked me in the middle of his sermon whether I carried DG in my womb — *that* one he obviously didn’t think through very well! What if I had said “no”? How would he have handled it? I wasn’t mad, just dumbfounded.

    But, honestly, I probably would have been so horrified by the question that instead of answering “no” I would have simply smiled and nodded. Works every time.

  6. Once when Bubba was about a week old, I took him to Starbucks (where my husband was manager) just to get out of the house for a while. While we were there, two older ladies came up to me and were talking about how cute he was, etc. Then one of them said “Just think, one day he’s going to go off and get married to somebody and leave you.”

    Lady, you don’t say that to a hormonal, just previously pregnant woman about her new baby boy! Not smart!

  7. Oh my! Being the mom of two adopted Asian kids, and one not-adopted special needs kid, I get idiot questions like you wouldn’t believe! One of my finest moments was when an acquaintance, referring to my adopted girls, asked, “Do you know where their parents are?” I didn’t flinch or miss a beat. I just smiled and said, “Yes, they’re in Pittsburgh.” She looked stunned and asked “Really? Do you know them?” I said, “Oh yes. Their names are Elizabeth and (my husband’s name).” She froze for a minute and then said, “Oh. I get it. Sorry.”

    But usually, like you, I just smile and try to remind myself that they almost certainly mean well.

  8. Elizabeth: Believe me, my examples pale in comparison to what I can only imagine you’ve heard. I read an article a few months ago by a mother of two adopted Asian girls and she recounted almost the same story about a woman asking about her children’s parents and “where they were from”. I’m not perfect, but I can’t fathom people would be so bold/tactless/clueless to really ask something like that — even if they wanted to know it! C’MON, folks. Use your noggin’…although maybe there ain’t so much floating around in those noggins (good intentions or not).

  9. Lani says:

    Good Lawd! Can I join your club?

    Here are a few of my favorites:

    – Being Hawaiian, I am constantly asked “How do I like America?” Ask any 5th grader and they will tell you, Hawaii is a state PEOPLE!

    – Because the Soccer Stud and I play a lot of soccer together, if I show up to play a game without the SS everyone asks “Where’s your husband? Is he not playing?” I usually turn around a start yelling for someone to introduce me to my husband because I didn’t know I had one.

    – This one is my favorite! I will run into someone I haven’t seen in a long time or if I just meet some one new and I have my kids with me people always ask me if my children have the same father. I usually tell them it was a really slutty time in my life and I don’t know who their fathers are or if they have the same father because of all the drugs. You should see the look on their face!

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