I recently met a soon-to-be mom who shared a litany of worries with me: which car seat to buy, how to pay for day care, how to raise a normal kid in a social-media obsessed world, how to make sure she didn’t mess up her child.
She was crying and I did my best to calm her, offering the names of great parenting books, advice on self-advocacy at work and a story of when I was a new mom. I thought it might be just the thing to help her realize no mom is perfect.
I was 24, driving through our small town with my 4-month-old snug in her car seat, heading to her babysitter. It was a Wednesday, and I got paid on Fridays — and as a journalist, I didn’t get paid much. In fact, when I covered a teachers’ strike, the teachers were appalled at my salary.
My license plate tag had expired, but at that point my husband had enough money to pay the sitter or get the tag – but not both. We chose the sitter, knowing we could pay for the tag in two days.
I was about a mile from the sitter’s when I saw flashing lights in my rear-view mirror. I was late, so I stuck my arm out my window and waved for the officer to follow me — and I kept driving.
Let it be said that I was probably not thinking real clearly at the time. Our daughter had just started sleeping through the night, and by “sleeping through the night” I mean sleeping in 4-hour stretches before waking up to breastfeed. (When this same daughter, now a mother herself, complains about her 3-year-old waking up occasionally in the middle of the night, I have only one word for her: karma.)
I was not only sleep deprived, but seriously hormonal, as all new mothers are for nearly the first year after birth. So, when I got to the sitter’s apartment, I unbuckled the baby from her car seat and yelled at the cop, “I’ll be right back!” while sprinting up to the sitter’s apartment.
The officer called after me, “Ma’am! You can’t just drive away. And you can’t run away either! And your license tag is expired!”
I dropped the baby off and ran back to my car and the officer and I proceeded to have an argument about my money-strapped tiny family. He insisted I couldn’t drive without tags and I explained that I needed the car to get to work, so I could get paid, so I could afford the tags.
“You do see how this works, right?” I said, shocking myself at my mouthiness. (Like I said, hormones. Also white privilege.)
“That’s not my problem, ma’am. Don’t let me see you driving it again until you have tags.”
He drove off in one direction and I went in the other to my newspaper job.
The next morning, being just as tired as the prior one, I drove the exact same path to the babysitter and – surprise! – the exact officer was on my route. His lights lit up my rear-view and I put my arm out the window and waved him to follow me to the sitter. He hit his siren instead, stepping on my last nerve.
Normally I am a respectful person, especially around the police. But four months of interrupted sleep will turn normally respectful people into lunatics and that’s exactly what I was at that moment. I pulled over, jumped out of my car and yelled, “Throw me in jail if you want, but then you have to breastfeed my baby!” For maximum effect, I threw my hands in the air.
I still remember the look on the cop’s face. It was as if he’d seen a crazy person, which I suppose, at that moment, I was.
“Ma’am, put your arms down. You’re not under arrest.”
“I might as well be! I don’t have money until tomorrow for the stupid tags! Just throw me in jail!”
He walked cautiously toward me, glanced in the backseat at my cooing baby, and said, “Just get back in your car, lady. And take car of the tag tomorrow when you get paid.”
Which is exactly what I did, on my lunch hour, after cashing my check.
The worried mom I shared this story with stopped crying and started laughing.
“You’re right,” she said, “I probably won’t do anything that bad.”