The worst insult you can give a woman is to call her a bad mother, even if she has no children.
Allow me to explain.
Last weekend at the grocery store, I was unloading my groceries from my cart onto the checkout belt. I was a bit frazzled this particular morning because the line had moved more quickly than I expected and thus cut into my tabloid reading time. So I had one eye on my cart, and one on the headlines. Every celebrity couple was either (a) breaking up, (b) pregnant, or (c) breaking up because the nanny was pregnant. And while this was not surprising, I hadn’t yet read the article on William and Kate’s possible pregnancy so I was left on the cliff of suspense. I’d have to stop at Target to finish the article in line without buying the magazine. The fact that it is impossible to spend less than a hundred dollars in Target and this magazine only cost $3.99 is, of course, irrelevant.
As I pondered Kate’s photograph, trying to determine if it was a baby bump or Photoshop, I felt eyes on me. You know what I’m talking about. I wasn’t just being watched.
I was being judged.
I looked up and made eye contact with the cashier.
“Wow,” she said. She was scanning my eighteen jars of Gerber Beef & Beef Gravy baby food. “All of these are beef?”
As mama always told me, it isn’t what you say, it’s the way you say it. I didn’t know what I had done, but obviously buying this much beef baby food meant I was a bad mother.
A note of explanation: I have no children. I have no younger siblings. I have no idea why buying eighteen jars of beef and beef gravy baby food branded me a bad mother. I’m not sure if it was the total number of jars, the complete lack of flavor variety, or the fact that the beef and gravy food looks like some other baby already ate it once and it came back out of who knew which end.
I wasn’t obligated to explain myself, certainly not to the grocery store checkout clerk. But I couldn’t let her go on thinking I was a bad mother, could I? I felt my face growing hot.
“It’s for my cat,” I explained.
And indeed it was. My sixteen year old cat, Jasmine, was recovering from a respiratory infection. During the worst of it, she refused to eat and had dropped a dangerous amount of weight. But she would eat this beef baby food, I explained. In fact, at the moment, it was all she would eat.
The cashier looked at me with naked disbelief.
“How did you think to try baby food?”
How did she think I thought to try it? I googled “cat won’t eat.”
But I said, “The vet told me.”
“Hmm,” she said, still unconvinced.
“I feed it to her with a special little baby spoon, one mouthful at a time,” I said, desperate to make her see that I was not just a good cat mother, I was a great cat mother!
“Oh, I see,” she said, nodding to herself.
She believed me now all right. I’d convinced her I wasn’t a bad mother.
I was a crazy cat spinster.
Oh boy. Was it too late to say I had twins?