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The following is an excerpt from Emily Flake’s Mama Tried: Dispatches From the Seamy Underbelly of Modern Parenting.

Once the temperature dips below, say, 70, the sight of an uncovered baby head is like Kryptonite. The tongue-lashing I’ve received for exposing my daughter’s scalp to the breeze is nothing compared to the looks I’ve gotten when, in winter, I went out with her in a carrier, a bear suit, and yes, a hat – but left her wrists exposed. The glares, the sucked-in breath, the subtle shakes of the head. Yikes.

However. I’ll take an honest expression of disapproval any day over the smug, passive-aggressive mom-shaming that goes on every day on the playground and in the comments sections of every parenting blog. When my daughter was about 18 months, she loved to slide down the baby slide headfirst. Note that I said baby slide – it’s two feet off the ground, and slopes gently to a drop of about four inches, with a long flat runway. You would have to fling a baby onto it to hurt her. Nonetheless: “You’re so brave,” another mom sniffed, cutting her eyes at me, “letting her do that. I would never be able to let my daughter do such a thing.”

Emily Flake

There are gracious ways to respond to this, I’m sure. There’s got to be a middle ground between red-faced consternation and stammering out a lame justification (my usual MO) and letting fly a “mind your own f---ing business, you miserable …” (which is what I say later, in my head). Southern ladies are wonderful at this sort of thing – they can take each other down with an exchange of insults so politely rendered, so dripping with honey, that an outsider might be lulled into thinking the women are dear friends exchanging compliments, not battle-scarred warriors stabbing each other in the heart. Sadly for me, I am not skilled in this particular set of social graces. Living in cities my entire adult life has given me the ability to reply loudly and colourfully to the rando shouting things from his car or on the street, but to effectively shut down a bitchy mom to her face without getting eighty-sixed forever from the neighbourhood at large? That’s ninja-level.

And heaven help you if you feed a baby formula in public. Or fail to quarter its grapes. Etc. Nobody gives side-eye like a Brooklyn mom these days.

Emily Flake

Like a lot of people, I’m pretty conflict-averse. This has nothing to do with being a good person and much more to do with vestiges of being a “nice girl.” In the rare instances where I know, unequivocally, that I am in the right, my desire to fight it out comes singing out of me like a surge of joy. Finally! Finally I get to hand somebody their ass! This isn’t a good look for playgroup. However, when people insist on not minding their own business – and it happens quite a lot – perhaps it’s time to lay aside a bit of politesse. That nice-girl veneer isn’t really serving you much anyway, except to ensure that you remain awkwardly flustered while some mom in nicer shoes than yours throws shade on your parenting skills. Unless you’re lucky enough to have earned your patch in the aforementioned Southern social arena or are so badass that nobody would think of coming at you with this nonsense, maybe it’s time to get a little blunt. Perhaps a neutral, friendly “Uh-huh – how about you raise your kid, and I’ll raise mine?” Something not quite a gauntlet, but that sends an unmistakable MYOB. Something where the “b”-word is implied, not hurled. If you think of anything, please let me know.

Excerpted from the book Mama Tried: Dispatches From the Seamy Underbelly of Modern Parenting by Emily Flake. Copyright 2015. Reprinted with permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.

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