Usually, Mike or Ruth takes Mazzy to gymnastics after school, but yesterday they were both unavailable so I left work early to take her instead. Mazzy was really excited to have me there and I was excited to see her. It had been longer than I care to admit.
There’s an observation deck above the gym floor where all the parents and caregivers watch. The gym is huge so there are many classes going on at once. We got there early with time to spare, so I got Mazzy changed and then we hung out on the deck at one of the various tables, where kids were eating snacks and doing homework.
When it came time to take Mazzy down to the class, I took my stuff with me. After I dropped her off, I went back up to watch and found all the chairs pulled to the perimeter so people could watch by the railing. There weren’t many people up there yet, but everyone seemed to know to claim a spot along the railing before drop-off and leave their stuff on the chairs to show they were taken. There was a stack of chairs on the far side so I grabbed one, walked it back over to the side with the view and tried to find a place to squeeze in before everyone came back up to sit down. I found a spot that looked viable but I just needed a few extra inches to make my chair fit.
Two seats down was a woman sitting next to a table. On the other side of the table was a bit of space; just enough so that if I shifted the table and the woman shifted a couple inches to the left, I could make my chair fit. No big deal, right?
“Hi there. If I shift this table a little to the left, would you mind shifting your seat down a couple inches so I could squeeze mine in?”
“Yes, I do mind. I got here early so I could position my chair perfectly to see my daughter.”
Uhhhhh huh…what now?
“It’s just like three inches. Your view wouldn’t change.”
“Are you serious?”
“I have a seat. You’re the one trying to squeeze in.”
I gestured to all the empty seats saved with jackets. “So… this is okay though?”
It was a response that made me feel very small. It said— you don’t usually come to watch your kid, so you don’t know the protocol. Which was true. Still, would it have KILLED this woman to shift over three inches?
I began trying to shove my chair in place without her having to move, while she continued to berate me. I can’t remember the exchange exactly but it was clear she felt in the right and totally comfortable picking a fight. I was not interested in calling attention to myself at all, especially since I was a newbie there, so I remember saying, “I’M NOT FIGHTING WITH YOU” and then refusing to look at her as I plopped down in my seat, which was now successfully shoved in place.
Then I scanned the floor for Mazzy who had just taken her spot for warm-ups, while my heart leapt out of my chest and anger brewed in every part of my body. I furiously texted my husband so I could relieve my aggression in silence.
“The moms at gymnastics are BRUTAL.”
“I’m not sure but we might not be welcome back here again.”
As I tried to relax and keep track of my daughter as her group switched from floor to trampoline to balance beam, I couldn’t help but be hyper aware of my new arch-nemesis talking with her friends. She was being completely lovely to everyone around her (“Hi such and such! How are you?! Oh, fabulous, me too!”), while I gritted my teeth all alone.
Why was I letting this woman effect me so much? I just couldn’t believe that I had encountered a real life mean girl mom. Not one of those sanctimommies who judges people online from the comfort of her computer and the anonymity of her Instagram handle, but one in the flesh!
Maybe I was the asshole who didn’t know to save a seat because I don’t usually come to gymnastics. Maybe I’m the one who broke etiquette by trying to shove my seat into an optimal spot at the railing. But we were both there to see our kids. Our kids were both going to look up at that railing to see if their moms were watching. Why not just help a fellow mother out? What point is so important for her to make? Why not just BE ACCOMMODATING???
To make the whole situation even more laughable (aka infuriating), towards the end of the class, I realized no one had even come to claim the chair between me and the woman. It had been empty with a jacket and a bag on top it the entire time. A few minutes later, I realized why.
Another friend of the mom (why do the mean girls always have the most friends???) came over to ask if she could watch her daughter while she picked up her son from a different class.
“Oh, of course! No problem!” my arch-nemesis oozed with sticky sweetness. “She can sit right here!”
Then she picked up the stuff on the empty chair and put it on the table, giving the girl the seat that had apparently been holding her stuff all along.
I glared at her. She didn’t look at me. I wondered if she even remembered we were in a fight or if I was in this all by myself.
So thanks a lot, gymnastics mom for getting pleasure out of claiming your territory and ruining my afternoon. Thank you for reminding me that even as an adult, absolute strangers still have the power to make me feel small.
But most of all, thank you for that very last move, to clarify completely for me— YOU ARE THE ASSHOLE.
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