In my early 20’s I was a counselor at a sleep away camp for kids from NYC up in the Catskill Mountains. One morning I went for a run up a dirt road, flanked on both sides by deep forest. I heard a noise off to my right and slowed because it sounded bigger than a squirrel or rabbit and I was curious. I could hear something climbing a tree and walked closer. Was that a bear cub? Remember that saying about curiosity and the cat? I should have thought of that. As I got close to the tree line I heard a noise that’s hard to describe. Kind of a snorting, heavy breathing and I just remember seeing brown fur and something big. My thoughts went something like this, ‘Bear! Don’t get in between a mama and baby bear. Back away slowly. Don’t run and don’t climb a tree.’ So I turned and ran as fast as I could into the woods on the other side of the road and tried to find a tree to climb.
Luckily that mama bear didn’t follow me. But I think of her now that I have my own kids. I am not really an overly assertive person but boy; if someone wakes the mama bear it’s not pretty! There have been two times in particular that my mama bear has emerged in defense of my kids.
The first time was soon after my second son was born. My other son was three and we decided to take a road trip to visit some of my husband’s friends at a lake. This was really mistake number one, as traveling with a 3-year-old, newborn, and hormonal mom is not widely recommended. We stopped at a rest stop and all trooped in and sat at an empty booth.
My 3 year old was still in the midst of getting the hang of potty training so my husband took him to the bathroom. A bus full of people pulled up and emptied its travelers into the rest stop. After a few minutes I realized I could hear angry banging from the restroom area. I realized that someone was pounding on the men’s bathroom door over and over. I thought of my little guy in there trying to use the potty and got madder and madder.
Finally, with baby in arms, I stalked over to the bathroom. There was a short hallway and a single men’s room on one side and women’s on the other. There was a long line of tourists waiting for the women’s room. I walked past them with the man banging on the door in my sights, a growl building in my throat. I said to his back, “Sir! You will have to wait your turn just like everyone else!”
He turned around and I could see immediately that he had a developmental disability. The poor guy just really had to pee. All of the women in the other line were looking at me. I felt like such a jerk! “My son is in there, I said apologetically, “He should be done really soon.” Then I retreated back to my booth cave to hide.
The second time there was less roaring and more mama bear posturing. This was when the baby discussed above was about 4 years old and I took him with me to the grocery store, which in and of itself is a test of patience. All of a sudden in the middle of shopping, he had to GO TO THE BATHROOM! It was an emergency. So we left the shopping cart parked haphazardly and rushed to the bathroom. Again only a single men’s and women’s bathroom were available. The women’s was occupied so I ushered my son quickly into the men’s and then stood outside the door. Of course at that moment a man decided he needed to use the bathroom and stood grumpily in line. Two other men soon joined the line. The first man stared to check his watch and shift his body weight back and forth, rolling his eyes. I checked on my son who had a tummy ache and was still occupying the single toilet. The man grew more and more agitated as my hackles started to rise. I stood calmly trying to ignore him as I periodically checked on my son. Finally the man said, “You should have used the women’s room.”
“It was full,” I answered, “and my son really had to go.”
The man let out an angry puff of breath.
I focused myself on being calm and unruffled but wanted to say, “I wish we did use the women’s room because a woman would be waiting patiently for a little kid with a stomach ache and not acting like a big stupid jerk!”
A few more moments passed as the tension rose. “You could use the women’s room, I said, “It’s empty now.”
“They frown on men using the women’s room,” the jerk said with another stomp of his foot as he crossed his arms tightly.
Again, I shut my mouth while inside I was screaming, “Well they also frown on people acting like assholes but that’s not stopping you!”
Finally I heard a flush and the water running. My son and I walked away as the man walked into the bathroom and slammed the door.
We finished our shopping, with me congratulating myself the whole time on standing up for my son while not letting that man have the satisfaction of getting under my skin. I was outwardly patient and relaxed with my son as we continued to fill our cart and check out, even though the whole time I was practicing sharp and witty lines to throw at this man if we saw him again.
Finally we finished and pushed our cart to the car. I loaded the groceries in and strapped my son in his booster seat in the back. I started the car, still proud of my restrained mama bear self and took a sip of coffee and then wiped my nose with a napkin. From the back seat I heard a little voice say in a mocking tone. “Take a sip, wipe your nose, take a sip, wipe your nose. That’s soooo dumb.”
I looked at my son’s face in the rearview mirror and thought, ‘This is why some species eat their young.’
After these experiences, I decided that maybe mama bear should just hibernate for a while….