Imagine two playful cubs chewing on their mom’s ears, tugging on her furry back and batting at her nose while she’s trying to catch salmon for dinner. Every ounce of her is focused and engaged, partly on keeping her cubs out of the water, partly on protecting herself from all of the touching and partly on swiping at jumping fish. That’s basically what my daily life looks like with two small children.

Now, picture a deer strolling up to the mama bear and repeatedly telling her that all the rough-housing is distracting him from sipping the stream down river. She’ll eventually growl, “Get out of my face. I’m busy here,” and that’s sort of what happened to me on an airplane recently.

Except, I actually yelled, “Fuck you, bitch!” and silenced the entire plane.

The details of the encounter that led to my expletive-laced declaration actually aren’t important. I’m not looking for your sympathy. I’m not claiming to be a victim, and I’m not trying to convince you that the exclamation was justified. I’m writing to you as a public service announcement for myself and any other mother like me who doesn’t need to know your opinion about our kids.

Put simply: Don’t poke the mama bear.

You see, there’s more than one reason that a mama bear will show her teeth, rear up, and slash with her claws. Kids in danger is number one, of course, but that wasn’t the issue here. I wasn’t defending my kids’ whiny, antsy behavior on the airplane. I was already busy putting a stop to it, and that’s exactly why I didn’t need to be told that my kids were “crazy” or that my husband and I should “try parenting.” We were doing that for every minute of the flight.

This was a crab apple who was just generally annoyed that she had to share an airplane with small children and made a point of leaning over to look across the aisle and watch our every move, tallying the ways in which she disapproved of our kids, even when they were quietly watching an iPad for 10 minutes.

For this woman, and everyone like her, I have no energy left to offer the benefit of the doubt and no patience to put up with it. My children – my three-year-old and my nearly-two-year-old – used it all up on that plane.

So my message to her and to the public at large is this: Criticisms of a parent are never helpful. Unless a child is in clear and present danger, save your breath, complain to someone about us later, or actually offer to help.

And God help you, if I happen to be the one you decide to chastise; you may hear a resounding F.U. from me, too, because you are prodding me at my peak moment of tension, before I’ve had a chance to defuse it in any healthy way, and I will swiftly put you in your place – which is out of my business.

Rest assured that I don’t go looking for fights. Only one other one besides the airplane F.U. has found me (at a restaurant because, where else?), and I even managed not to curse during that one. So on a normal day you’re most likely to find me nodding and smiling at you, if we make eye contact. But if I’m busy tending to my kids, and you choose to tell me how I’m somehow “doing it wrong,” then proceed with caution. I may look harmless, but this mama bear can bite.