It’s just a little shit fit. No big deal.
Every weekend my husband is home from work. Every weekend I make sure and take my three year old out for some big kid time with mom, the baby doesn’t tag along and the big kid is free to drink his own smoothies and run at the park without his little brother getting in the way. It always ultimately helps the family bond.
Our favorite smoothie place is this super expensive local food Co-op. Think Whole Foods but small and locally owned. Lots of body odor and six dollar cups of kale juice flying around in that place. They sell little handmade and fair trade wares from around the world. Today they had scarves. My son had spent our whole walk together complaining that he was cold, and me being the mother of the year figured he would warm up from the movement of walking. Such was not the case, and he saw the scarves on our way to order a smoothie and he lit up like Christmas morning.
“Oooh! Soft scarves mommy! They’re warm! I want one to keep me warm!”
The scarves are super pretty and I’d wear it anyway. Plus my mom guilt was making my brain painfully throb because I didn’t bring him a jacket.
“Well kiddo, let’s pick out one that mommy likes. That blue one is pure silk and I can’t clean silk.”
“But I want THIS ONE mommy!”
“No, no babe, let’s pick out one of these other pretty ones.”
“NO! NO! NO!”
What proceeded was a series of shrill screams, with lots of unintelligible words. The ones I understood were “NO MOMMY I WANT THE BLUE ONE. GIVE ME THE BLUE ONE! AHHHH! WAHHH!”
I mom-reflexed and my fight or flight response kicked in. I picked him up, held him close, glued my eyes onto the sliding doors that led to the outdoors and focused like a drone on getting him out of there without being accosted by peaceful-parenting gurus full of kale juice, quinoa and happy thoughts who would likely suggest that I “keep calm and try offering him a distraction” or some other nonsense.
Nope, just get us out of here while I skillfully avoid eye contact with any moving objects.
The kid needs to have his tantrum but he damn well doesn’t need to do it next to the seven dollar chicken salad with the eyes of the world’s wealthiest grocery shoppers watching.
We took our show on the road, across the street to a bench by a river. How serene, I thought, this will be very calming for him. Except he’s three, and babbling brooks do nothing to thwart the ongoing screams and begging. For a minute I was afraid he looked like he was being kidnapped by me. I waffled between fear and heart-swallowing mommy guilt when he started yelling, “I’ll behave mommy, please buy me the scarf, I’m so cold!”
Yeah, that stabbed like a dagger.
He’s freezing even though it’s sixty-five degrees and everyone knows that he’s crying because I am obviously an awful mom. I stare at the ground, too afraid of what I might see in strangers’ eyes if I dared to look around me.
I let him keep crying, and crying. And yelling and yelling. I’m calmly suggesting that he be quiet and stop screaming so we can talk. Reason, yes, kids are famous for having the ability to reason, especially when deep in the throes of emotional soap opera tumult.
When nothing else works to end his screams, I pull out my cell phone and call daddy at home.
“Dear husband, tell me what to do about this fine mess.”
He can hear our son screaming through the phone. I tell him it’s been ten minutes of this and it shows no signs of stopping. I’m getting really tired of watching this tantrum burn down and I’m sure our audience is really sick of our shit too. Just judging by the way the benches next to us started to really clear out.
With my husband on the phone talking me down before I cry and collapse in defeat, I decide to pry his little fingers off of the bench that he’s been white knuckling while he screams in my face. I pull him to me and haul him up over my huge belly. The baby sister I’m cooking starts to kick her brothers legs in protest and my back is totally starting to give out, but we have to move. We have to get closer to home and away from this store before someone calls the cops on the pregnant woman in mid-kidnap.
All I can do is heft this sobbing kid like a sack of loud-ass potatoes and try to get home.
At a cross walk I set him down while we wait for a turn to cross. This ignites a whole new shit storm in him. He does not want to be put down he wants to be held like NOW, however I do not want to go into labor on Main Street.
I manage to coerce him two more blocks through his sobs and screams to the next bench. So we sit and I call my husband, again.
“This is it, we can’t go any further. Can you come get us?”
And while I rub his little back, his sobs die down. The sun comes out from behind the clouds and warms up our little bench. He starts to drift off to sleep.
Moments later the minivan of salvation pulls up and we are finally done. I am so done.
Torn between guilt and anger I let the tantrum go. There are no repercussions or time outs because twenty minutes of public screaming has broken my thin resolve and his.
The tantrum has extinguished and in its place is relief and gratitude for the strength of the people around us that day, because nobody paid our stand-off much attention. The general public fanned away from the child drama and kept their cool. The cops never showed up, nobody ever stopped us or intercepted. Nobody tried to offer advice, and truthfully when a child is having his fit there is no advice, comment or condolence that will help the immediate circumstance.
Not even a heavy sigh or suggestion of disappointment came from the crowd.
The most supportive and understanding gift I received was silence from the passerby. What helped the most was having the people around pretend that nothing was happening. I was the mom who looked awful, enormously pregnant, stressed out and ready to cry. My child was being the monster child that people complain about in airports and shopping malls; I was an easy target for judgment or an ill-timed “it gets better”.
It doesn’t get better anyway. It’s life and it’s always a challenge.
I’ve at least learned why moms throughout history have always insisted that their kids “bring a jacket”.
I have arrived.