I’m in Urban Outfitters, attempting to outfit myself in an urban fashion. I cannot actually afford these clothes so I have to finger through each rack, looking for an item that’s both my size and on sale. I’m searching. Been searching now for about 30 minutes, when I hear it. A loud crash followed by a couple small-ish booms. Then, the toddler voice I knew would follow:
“Oh! I sowwy, I so sowwy. I didn’a mean’a do dat, I make a mistake. I dis make a mistake, I pick id up. Whoa! Dis ding is dis heavy! Ouch…”
It’s my toddler, Officer Logan, of course. I’d taken my eyes off her for one minute like the newbie-parent-fool I am, and she seized the opportunity to destruct crap, as is always her desire. I’ve learned that when we go out, many times Logan is casing a joint, and formulating a Mayhem Plan of Action in her head, “Hmm…dress rack, hat table, shoe display…okay as soon as Mommy looks away I’m destroying EVERYTHING. Plan A.” Plan B is in the event that I don’t take my eyes off her, she will quietly destroy everything, one dropped necklace at a time. I think both plans make her equally as content.
Me? Not so much. When we are out and Logan or Ryleigh have an I’m About To Hurt Your Feelings moment, I tend to get, um, embarrassed (pardon me while I display my humanness). These days though, I know what to do with that embarrassment – I channel it. I ball it up and throw some strawberry sauce on it and I eat it. Gulp really big and send it travelling down my body where I forget about it. Because those moments are not about me and the way I feel, not completely. Of course I want my children to behave, especially in public, and I have a right to that expectation if I’ve already laid down the ground rules: “Don’t spit at each other. Don’t try anything on; this store doesn’t have your size and you never go into the dressing rooms. No, I will not buy you that daybed, Ryleigh. Logan, take that bracelet out of your shoe. And do not ask me if that’s a man or a woman over there – I don’t know and you are a HORRIBLE whisperer. Button your pants.”
Even with the rules, and my smiley face, and my buttery, accommodating voice, we still experience meltdowns. And mayhem. My old self would flare her nostrils at the first sight of a public tantrum, or a moment of chaos. She’d set an example for other young parents of how to stay in control of a situation: “You stop. it. right now or I WILL spank you, do you understand?!” My little one would look at me with her lips quivering, eyes watering, and put her head down to look at her feet. I’d take her hand and continue to scold through gritted teeth, and we’d walk around quietly. Now, I see it differently. I try to imagine what it’s like to be my toddler when we are out, and how her thoughts race at home. She is easily stimulated and interested, she loves exploring and climbing and discovering – and she loves making a mess. I allow it at home, and many places we go when we are traveling. So when we are someplace where she can’t do those things I know it is a real test for her to control herself. I watch her shiny eyes dart from object to building to person and I can almost hear her thinking, “Whoa. Look at that funny man. He’s scary. Look at that building, what’s in that building? I’m going into that building. Oooh, a doggy! I want a doggy. Come here, doggy, lemme pet you. A penny-nickel! I’m getting that penny-nickel…what’s that green stuff on it? I’ll lick it off. Do I smell hot dogs? I want hot dogs…”
I get it now, there is just too much good stuff to see and do and hurt, for her to walk next to me the entire time, holding my sweaty, boring ole’ hand. Just the other night we were taking a sunset walk and I told the girls it was time to turn around, before it got too dark. Logan actually hated that idea. I’d already gone further than I’d planned to because they’d asked, and now it was time to go. Logan stopped dead and I could see her face beginning to melt. Her mouth twisted into a twilight zone-ish ‘o’, her knees came together as her legs collapsed beneath her, her back arched forward and her arms just kinda hung there like in that model of an early human. That wasn’t it. Soon she was screaming, except it wasn’t really a scream, it was a cough-grunt hybrid repeated over and over, the sound of a rabid woodland creature attempting to mate (and judging by that horrid sound, it never would). It was loud and messy. There were other families on the trail, and people outside, across the street. I didn’t care. I looked at my child, and I read the disappointment in her face and her posture. She was really hurting. She’d been having such fun prancing around barefoot with her sister, trying to climb trees, picking grass, yelling silly phrases so she could catch her echo. She wanted to stay out and play. The trail is so much bigger than being inside. But I knew she was tired, which was likely contributing to her meltdown.
Since Logan had stopped walking I followed her lead and stopped what I was doing. In the past my goal would have been to keep moving, thinking that was important to getting over the meltdown moment. I was mistaken. My first order of business needs to be to keep calm and acknowledge Logan’s feelings. I didn’t touch her just then because I thought it would only worsen the situation. I got down at her level and spoke to her empathetically, “You’re having fun on the trail, huh? You don’t want to go home, I know, but it’s getting late, Logan. We have to head back before it gets too dark. We can come back tomorrow. Don’t you want to be able to see?” No, she didn’t want to be able to see in the dark. She wanted to walk and if she couldn’t, she wanted to cry. Ryleigh and I stood there with her, and I didn’t look around once. I’d already seen the people who I’m sure were watching. I wasn’t concerned with them. My only concern at this moment was to let Logan know I understood her frustration, and I was sorry that right now we couldn’t do what she wanted – she really wasn’t asking too much. It hurt me more to see her so distressed than it embarrassed me that we were in public – and that’s because I’ve been connecting with my children. Although this incident ended with her in the carrier on my back, singing and asking about the buildings we passed, the point of these moments isn’t so much the outcome for me.
What’s important now is how I handle myself. I often hear from other parents that my children control me or run my life, which is quite silly to me. Although I ask my children for their opinion and what they want to do, the ultimate decision is mine. They know that. I never feel like there is a power struggle between us, although I used to. They want to be heard and to be able to have a say in what they do. I understand that. And when they cannot, I empathize with their frustration. I don’t need to threaten or belittle them to get them to stop acting out. I need to connect with them so that they know that even though they can’t have the final say in the decision at hand, what they feel is very important to me. I also hear from other parents that “they need to get used to it, everything won’t always go their way,” and I know that. But I don’t want to compound their frustration with the added frustration of being pushed to get over their feelings. The mere fact that something will ‘always’ happen doesn’t mean we can’t have a reaction to it. Humans feel. Children feel. We all will eventually die, so should everyone just stop crying about it? We all will suffer some sort of ailment at one point or another, so should we all just stop talking about it? Expecting hardship doesn’t lessen the pain that accompanies it, especially for a child. I want my children to learn that they will not always get what they want, but that it’s okay to express a healthy amount of disappointment, and to move on and to think positively despite it. Not that they need to bottle their feelings up, especially not just so I can save face in public.
There have been numerous meltdowns with both girls, and various moments of mayhem, and I’m sure they will continue. But each one gets better; maybe not from the way it looks to outsiders, but I know it’s getting better for our family. Soon after Ryleigh catches a major attitude, she’s asking me, “Ooh, Mom did you see that butterfly?” She gets over it, because I don’t make a big deal of it. I am not concerned with what other people think of the weird lady standing there acting normal while her toddler flails about on the ground covered in yogurt. I am concerned that my toddler
just wasted two dollars’ worth of yogurt needs me to support her just like I would at home. I remember times when an entire afternoon would be ruined because I’d react negatively to Ryleigh’s behavior. When I respond patiently, and they know I’m not upset, there are times when they start laughing before the tears have even dried. They are easier to calm down, which keeps me calm. How I feel is contagious to my children, and vice-versa. It’s okay to experience meltdowns and mayhem. We as parents need to keep our cool. It won’t always be pretty, or easy, or fun, but it will always be loving, and we can’t go wrong with love. Have fun on your excursions. :)