I am always The Calm Mom. The one standing middle of the milk aisle with her arms folded at her chest, staring down at the flailing, screeching bundle of arms and legs and voice that was moments ago A Child and calmly asking, “are you done yet?” until the answer is yes and the shopping trip can continue.
I am generally The Good Mom. The one modeling proper behavior by saying please, even when prefacing a pretty serious demand as in, “Do you want a time out? No? Then please come here right now.”
But today, I became The Nasty Mom. The one screaming at her kids in public while other people hurry by looking at the ground, or worse, furrowing their eyebrows in disapproval. It was only a few seconds, but it left me analyzing the situation all day long, trying to figure out to keep The Nasty Mom at bay in the future.
We were leaving the gym. I was carrying Loaf, balancing her on my left hip and supporting her with the corresponding arm. My right arm was weighed down with the gym/diaper bag at my elbow, and the truck keys, a sippy cup, and a picture Peanut colored in the daycare center in my hand. We leave the gym like this every time. And every time Peanut walks happily at my right side, on the sidewalk, or maybe skips a few steps ahead of me, but never too far. But not today.
Today as we exited the building she bolted—running full speed ahead toward the gym’s busy parking lot and oncoming cars. My head swelled with panic. I ran toward her, screaming her name. Thank God, she stopped right at the edge of the curb.
I shifted the keys, cup and picture into my left hand and reached for her, but she took off again, trying to run away from me down the sidewalk. This time I caught her by the hood of her coat and The Calm Mom reprimanded her.
“Don’t you EVER do that again. This is a busy parking lot. If you can’t walk like a big girl, then you’re going to have to hold mommy’s hand all the way back to the car.”
Everything went down hill from there. She didn’t want to hold my hand, whining, twisting and letting her legs go limp so her body dropped to the ground. I pulled her along inch by inch, the toes of her pink Mary Janes dragging on the cement.
The walk to the truck was endless. The parking lot is about a quarter mile long, and we were on the far end.
Other mothers passed me, walking alongside an endless stream of happy, amiable preschoolers and pushing cooing, smiling babies in strollers. It seemed at that moment as though my child was the only disagreeable one in the world. A couple of moms looked at me sympathetically, and one even said, “Good morning, hey?” but the majority tried desperately not to make eye contact. Worse, I caught a wisps of disapproval blowing my way from more than one woman.
About 20 feet from the car, the combined balancing act/tug-of-war became too much, and I dropped the keys and sippy cup. I had no choice but to let go of Peanut’s hand to pick them up. As soon as I did, she ran away again. This time it was up a small embankment toward the edge of a soccer field.
The Nasty Mom was gaining power.
“GET. OVER. HERE. RIGHTNOW!!!”
Instead she just smirked at me.
“I’m NOT KIDDING! Come back here NOW or you’ll sit in your room ALL DAY INSTEAD OF GOING TO SCHOOL.”
She came to me, but the struggle continued.
By this time, my left arm was literally numb from holding Loaf with no support from my other arm. I was starting to fear dropping her.
At the front of the truck, I dropped the cup again, but home plate was in sight, so I continued on. I opened the side of the truck where Peanut’s car seat is and The Good Mom, tired but not yet defeated, asked her climb up into her seat.
“Please get in,” I asked.
But Peanut didn’t budge. She stood planted on the ground, refusing to move.
The mix of anger and frustration, and probably a little leftover fear from her run toward the parking lot, suddenly became too much. My body temperature rose and my face felt hot and flush. I felt like I was in a wind tunnel with no sound other than the whhhooooshh
of blood in my ears.
And then I utterly lost it.
Grabbing her by back of her jacket The Nasty Mom hoisted her – somewhat roughly – into the back of the truck.
SIT. IN. YOUR. GODDAMN. SEAT.
WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU TODAY?
MOMMY HAS HAD IT.
DO YOU HEAR ME? HAD!! IT!!
YOU SIT THERE AND YOU DON’T MOVE UNTIL I COME BACK TO BUCKLE YOU IN.
And it was then that I remembered that I was in a parking lot. With other people. Other parents. Other children. More importantly, I realized I was speaking to my child. My Child. This was not the standard I wanted to set.
My mind briefly flashed back to that woman who made national news a few years back when she was caught on a mall security camera slapping her child repeatedly as she strapped him into his car seat. Could I ever lose control that badly? Could that ever be me?
No. I really do know the answer is no.
Closing the door, I walked to the other side of the truck and took two deep breaths as I buckled Loaf in. I returned to the sidewalk to retrieve the dropped cup and took two more.
Walking back to the other side of the truck, I could see Peanut was still not sitting in her car seat. Cleansing breaths. Deep cleansing breaths.
Opening the car door I said firmly, “That’s it. Time out as soon as we get home. Now sit down.” No movement from her, but The Calm Mom was back in control. I buckled her in and drove the 20 minutes home in complete silence.
By the time we got home, I really didn't feel much like punishing her, but I'd already put it out there and she hadn't forgotten about it (do I still have to go to time out, mommy?) so she got her time out. I consider the car ride home to be mine. I think we both needed one.