I could write for days about how difficult Forrest has been lately, but I’ll try to keep this post under control. The terrible twos have descended with unimaginable ferocity and I am very quickly losing whatever meager trace of sanity I once possessed. He actually isn’t too outrageous at home—although he is definitely way more assertive and cranky and mood-swingy than ever before, he still has plenty of his once-typical sweet, cuddly, precious moments at home—but leaving the house with him is always an absolute disaster. Any shopping trip, any drive, even walks to the park now end with sobbing tantrums on the ground, or him sprinting away from me at top toddler speed, or me getting smacked repeatedly in the face while he screams at the top of his lungs, or usually all of the above. It’s a delight. Despite my best efforts to try and teach him how to behave, what to do and what not to do, and even my shameless use of flat-out bribery, nothing has worked so far, and I dread leaving the house with him now. He’s a bit of a drama queen (NO IDEA WHERE HE GOT THAT FROM), and at the first hint of something not going his way (like me not allowing him to rip clothes from their hangers, or empty an entire bin of apples at the grocery store, or sample six bags of candy while we shop, or race a few quick laps around the store), his entire world comes to a screeching halt. And while I’m so glad that he’s still (usually) pleasant at home, and I would certainly prefer that he is well-behaved at home rather than in public (if I had to choose just one), and I love that little stinker to pieces, that doesn’t make the necessary, horrifying outings any easier.
In short: I am that mom at the grocery store. The one that you, with your cart full of cherubic well-behaved children whose halos provide a nice sparkly sheen with which I may view my own child’s demonic possession, shake your head at and wonder why she can’t control her little gremlin.
Well, instead of the whiny autobiography I could write on this topic (which would include such chapter titles as What The Hell Have I Gotten Myself Into?, Selling Your Naughty Boy on the Black Market, and Exorcism For Toddlers), I’ll just share with you one recent outing that sums up our experiences and his unfortunate temperament transformation pretty nicely. I’ve already emailed this horror story to quite a few people, and left an abbreviated version as a comment on a few others’ blogs, so if I’ve already regaled you with my tale of misery and woe, I’m sorry. Go find something happier to read. Preferably from a mother of cherubs.
I should know better by now than to even try to take Forrest out with me to run errands or go shopping, but every now and then, I just don’t have a choice. Food must be purchased, oil must be changed, and sometimes daddy just isn’t around when I need to leave the house. So a few weeks ago, against my better judgment, I wrote out my shopping list, packed Forrest up in the car, and we headed to Walmart.
I had a game plan to try and keep things civil and humane: new toddler apps had been downloaded to my phone, I had packed a juice cup and a few small toys, and I headed straight to the candy aisle when we arrived to let him pick a treat to eat while we shopped. For probably five minutes, there was peace. It was wonderful. He sat in the cart, he played on my phone, he nibbled Raisinets. For five beautiful minutes, I was the mom with the angel baby. I’ve missed that feeling.
Then: tragedy. He looked up from the phone. He noticed that we were in public. In a store. A store that contained shelves. Shelves fully stocked with items that would be so fun to pull down. A mad scramble to exit the cart ensued. My phone, with its brand new toddler apps, was forgotten (thrown at me, actually). The Raisinets were dumped. In a moment of foolish hopefulness, I thought, ‘Maybe he’ll just walk alongside the cart! That’s okay!’ Such naïve stupidity. He sprinted for some shelves and started pulling things down—sprinted to another family’s cart and tried to push it around—dashed toward the exit to make an escape—so I snatched him and tried to stuff his flailing limbs back into the cart seat, all while he was screeching like a banshee, clawing at my face and hair, and pumping his legs as hard as possible so I couldn’t stick them back in the cart. I tried the time-honored “Fine, lay there on the floor, I’ll just keep shopping without you” technique without success. I tried the “Okay, I’ll let you pick another treat if you’ll just sit in the cart and eat it!” and ended up having to buy an opened, yet rejected, bag of cookies. I tried the kind and understanding, “I know this is tough for you, let’s cuddle real quick and sing a song together” method. The phone and juice and treats were useless, as were the cars and toys I had in my purse. There is no cure for full meltdown mode.
So I did the only thing I could do—crammed him into the cart, buckled him in, and tried to finish my shopping as quickly as I could. I raced through aisles, frantically searching for everything I needed, my anxiety rising with each shriek and scream and slap and booger-covered hand smacking me from the cart. Pre-toddler, I wouldn’t have imagined that a mere child could have the energy to continue screaming and flailing and hitting at maximum capacity for an entire 40-minute shopping trip. Now I know. Forrest’s endurance knows no limit. There was not a single moment of quiet or calm as we made our way through the store. He screamed and cried and drooled and hit and kicked the whole way through.
(Photo from a different, much tamer and more successful shopping trip. Only a mild tantrum that day.)
I’d like to take a moment to say a virtual thank you to the kindly grandmother who stopped to say something encouraging as she passed us in the baking aisle. As I got more and more frazzled and upset, it was extremely uplifting to have someone stop to say something nice—I don’t even remember what she said, exactly, just something understanding that made me feel slightly less embarrassed of the situation—so thank you, kind stranger.
I’d also like to take a moment to give a virtual smack down to the multiple strangers who seemed to think that a better response to a mother who is obviously distressed and embarrassed and upset about her child’s public meltdown is an eyeroll, or the shaking of their head in her direction, or a whispered comment to a shopping companion accompanied by hateful glaring. Did they really think I was enjoying myself? That his screaming brought me joy? That I had some simple, surefire solution to a full blown temper tantrum and was just saving it for later? Shame on you. Shame on you for thinking that you are better than me; that your parenting techniques would work when mine haven’t; that you, with your 3 seconds of observation, know the answers for me and my child; for assuming that I am a bad mother because I have a difficult kid; and for judging my worth on a moment’s glance in the grocery store.
Needless to say, by the time I had found everything on my list and made my way to the checkout line, I was completely distressed. Some people seem to be able to handle their kids’ outbursts with patience and calm. Unfortunately, I’m not one of them. I wish I could detach myself from the situation and just get things done without getting upset myself, but I can’t—I get stressed and panicky and embarrassed and angry, and the multiple eyerolls and shaking heads from judgmental strangers sure doesn’t help. A tantrum that, at home, would have been a mere annoyance becomes a completely shattering loss of my parenting self-esteem in public. I wish I didn’t care what strangers thought of me, but I remember looking at those moms before I had a child and wondering what was wrong with them and their kids, why they couldn’t just teach their child to be good, what they must be doing wrong to have such a naughty child. And I know that is exactly what other moms are now thinking about me.
So, we’re in the checkout line. Forrest is still screaming and crying, I am at my wit’s end, we’ve been peeked at and whispered about and glared at through the entire trip, the children behind us in line are asking their mom what is wrong with the baby in my cart, and I’m ready to just sink into the floor and disappear. And the cheerful checkout girl takes one look at snot-covered, flailing, screeching Forrest and says, “It must be somebody’s naptime!”
I don’t know why that was the last straw for me. She was trying to be nice, make a stressful situation a little lighter for everyone. Good for her for not being visibly annoyed at me like everyone else was. But for some reason, that was it for me. I started crying. Right there in the checkout line at Walmart, I broke down and started crying and, in my typical, rational, nurturing motherly fashion, wailed, “He’s ALWAYS like this!” Which, of course, isn’t even close to true, but after 40 minutes of public meltdown, it sure felt true. The poor checkout girl did the only sensible thing: focused very intently on ringing up my items and avoided eye contact throughout the rest of my transaction while I sniffled and Forrest screamed and I tried to discreetly wipe my tears and blow my nose (as if anyone hadn’t yet noticed the sobbing duo in the checkout line).
Once we got back in the car, Forrest laughed the whole way home.