This was one of my favourite parenting stories that Toni has shared with me- the first time she told me about it I was in hysterics (inappropriate, I know) and have been everytime I read this piece. Many parents were also able to relate to Toni’s experience… CM
My face reddened in disbelief as my innocent three-year-old proceeded to enlighten her teacher of how her golf ball sized bruise upon her head came to be. ‘Dad got angry…’ she carelessly spat whilst impatiently eyeing off the jungle of toys awaiting her – oblivious to the connotations of her words. A round of disapproving glances were shot in my direction as I cowered timidly in defeat.
With a beseeching tone I pleaded my (or I should I say ‘our’) case. ‘Well not exactly. I know how this sounds…She was going to pull the television off its haunches and dad had a stern word with her. She took flight and found the corner of the couch. Of course it was dad’s fault, even though he was at the other end of the house.’
It was a tense moment of silence as I scrutinised my audience from head to toe for any glimmer of faith. Turns out my story had its merits and my daughter’s obvious lack of distress over it all gave no reason for concern.
This memory etched itself into my mind and has always served as a good reminder of how things can be misconstrued or taken out of context in the world of parenting. Fortunately my explanation this time held enough credibility; however, there are no suitable words to describe my ghastly, yet innocent, experience a month ago.
I had promised my eight-year-old daughter that Saturday would finally be the day we would purchase some new bathers for her. Taking three kids shopping nowadays is an event I need to be physically and mentally prepared to undertake. I’m all for feeling positive, but after a few unforeseen events in the morning lead up, I had a dreadful feeling about this rendezvous.
I generally enjoy shopping with my kids in the Swan Hill region. Majority of the shops that I like to visit have a collection of toys for my kids to entertain themselves with. Even if it’s a few legs broken off a doll or a car with no wheels, they seem to think they’ve hit the jackpot because these items are dissimilar to their own.
Unlike the smaller shops, Target is one of a kind; half the shop is the toy collection. For some reason, my children (and probably half of Swan Hill) think it is within their right to brutally thump every button in the toy aisles and pull their favourites off the shelf with unruly force. I have to be wilfully prepared to enter the store from Campbell Street, so where possible, I’II take the elevator or steps (with its own problems) just to avoid the toys.
This was one of those days. Much to my distaste, Saturday afternoon was not the time to be discreetly slipping into Target and vacating swiftly without a trace. This was a day of queues, familiar people and busy foot traffic. Fingers crossed.
The first kink in our deviating plan came when I realised my two-year-old daughter probably needed some bathers also. Eager to replicate her older sister and sample her outfit, I reluctantly let her join in on the fun (perhaps the wrong word) and try her bathers on too. After managing to secure an enlarged change room to accommodate the four of us, the girls proceeded to try on their potential purchases while my four-year-old boy banged his toys into the walls for a bit of light entertainment.
My youngest was very impressed with her new look (even though they were too small) and irritably declined my offer to remove them. Apparently she thought we were off to the pool for a swim. Defeated and tired, I thought there would be no harm in allowing her a few more minutes to gloat at herself in the mirror while her older sister made her selection.
As we prepared for departure, I realised my two-year-old was not going to relent. Not on my life was I getting those bathers off her. She kicked and screamed until the volume reached full capacity, gaining the attention of a few wary onlookers (by this stage the door to the change room was open).
I managed to wangle her bathers off her rigid body – not without a few forceful kicks in my arms and head – and attempted to redress her. Clearly this was going to be impossible in her riotous state, so I gently pulled the door closed to let her cool off a touch.
Clearly, composure was not part of her complicated vocabulary today and the thumps and bumps as she rolled around the change room in disapproval had only gotten more ferocious, not to mention the growing queue for the change room.
I couldn’t reason with her, I couldn’t put her clothes on and I certainly couldn’t wait another minute or majority of Swan Hill would be lining up for the change rooms soon, so I did the only thing I could do. I legged it; a screaming, half-naked child wriggling between my tired arms, whilst my older two children chuckled at the spectacle we were providing for the town (it felt like the town).
In all the chaos, I failed to notice that she had cut her lip slightly on a chair in all the change room havoc. So as I battled the ‘walk of shame’ through Target with a naked and bleeding child in tow, it was understandable that I would receive looks from some incriminating eyes.
As we reached the long queue preceding the counter- wishing that a big hole came and swallowed me up right there and then – I attempted to suggest to my oldest daughter that we could perhaps purchase her bathers on another day. At her first hint of resistance and at the risk of dealing with two tantrums in one day as I tried to reason over the screaming– I yielded in defeat.
That was the longest and most excruciating waiting line I have ever experienced. The screaming failed to ease, I struggled to hold her as she cowered from my arms onto the floor like a sack of beans, and when it came time to pay for the bathers with my occupied limbs, she wriggled free and thrashed and banged into the aisle divider in the nude as I fumbled with my payment.
Thankfully I was afforded some leniency and a flood of relief washed over me as I read ‘approved’ across the eftpos machine. I couldn’t bear to think of the consequences otherwise. I scurried for the lift with urgency.
The bedlam didn’t end there, and when I tried to strap her into the car seat (taking in a deep breath), her determined little body stiffened in protest. The thrashing amplified, her face reddened and she gave me her last shot of fury before she weakened in acceptance.
I slipped into the front seat; limp with resignation, whilst the other kids expressed their relief at the conclusion of the noise. We sat in silence, tears welling in my eyes as I thought about our ordeal.
I had never experienced a tantrum like that before; in fact, I felt like I had never even seen any other child throw a tantrum of that level. Feeling like a failure, over the next week I retold the story to a few of my close mother friends. To my surprise, they were completely un-phased by it, and I received similar stories from them that made me feel considerably better, bringing my story back down to earth. Whether they were naked and bleeding like my little firecracker, or clothed, other mothers were generally of the belief that anything was possible with children.
The fact is, kids can bring us undone sometimes, but these episodes are what make us stronger (or provides entertaining 21st stories) as we share stories and support each other. I may have felt the judgmental eyes tearing me apart, but in my weakened state of mind, I am sure most of them were deceivingly supportive.
I have been told twice in the last month that we are only given what we can cope with (hmmm…I beg to differ), and kids who throw superior tantrums are bordering on the genius line. I am not sure if the latter one is some fraudulent creation to absolve us of our parenting sins, but it sounds pretty good.
So when your child is putting on a charade for the public next, remember- most ‘critical’ eyes are really filled with sympathy or they have experienced it themselves. If not, just remind yourself that you’re currently producing the next Stephen Hawkings.
Photo credit: http://www.parentingmagazineonline.com