Yesterday was rough. It was hard in that way that only the parents of young children really get. The morning was rotten. Between the 800 million demands to “come play ponies with me” and the screaming that happened each time I said no and redirected her, I began to feel as though I must be doing everything wrong.
I feel that way a lot. I feel like no matter how hard I try to be patient, to be calm, to be firm and consistent that I must be doing something wildly wrong. Honestly, I think that most parents feel this way, especially on the bad days.
And yesterday morning was definitely bad. By the time my husband came home at lunch, I wanted to hide in my room and cry, or go out for drinks with professional women who had never even heard of children. I was craving adult interaction and sick of parenting.
And we needed groceries.
I don’t really like grocery shopping. At its very best it’s a chance for me to put on headphones and dance my way through the produce listening to jazz and blues. At it’s worst? Well, I think the worst was the time that I carried my daughter out of the store while she screamed for her daddy and hit me. Or the time that when she decided to just sit down while holding my hand, so I kept walking. Gently dragging her behind me across the glossy floors to the stares and disapproval of other shoppers.
I really didn’t want to take her to the store yesterday. It seemed like a profoundly poor plan.
We really needed groceries.
As we got in the car to return my husband to work, I started to tell her that we had to go shopping but that if she was good, then afterward I would take her to the park and stopped. A dim lightbulb slowly flickered on in my head.
Why not offer the reward first? Why not provide the stimulation, and exercise, and fun first?
So, we went to the park. We played on the swings, pushing her as high as she could go and dodging out of her way as she came flying back, grabbing and tickling her feet as she rocked back and forth in the sunshine. She threw her head giggled and laughed and squealed. And the stress, and anxiety, and frustration of the day slowly blew away the gentle spring breeze.
She joined other children and I called a friend as I sat in the shade watching a complex world evolve around a half-dozen small girls. The created a world that involved dragons and pirates and a world that only they could see, treasures that only they could find. And she played and danced and fought and created with them. And I talked to a friend on the other side of the country. And we both found what we needed.
Soon it was later than I’d meant to leave it, so we left the park and headed to the store. I expected the day to go back to being dreadful, but I kept laughing and teasing and playing with her as we shopped. And, soon enough we had the groceries we needed and we stood waiting in the seemingly endless checkout lines, where Fiona tried to nibble on my fingers and I tried to tickle her under the chin while keeping them out of her mouth. The woman ahead of me in line turned around and smiled at me.
I smiled back and she chuckled and said, “You win the great mom award today. Watching you with her shopping has been a pleasure.”
I said thank-you, and told her that Fiona was a great kid, and we chatted a little about her own children who are in high school and college.
And I know it sounds like bragging to tell this story, but it isn’t meant to be. See, it’s a story about not really seeing other people’s lives. She saw this tiny snapshot where it all came together. She didn’t see the dozen tantrums, and desire to run away from home, and the sense that I’m a failure as a parent. She only saw my tiny victory where we were okay.
Maybe some days when I look at the world and I feel like a failure, because Fiona is screaming and trying to run into the street while the other little children follow their mothers like perfect little ducklings, are me doing just that. Seeing a tiny snapshot.