Ok, I’m writing this for all of you sweet, wonderful mothers who keep emailing me to apologize for the way your children behaved at the bookstore. Each of you are convinced your child was the worst one there. That’s funny, because I was thinking they were all wonderful! I was also thinking we’ve all been there. What mother hasn’t been ashamed of her child’s behavior in a store, meeting, church, or school at some point during the span of a child’s development?
All this talk about children throwing fits reminded me of a day I spent on the square in Oxford with my most-unhappy six-year-old (joy of my life) son. I found an old column I penned about the experience . I started to edit the piece for the purpose of this blog, but I decided to just copy it here in its entirety — to give you the whole story. To let you know, you’re not alone! And that I truly treasure each and every one of your “I was so embarrassed!” stories — because you let me know I’m not alone either. Enjoy!
July 30, 2007 The Oxford Eagle
Don’t Y’all Just Love Dixie:
From Maine to madness, a week in the life of a mother
“You can learn many things from children. How much patience you have, for instance.” – Franklin P. Jones
Have you ever had one of those humiliating moments when you want to duck behind a tree until nightfall and then slink out under the cloak of darkness to hide your shame from the world? That’s exactly how I felt two weeks ago, when my children and I decided to give my visiting aunt a tour of the square.
In order to fully appreciate this experience, I need to back track a bit, to the week before, when I joined my husband on a business trip to Maine. We ventured sanskids while they savored a week at “GG Camp” (short for Gushing Grandma).
An Envious Escape
We were very grateful for my mother’s kind offer to watch the children so we could escape for a week to New England. Although I felt guilty for leaving her so much to handle, my husband and I savored every scrumptious moment of the kid-free week.
We visited old friends from all around the world who also attended the conference. We took a sea kayaking course amidst schooners and yachts on the pristine Casco Bay. We explored Peaks Island by vintage bike, stopping to soak up the sun on ancient boulders. And we entertained ourselves between sunrise and sunset with simple pleasures such as sea glass, tide pools, salt marshes and wildflowers.
During the work hours, I had the rare treat of spending as much time as I wanted to investigate the plethora of boutiques, art galleries, museums and antique stores that lined the old port area of Portland.
I have to admit, it didn’t take me long to get spoiled. Even the food was incredibly delicious. I have never in my life seen such an abundance of fresh, locally grown organic edibles – and we moved here from Boulder, organic capital of the world, where preschoolers bring sushi and raw veggies for snack day and joggers refresh with a glass of freshly cut grass (the legal kind).
While my taste buds were throwing the bash of their lives in celebration of the rich flavors of hand pressed Panini layered with fire roasted red peppers, pine-nut pesto, grilled Portobello’s the size of Texas, crisp yellow sprouts, and the most fulfilling cheeses on earth, my husband was faced with a problem – which of the many micro-brewed beers to choose. A little sympathy here, please.
Just as we had adapted to the good life, it was time to come home. Back to the heat, humidity, responsibility and kids.
From Hugs to HELP!
As much fun as I had on the Atlantic shoreline, there was no denying that I missed my little ones terribly while we were away. I could hardly wait to wrap them in my arms and tuck them into bed with slumbertime snuggles and silly stories. The reunion was all you could dream it to be. Plenty of hugs and kisses, smiles and giggles. All was well. Better than well. Until the next morning, when we brought my aunt to the square.
I knew it wasn’t what my children (nor I) really wanted to do on our first day back together, but we had a guest. We wanted to make her happy (such are the days of our lives). So, we hit Square Books, Jr. first. No problem. The family favorite.
Next, Neilson’s, by which time my son was already getting antsy. He was eagerly waiting to spend his bribe money, the $20 I had promised him in exchange for good behavior at GG Camp. (Please don’t tell me. I know it was a terrible idea. I’m a bad mother. An awful mother. I should have known better, and now I do.)
We managed to make it out of Neilson’s in one piece and dared to explore store number three. Bad choice. It turns out I was not the only one who had been spoiled the week of GG Camp.
Now, I know my children aren’t perfect. We’re all moody, unpredictable human beings with flaws and mistakes and lessons and less than ideal moments in our lives. I don’t expect perfection. I really don’t. I do, however, expect kindness and a basic attempt at decent manners. We have good days, and we have bad days, but never have I seen a day such as this.
I Can’t HEAR You!?!
Out of the blue, my usually patient son decided he was done waiting for his turn to shop. He started crying, whining, calling his sister names, the works. I tried the usual tricks.
“Oh, look at this!” – Distraction. Strike One.
“I can’t understand you in that voice.” – Willy Wonka. Strike Two.
“Come outside with me.” – Removal. Strike Three. The sales girls shot threatening looks our way (but if you ask me, they don’t appear to be more than 10-years-old and can’t possibly have children of their own, so what do they know anyway.)
Now, I’m standing in the middle of the sidewalk, on the square, with a screaming six-year-old. Notice, I did not say two-year-old. I said six-year-old. Well old enough to know better. But there was no convincing him of that at the moment.
So, I tried ignoring him. He only got louder.
I tried putting some space between us until he calmed down. He only got louder.
I tried an immediate consequence, “OK. That’s it, Buck-O (in my very best Mama means business voice). You do not behave like this. You have lost your money.” Of course, that only made him scream even louder, “I want my $20!”
I offered faint smiles at the shocked passerbys, the ones whispering, “What a spoiled brat!” and “Somebody call The Nanny!” Still, he only got louder.
Finally, I tried dragging him through the cross-walk to reach the sanctuary of our van. No luck. He only kicked and pulled away, leaving me not only mortified and frustrated, but also deathly afraid he’d get hit by a car.
This was it. The moment a mother dreads. My moment of shame. After six years of teaching my children the importance of self restraint and the ability to talk through your feelings and the need to put other people first…it all had exploded fullforce in my face. And there was absolutely nothing I could do about it but wait it out. All while my poor, sweet aunt tried to pretend she wasn’t with us.
It Takes a Village – (or a villager with a size 42 belt)
A well-intentioned stranger offered me his belt. I declined the offer, but as the tantrum dragged on for twenty full minutes, I’ll admit I was tempted to chase the man down and say, “Here. Have at him!”
Eventually, after a very long half-hour, my son regained his composure and we slouched our way to the van.
While I’ve seen my children lose their cool, I have never in my life seen either of them throw a fit on that scale. Add to it the incredible enormity of the public scene, and you can pretty much imagine it was one of the most embarrassing moments of my life. I could tell by my son’s face, he was ashamed too. But that didn’t get him off the hook. Not by any means.
Worth the Worry
By the sheer grace of God, I did not lose my temper. I could have. Perhaps I should have. But I’ve seen mothers have to deal with much worse than an embarrassing public tantrum.
I’ve held a friend’s hand as she buried her four-year-old son who had died in her bed from a simple flu. I’ve achingly watched my own mother grieve my brother’s tragic teenage death. I’ve mourned along with my best friend’s parents for nearly fifteen years now, since she lost her grueling battle with leukemia.
I’ve seen newsflashes of mothers in Darfur and Baghdad and Texas, wailing over war-induced coffins. So while I know that my morning in the square was not my favorite mothering moment, by any means, I am certain that a million mothers out there would have traded places with me in a second if it meant having their child alive again.
To those of you who were unlucky enough to witness the tantrum on the square two weeks ago, I offer my deepest apologies. I especially offer thanks to the few of you who, instead of offering judgmental stares and comments, shrugged and said, “I understand.” Or “Honey, I’ve been there.” Thank you.
And to the mothers out there who have had your own patience tested this week, whether by an infant, a toddler, or a teen, I write this to say, I’m right there with you…and let’s remember it could always be worse. While I did have to slink away in shame, I was blessed to have my son’s hand in mine as I did it.