My son T’s first public tantrum was a nightmare. First, you have a screaming kid. Second, you have a store full of people that see you have a screaming kid.
For you novices, don’t try pleading with the kid to stop. You will just look undignified. It also got me a tongue cluck from a mom who looked like an extra from The Stepford Wives. Her kids were immaculate and not screaming.
At those times it feels like what James Lehman describes as “comparing my insides to everyone’s outsides.” You know that feeling that everyone else has it together but you?
I did not want to relive that moment ever. For weeks after that incident, I carried a bag of M&Ms with me. When my son would go off, I would surreptitiously shove a couple in his hand. This, of course, backfired. I was actually reinforcing the tantrums. It was my mother who pointed out that little tidbit of information.
“He’s calling the shots. That’s your problem,” offered my Budinsky-Know-It-All-Mom.
The comment stung because it was true and because it was my mom. There went my insides again.
I finally bit the bullet and ignored the tantrums, watching from the sidelines. He bumped up his routine a few notches by plastering himself spread eagle on the floor. Peeling his little prostrate body up was impossible.
It was two years before I could go into that particular store again. And the only reason I could is that I had changed my hair color and wore sun glasses.
There was also the time in the O’Hare Airport bathroom. T. was insisting he be allowed to go into a separate stall, right on the heels of me telling him he could not go into “the little boys room.” I put my foot down because it was “Hello, the O’Hare Airport!”
Well, he showed me. As I was gathering our things to leave the stall, he gave me a wicked smile and then started yelling, “Ow! Stop! Ow! No! Don’t!”
I looked at my little bunny boy and thought, “When did he become The Bad Seed?”
“Now listen here, I didn’t do anything. What are you trying to pull?”
He looked at me like, “Who are they going to believe?”
Yeah, it was a real Honey Boo Boo moment. I wondered how long we would have to wait until everyone in the bathroom that heard his performance was gone. And, was it worth missing our connection?
My insides said every woman in the bathroom was a better parent than me.
Then there was my son’s foray into kleptomania. He started off small: literally, because he was five and he began his life of crime in pre-school. I didn’t want anyone to know what he was doing, so when I would find a pilfered object I would secretly return it. I knew that was wrong and anxiously wondered if Billy the Kid’s mom did the same thing.
He ended up “taking” the master key to the building where I worked — a building that contained twenty-five offices. The landlord was making arrangements to have all the doors re-keyed when I found the master key wrapped in a t-shirt at the bottom of T’s backpack. Everybody in the complex then knew my son was a klepto.
Not exactly a bumper-sticker-bragging-tagline.
And lest I forget, there was the time ice cream was promised if he behaved himself on a walk with the dogs. Behaving himself meant not hitting anyone with a stick or running away. Neighbors for two blocks were treated to us screaming back and forth.
T: “I want ice cream!”
Me: “Well, you are not getting ice cream!”
(Yes, I am aware of the irony.)
Our son is seven. I have unlimited examples of situations I wished I had handled differently as a parent. When things are going well, it’s easy to feel good about your decisions, but when they aren’t, it’s easy to compare yourself to families who seem to have it all together … and in those moments, it’s easy to feel like you come up short.
As parents, none of us always does it right. Knowing we are not perfect is a skill.
It is real life.
Like our man James Lehman says: “Nobody knows the real truth unless they’ve lived it.”