We have ushered the new year with some very nice days at our house. Today, I didn’t even count down to naptime. The boys played well together all day – N only knocked his little brother down once; Baby K kept the high-pitched screaming to a relative minimum. We laughed and played dinosaurs; we ate snacks and took naps. Before dinner, I surprised us all with a trip to the new self-serve yogurt shop near our house. N was excited to sit in their bright orange scoop chairs and eat gummy bears with a little vanilla froyo on the side. Baby K and I shared a little dish, and he was so pleased with the new cold sensation on his lips.
After the frozen yogurt, our day took one of those sneaky dives that doesn’t even show a hint of brewing below the surface until it rears its ugly head in the form of a public meltdown. I’m very used to tantrums that happen as an indication that it’s naptime, or tantrums after an overstimulating day. What takes me by surprise is N’s loss of control in the midst of an otherwise completely mundane activity. Like driving from one parking lot to another. I don’t know if he was screaming about cold, or about walking too far to get into the store, or about being afraid that someone would get the red firetruck shopping cart before he got to it. But all of a sudden, my child was sobbing and screaming that I was parking in the wrong spot when he wanted me to park closer to the entrance.
Much worse than the screaming was the spoiled-as-all-hell tone with which his screams were filled. Who did he think he was? I played with him all day, took him out for ice cream, and then drove him to a store, one we could have walked to, because it was winter dusk. And now he was throwing a fit because we weren’t parking in THE spot he wanted? I was embarrassed for us both. I told N he couldn’t ride in the firetruck cart at all, that he would have to walk next to me in the store or ride in a regular cart after that ridiculous behavior. Which killed him. Sent him into a slumped-over, howling, hyperventilating lump in his carseat.
I was stuck. In my head, two voices: everything I knew I should do as a responsible, consistent parent, and the practical reality. I had to take this child into the store, where there were other people, and buy groceries for dinner. I was supposed to stick to the consequence (no fire truck cart) so that I wasn’t rewarding the horrible behavior. But, again, I had to go into the store with this, and I didn’t want to drag a screaming, out-of-control child through Safeway for half an hour. So I went with practical. Made him calm down, talked to him about getting it under control, stopped the hyperventilating. Let him ride in the fire truck.
Which brings me, in a roundabout way, to my most important resolution for 2012.
This year, I will go easier on myself. Not to be mistaken for letting myself go, I will give myself a break and quit failing at being a perfect mother. I will no longer be so busy trying to make it all perfect that I spend all of my time feeling like I can’t.
Instead of listening to the shouting of the parenting books, the rules I know I should follow, and the fear of how others will see my mothering skills all the time, I will forgive myself for faltering and lift a little of the guilt off my shoulders. Sometimes drawing a hard line on consequences isn’t realistic. Sometimes, you have to let your kid ride in the fucking fire truck cart and then send him to his room after the fact to give yourself a little peace at the grocery store. Giving in – or teaching the lesson later instead of right now – once in a while isn’t going to make me a bad mother. I am even willing to bet that Dr. Sears and the “experts” at Babycenter have changed course mid-meltdown to just get the errand done.
The fit ended, I didn’t feel like N saw me as soft on the fit, he rode in the fire truck and spent 20 minutes in his room when we got home, and I shopped for groceries with two quiet kids. Problem solved. Maybe not the perfect mom way, but the perfect-for-this-mom way. Welcome, 2012! Cheers to you and to a year of enLIGHTENment.