I’m pretty sure every parent has moments where they have no idea how to respond to their children.
I think we’ve all felt helpless and defeated at some point.
If you haven’t, well that’s fabulous, why don’t you stop reading and go make a pie or something.
I think it’s also safe to say that I have had this helpless and defeated feeling more often than most mothers. Perhaps because I face some unique parenting challenges, or perhaps because I am weak.
That being said, this is the story of Wednesday.
Peter and I had been cooped up in the house for the morning. We were getting ready to meet my inlaws to take Peter and his cousin to a children’s museum. But we had a bit of time to kill and were both feeling restless.
It was lunchtime. Peter loves going to the mall for pizza. It’s easy. It’s cheap. And I’m all for anything that doesn’t involve my oven when it’s 100 degrees outside.
Generally I bring the stroller as sometimes P gets overstimulated and impulsive and runs. Sometimes he gets angry or sad and lays down…anywhere…roads, parking lots, elevators, you get the picture. When he’s laying or rolling on the ground I really struggle to pick him up. He’s half my size, maybe more, and strong. Very strong.
Laying, rolling. In parking lots. Into roads. Anywhere. Screaming and stiffening his body so that it’s practically impossible to pick him up.
He does not do this on purpose. He is not just having a temper tantrum. His world is completely topsy turvy and he’s fighting just to be present.
So Wednesday, as we pulled into the Pay Cee Jenny (JC Penney) parking area he saw the California Pizza Kitchen sign. We were going to go to the food court, that’s what we always do, but he read pizza and wanted to go there. I told him it was different and that we had to wait and sit and…and…he was really excited for a big boy meal with Mommy.
I didn’t put him in the stroller. It wasn’t a long walk and I didn’t want to deal with navigating it through the restaurant. As we reached the door he started to freeze. I tried to abort and keep heading for the food court but he stood there staring longingly at the pizza store.
Might as well I thought. But as soon as I opened the door he screamed and threw himself on the ground, his lip trembling, body shaking, struggling to catch his breath. He went from excited to trepidatious to total meltdown in the span of less than a minute. He was crying that he can’t do it. He can’t go in. It’s too scary. He doesn’t like it. It’s bad.
So of course I tried to get him out of there. I told him he was right. The other pizza was way better. Let’s go there AND get a cookie.
While every upper-middle class pious bitch in the Triangle gawked. Naturally.
I carried him out of the store. Hoping he’d calm down. That I could at least get him to the food court or car. But then he began sobbing that he wanted to go back, back, BACK to the pizza store. ”I can do it. I’m so sorry. I’ll do it. I’m not scared. I’m not. I’ll be nice, Mommy.”
“Okay, I breathe <audible breathe> in <pause> and out. See, I’m all better Mommy. I’m sorry. I’m better. I will do it, Mom.”
But he’s not better. He’s definitely not better.
Did you read that though? He’s sorry. Talk about heartbreak. He’s sorry for something that he has absolutely no control over. He feels responsible. Oh I know that feeling. I hate that feeling. Have I shared that flawed logic with my child? I hate myself in that moment, and in many after, it replays in my dreams, in the still of the night.
I hate hearing my child apologize for losing control of his emotions. For fearing something that he absolutely should fear. Walking into CPK is not, for him, what it is for you and me. It’s a world of sounds and lights and people…and…expectations. It’s incredibly hard work. It’s confusing. It’s like entering combat. No really. It is. It’ s like he’s walking through a mine field trying desperately not to explode. The pressure to not buckle when there are so many unknowns. That’s an awful lot for a little boy.
But worse, he wants to fit in. He wants to take these challenges. So he IS sorry. He’s sorry that he can’t. That he doesn’t have the tools. And for that, I am sorry.
In the end he was thrashing about so inconsolably that it took all my physical/emotional effort to lift him from the pavement and carry him over my shoulder, shoes flying off, the whole time screaming “I’m so sorry, Mommy. I want to go to the pizza store. I will do it. I am so sorry”…and we went back to the car.
And the shoes, and my purse and my dignity were lost somewhere between the inconviently placed handicapped spot and the pizza store. Along with a dozen gawkers.
To get him into the car I literally had to use all of my weight to shove him into the back seat. I got into the driver’s side and turned on the air. He continued to scream and cry. And then I lost it. I sobbed. Big deep gutterell sobs. While I plotted how to get back to get his shoes, my purse…
I finally ran as fast as I could to the curb, collected our “things” and back…crying…out of breathe…sweating…making sure to give the gawkers what they wanted. So they could tsk tsk… So I could hate them forever.
We sat in the car, while he screamed himself horse.
“I’m so sorry. I can be nice. I can do it, Mommy. Please-oh-please-oh-please Mommy. I want to go to the pizza store. I’m so sorry”.
Me whispering quietly “Shh, it’s okay, I love you. It’s not your fault. I’m so sorry.” through my own tears. For 10 – maybe 20 minutes…time stood still. I silently berated myself for putting him in that situation. For being so stupid and careless.
Then my sister-in-law called. I tried to explain to her and my mother-in-law but no one could hear me anyway. I put her on speaker phone and as her voice pierced the air he immediately began to breathe more regularly.
She calmly invited him to Titi’s Pizza Kitchen. Cheerfully she ran down a list of silly toppings like play-dough, paint, bird seed, and silly string. Taking his “order”.
He began to giggle incessantly. Recovery was instant. I rushed around and got him in his carseat and we told Titi we were on our way.
And sure enough, when we arrived at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Titi was in the kitchen, with a chef’s hat, a menu, pizza dough and all of the fun ingredients. Grandma played Hostess.
Grandpa came home shortly thereafter with Dominos.
As my world slowly stopped reeling. I realized that it’s true. I can’t do this. Not by myself.
But that when I feel most defeated, that’s when my family and friends step in.
Because they are here. They love him and understand him and will go to any length to make his world safe.
And isn’t that what we all want in life? Someone to do that for us?