Tuesday, July 16, 2013

When Parking Lot Ultimatums Fail

It was supposed to be a fairly easy and productive day. On the unwritten to-do list for the day: workout, clean house some, fold laundry, work on small pieces of drywall in mudroom. Most of that went out the window with a single trip to Lowes.

The workout was complete and laundry was in the washer waiting to be dried. We headed to Lowes after our nearly daily trip to the Y. I had made sure that this morning we had snacks to hold off hunger until we got home from our "quick" trip. My first mistake had been an hour and a half earlier when I dropped the kids off at Childwatch. Several kids were already down at the indoor playground (it consists of a slide and some climbing nets but our kid love it in there) and my daughter wanted to go down there. I was initially going to take her, but then decided that since there was a group going down at the same time, she could just go with them. Oops! She wanted me to take her and instead of willingly going down (she cried the whole way to the gym because I wasn't the one taking her) she sadly played in the big playroom until I picked her up. It was one of those moments that you don't think is going to be a big deal but apparently becomes a very big deal before your eyes. I let her play in there for a couple minutes before we left the Y and then we piled into the car for our next stop.

You know what I really love about stores? They put eye catching material right there for people, including children, to see as soon as they walk into the store. And what caught my daughter's eye? A lawn decoration. A monarch butterfly on a metal stick.

"Mom, I want this butterfly."

"Why?"

"I like it and I want to buy it. We can put it in the garden." Yeah, ok, you mean our weed patch? Yeah, that's for another blog post.

"Honey, we're not buying it. It's not on sale." This is a current go to. It usually works. It's going to be hard on us when she finally figures out what sale tags really look like.

It didn't work. And thus began a discussion that included four-year-old logic and an adult trying to reason with a four-year-old why she couldn't have a metal monarch butterfly on a stick. During the course of the discussion I was chastised by an irritated looking older woman who wanted me to move out of the way of the other carts so she could get into the store. Yeah, I get it lady. You want to go into the store and I'm being rude. Sorry, but I'm in the middle of trying to avoid an epic meltdown.

My mission failed. I finally got frustrated and took the butterfly out of her little hands and returned it to the stand. She collapsed on the ground in front of the door. I stood there for a couple minutes with my son still waiting in the cart. He was ready to get going with the shopping. So was I. Finally I just came out with the ultimatum:

"If you don't get up now so we can go shopping we are just going home." I didn't want to go home. I wanted to get items for our mudroom project. I didn't want to waste a trip. I didn't want the time we spent on the road to be a waste. We could have been at home eating lunch and getting ready for naps. Instead I was standing in a doorway watching my daughter give other customers a show. She maintained her collapsed position. I finally gave up and walked out the door with my son, waiting for my daughter to follow me. She screamed at me as I left. She said "NO!" She turned heads. And I walked straight towards the tractors outside so my son could get some promised time playing on the tractors. She finally ran out after me, crying the whole way and trying to get me back inside. She continued to carry on as I played with my son. I then had the tricky task of getting them both to the car. She was clearly not ready to follow me to the car, but she has a fear of being left so after making sure there were no cars driving through the parking lot, I started crossing to the car. Thankfully she continued to follow me, crying, screaming, carrying on about the fact that she didn't want to leave and she still wanted that stupid butterfly.

Then she refused to get into her carseat. Physically forcing my daughter to do anything is no small task. She is tall and 45 pounds. She collapsed on the floor. I couldn't just leave without her buckled in, so in the 90 degree heat I turned the car on and we sat, and sat, and sat. She would break out into hysterics and cry loudly, then quiet down for a couple minutes, then she would be right back at it. Finally, more than 45 minutes after getting back to the car, we were on the road and on the way home. She was still crying, my son was falling asleep before I could get him home and into his bed for naptime, and I was hungry. No one was very happy.

Overall, I was shocked that I maintained my calm for as long as I did, although I did almost lose it there at the end. It wasn't about the butterfly; it was about trying to teach my four-year-old that we don't always get what we want and we can't act that way in public and expect to get something in return. Actions have consequences. I realize that she lives in the moment, but some lessons are better to learn sooner than later.

It brought out the mommy guilt, especially the working mom mommy guilt. Nine months out of the year I don't have to deal with this on a daily basis. In fact, she is better behaved at school than she is at home on most days (and let's be honest, she is usually well behaved at home too). When days like today happen I feel guilty because I'm glad that I don't have to deal with it all day, every day, all year round and I feel like I should be able to deal with it all day, every day, all year round. That's the job I signed up for four years ago, isn't it? To love and cherish this little human as I raise her to adulthood? I should treasure all moments, regardless of the difficulty, shouldn't I? My head knows that the quest for parenting perfection is unreasonable. I am a sinful human being in a sinful world raising a sinful child of God. But that doesn't make the desire to be a great parent able to handle everything thrown at me any less real. I shouldn't beat myself up, but I still do.

However, today's drama also showed me that I have more resolve than I thought I did. I thought this very public tantrum would embarrass me. I thought it would have me closing all the windows and sinking down in my seat. Instead I just listened to her scream and calmly told her that when she decided to get into her seat we could go home. I played with my phone, talked to my son, and every time she took a break from screaming sobs, I would ask my daughter if she was ready to go home now. She wasn't, and so I just continued to sit there. And I wasn't embarrassed. My kid wanted something that I wasn't willing to give her and she was throwing a tantrum. Honestly I felt I was in the right. It was a ridiculous thing to fight about, but I felt it was a lesson worth learning. Again, it was a freaking butterfly, but she didn't need it and I didn't want to spend the $10 on it. So we sat. I didn't yell, I didn't scream, I didn't threaten my daughter's well being with a spanking (but don't think that near the end of this ordeal it didn't cross my mind, which just added to my mommy guilt). Instead I calmly sat there silently stewing about all the things that weren't getting done because my daughter was throwing a parking lot tantrum.

Until we become parents we really don't understand these public tantrums. We judge parents based on how their kids behave in public. We judge parents based on how they respond to those tantrums. And then we have kids and our kids throw the tantrums in public. I'm not saying that some parents don't deserve judgement, but how many people at the store today listening to my daughter screaming from the car would know that I was just trying to teach her a lesson about not always getting what we want. I hadn't hurt her in any way but there's no way that an outside observer could know that. Quite frankly, she made it sound like I was beating her and I was nowhere near her. But there would be no way to know that from across the parking lot.

There are growing pains that come with being a parent. I love my kids and have thoroughly enjoyed the advantages of being a teacher so I can be with them all summer. But today was a challenge. It was hard to not feel defeated once we were finally home. Eventually she moved on. The butterfly is not forgotten (she's still asking for it) but at least she isn't throwing a tantrum. She is quietly sleeping in her bed. Tomorrow is a new day. Tomorrow I can face the public again. And maybe tomorrow we can actually get something done.

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