“Please, don’t make me regret this.”
– Me before entering public with my children for the past 5 years
After years of living in fear every time I attempted to take both my children in public I’ve recently started to enter a sweet spot. My eldest – at a mature 5.75 years old has for the most part outgrown public tantrums. My soon to be 4 year old has been shedding his terrible 3s and learning the art of accepting fruit snack negotiation in return for good behavior. The tide has turned and it is FINALLY more likely that they will NOT melt down publicly than they will. Life. Is. Good. Just a few short months ago I could not have imagined the freedom of navigating Target without having to hide in the garden center throwing our threats like, “if you don’t calm down we will be putting back that crap toy you picked up in the dollar aisle as a bribe from me to sit your butt in the cart” or the ever popular, “Do I need to call your father?? He probably won’t answer but I will fake call him and fake tell on you to him all day long mister.” It’s a new stage of parenthood for me. As I have confessed here, here and here – I am not a “perfect” parent with “perfect” children who always listen, never talk back and would never throw your favorite contouring palette into the toilet (I’m looking at you my almost 4 year old.) I’m just a regular ol’ mom who says “for fucks sake” under her breath on the regular. And I’m a regular ol’ mom who truly wondered if this day would ever come.
After living in the danger zone for so long, this feels weird. Good weird. But weird nonetheless. A few days ago I ventured into Target with with my two wild ones and managed to not only shop for my essentials but also to peruse the home goods aisles. Semi leisurely even. Hi. That’s like the motherhood equivalent of “living the dream.” I have become so used to having a level of hyper tenseness going into a store with my children that it wasn’t until I exited the store, loaded everything into my car, got both kids in their car seats and exhaled that I realized we hadn’t even come close to making our once typical public scene. I wasn’t living in regret. I wasn’t texting my husband, “you won’t believe what YOUR children just did.” I started thinking and realized that other than my preschoolers continued joy at hiding in racks and shelves (Side note: Apologies to all the women at our local Nordstrom Rack who have been greeted with a grinning size 4t curly top instead of the size 8 dress they were seeking) we have been having many more ups than downs.
Over the past five years I have learned just how long it takes to complete a grocery trip with a toddler who demands to push the cart himself and also how quickly I can jump in front of said cart as it barrels towards a display of wine bottles. I have figured out how to give “the look” not only to my kids but at anyone who dared to raise an eyebrow at an ill timed mid aisle tantrum. I’ve conditioned myself to never enter a store without a water bottle and a bag of snacks on standby. I’ve prayed that my older son would for once keep his mouth shut instead of giving a running commentary on the hair, glasses, clothing choice, etc of any person who made eye contact with him (flashback to the day he loudly asked his brother, “don’t you hate with OLD people stare at you?”BRB -dying.) I’ve played chicken with nap time, ran into a second store when I knew one was the limit and left half full carts behind along with some of my dignity on a few of the worst days.
But the point I want to make here isn’t just that I’ve lived through it- It’s that I am noting it. I am logging it. I am making an effort to remember it. I want my empathy meter to have a full tank of memory fueled gas. My kids were shits to take out in public. They absolutely were. They ran. They hid. They fought. They always needed to go to the bathroom the minute we got to the farthest point in the store from a bathroom (even though 10 minutes earlier when we past the bathroom they swore they did not need to go). As soon as one would cry and I would be distracted the other would take the opportunity to dump the contents of my purse, or my Starbucks or their bag of 150 little puffy star snacks all over the floor. There would be stares (from standbyers). There would be exasperated sighs (by me). There were would an announcement (which even as I spoke it I knew was a lie) that I would never take them both out to a store alone again. There would be .so. much. regret.
Don’t get me wrong here – the odds still fall the other way sometimes and I’m not living with both feet in the completely worry free shopping trip world yet. I actually began writing this yesterday. I wrote out the above paragraph listing all the things my
demons children were known to do and then today we traveled as a family to Ikea. It started with the preschooler taste testing a CANDLE. “HI CHILD. ARE YOU EATING THAT WAX? YOU ARE? PLEASE STOP DOING THAT.” (whispers “for fucks sake”) The non edible snack break was followed quickly by the predictable “I have to go to the bathroom” while nowhere near a bathroom. Right on cue this trainwreck of a shopping trip progressed to preschooler hiding between boxes in the warehouse. Cue heart attack followed by major head shake syndrome when I told him if he hides from me bad people could take him and he assured me with the confidence of a million Kanyes that he could “destroy” any bad guys. Hi face. Meet palm. We moved to the check out at that point which ended with a slappy hand fight amongst brothers causing me to announce, “THAT’S IT. NO DOLLAR SOFT SERVE FOR ANYEEEEEEEEONE.” Cue the waterworks from the 5 year old and the preschooler on repeat with this summer’s hottest remix – “But I want ice creeeeam.” So yo. Even while I am phasing out of it – I’ve still got one solid foot in it.
But we are getting there. Instead of shitshows every time we venture out it’s a spattering of shit shows between half a dozen or so good outings. Baby steps. Our trips have slowly improved but it’s not happened over night. And I am going to remember that. I am cementing that fact in my head. While many judgey old generation parents in line behind you might offer unsolicited parenting advice and Facebook comment section parenting experts continue to assert that good parenting means parents don’t “allow” their children to act like shits in public I’m going to stick with my story that A) I didn’t “allow” any of their bad behavior, I’m just victimized by it (seriously, ask my therapist team, Dr. Smirnoff and Coke Zero) and B) Tantruming wild child at Target isn’t cured or prevented by some magical superior parenting. SHOCKER ALERT – like almost everything else that leaves me cussing excessively related to parenting, IT’S A PHASE. I’m getting through it. They are getting through it. And if you have little ones who like to wreak havoc the minute they have you cornered into the back of a store with a cart full of fruit snacks and toilet paper you will get through it too. And I for one, won’t be judging you.