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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

A plea on behalf of toddler moms everywhere

The other morning I went for coffee with a friend and our toddlers, both of whom had been up since five.  It was a gray, dreary day and the thought of going home just felt slightly unbearable.

Things were progressing as normally as could be expected under such circumstances.  A good deal of whining, an outburst or two... and that was just the moms.  We ended up having our coffee at the lego table, speaking in five word sentences and losing out train of thought about every two minutes.  We broke apart fights with one hand and sipped our foamy lattes with the other.  So, you know, the norm.

We went to pay and literally had our backs turned for three seconds.  During those three seconds Benjamin booked it for the mini-fridge, flung the door open, and swiped his two grimy fingers right through the icing of the carrot cake.  By the time I turned around he was standing there, fingers in mouth, the tiniest fleck of guilt tainting his wide, innocent eyes.  

"I'll take that one to go."

It took a minute to register as Benjamin watched her package up his finger-smudged piece of cake.  If I touch it, I get it.  Major lightbulb moment.  

Of course Benjamin then set off to destroy me.  I couldn't hear the amount she was saying.  I couldn't retrieve my money.  I couldn't stop sweating!  All I could do was pull Benjamin from that darn fridge, which, by the way, is just perfectly his height, time and time again.  

This wasn't working.  

Just when I thought I was literally going to lose it, the owner of our small, village coffeeshop/bookstore came out from behind the counter, picked up Benjamin and brought him back to the register.  She gave him a few knickknacks to busy his little hands and explained what she was she was doing in soft, soothing Hungarian.  He watched as she pushed the buttons and stared at her when she spoke.  It threw him off just enough to settle him down and allow me to pay.  

When it was time to leave I thanked her profusely and Benjamin shouted "Szia!" as he ran out the door.  I left with a smile on my face, and a warmth in my heart.

Someone asked me once if children seem to tantrum here as much as they do in the States.  I think they expected the answer to be no.  But the truth is, yes, they do.  Just as much, I'd say, if not more.

Because, you know what, toddlers are toddlers, everywhere.  A toddler tantrums, or melts down, or throws a fit, or whatever you want to call it, because they are learning the hard lesson that the world does not, in fact, revolve around them.  They're learning the hard lesson that you can't always get what you want.  

When my first turned toddler I thought, what's wrong with him?  He cries about everything and he never just does what I ask him to!  

Now I'm like, I know, buddy.  It's hard being a little guy.  Sometimes your mommy has to pee, which is absolutely as horrible as your large, heaving sobs indicate.  It's like her peeing needs are more important than your need to stand in front of the open fridge for 10 minutes mulling over your food and drink choices, only to choose an item that you will probably just spit back onto your plate before demanding something else.  It really is hard.  I understand.

A kid throwing a tantrum is not a reflection of bad parenting.  In fact, it might just be a reflection of good parenting.  Of standing to the side while your child has a moment, of allowing him to feel what he feels and then moving on, whether it takes a minute or an hour.  Of not giving in, just to save face.

And while your child is working through his tangled feelings, testing his limits, a helping hand or a knowing smile can make all the difference.

I can't tell you how many times I've been let to the front of a line because Benjamin cannot be still.  Or how many times a perfect stranger has helped corral him back into a shop when he books it through the doors while I'm trying to pay.  I can't tell you how many averted eyes or sympathetic glances or soft, calming words were offered to me, or to my feisty toddler, when in the midst of a meltdown.

And I can't tell you the importance of these small gestures to a mom feeling like she may lose her mind at any given moment.

Yesterday morning Benjamin carried Finn's small backpack into school.  He was so proud.  But when we arrived to Finn's classroom he wasn't ready to let go.  And so he didn't.

Once I finally tore the straps from his freakishly strong little fingers I was forced to pick him up, screaming and flailing, and carry him from the school.  Every once in a while he'd wriggle free and take off towards Finn's classroom.  I'd run as fast as I could and scoop his spastic body into my arms, trying to make it as far as I could before he broke loose again.  This went on for some time, but eventually we made it to the car.  Unfortunately the car was not where Benjamin wanted to be.  Not without his backpack at least.  And so he proceeded to scream so loudly and frantically that he literally made himself throw up.  Right there in the parking lot.  I hurried him back inside to the bathroom where he continued to gag and choke and throw up.  And then back to the car where he continued on with the same as I sped home, which suddenly felt millions of miles away.

At home I stripped him down and bathed him, toweling him off and dressing him in his softest, coziest jammies.  We snuggled on the couch and watched Doc McStuffins, and it was as though nothing had ever happened.  I sat there next to his tiny body in a state of shock as he sang along with the Doc and shot devious smiles in my direction.

This is what we're dealing with people.  Us parents of toddlers.  And all over a freaking backpack.

So be kind.  Offer to help.  Shoot a smile that says, "Toddlers are crazy.  I get it.  But you're doing great.  Keep going mama!"

It might be small, but to those of us walking around with our happy, giggly little ticking time bombs, a bit of understanding is everything.  Just to get us through these tumultuous toddler years, until our children start resembling actual human beings.

Life can be hard.  I hope I can remember that when life gets easier for us.  When I can go to a store without causing a major scene or sit down to eat at a restaurant instead of hopping up every two minutes to pull my child off the bar.

I hope I will one day be the one with the sympathetic smile, the one letting a frazzled mom before me in line, the one talking softly to a screaming child, remembering the relief of one minute of peace.

But for now I'll let someone hold my wild toddler, I'll smile back at the people who know, I'll tear up a bit when I'm, once again, let to the front of the line.

I'll accept everything I'm offered, and I'll hope above all hope that the moms and dads who just don't know if they can do it anymore are offered the exact same.

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