A few Friday nights ago, my hubby and I took our 2-year-old to the mall for dinner. We somehow managed to get inside the place and to our favorite restaurant before we realized we were without the stroller. We were hungry and it was cold outside, so we decided to just go with it and grab dinner.
I’ll admit it: Dinner was chaotic. After plenty of fussing and ranting, the tossing of a breadstick or two, and a fight through gritted teeth between my husband and myself, I managed to get the toddler interested in her cartoon on my cell phone so we could settle into our dinner and chat. (I always swore I would never do that; then I had a child).
He was still a little grumpy about what had happened, but as the primary caretaker, I’m very good about enjoying the calm moments. As soon as the tantrum subsides, I quickly turn back to something positive and enjoy it to the absolute fullest, because as the mom of a 2-year-old, I’m basically on borrowed time.
Our daughter ended up enjoying her meal despite the antics at the beginning, and we decided to take a walk to the other end of the mall to grab some ice cream afterward. But once we were halfway there, the meltdown began. Our toddler started crying about who-knows-what, contorting her body and completely inconsolable.
I took the reigns in attempting to calm her down, and my husband started looking around us at all the other families with little kids. It suddenly felt like there were tons of them (this is New Jersey in the dead of winter, where else are parents supposed to go on a Friday night?) and not a single one was dealing with a tantrum.
“Do we have the worst kid in the world or what? What are we doing wrong?” he asked.
I couldn’t help but burst out laughing at that, even amid the chaos. Was he kidding? I looked around then, too, and I saw something totally different. I saw moms giving me a knowing smile, just like I do when our own 2-year-old is being perfect and someone else’s nearby has gone cataclysmic. I saw parents who had remembered their strollers and had their own toddlers strapped in and playing with iPads or being coerced into good behavior with lollipops. That’s usually us. The only thing “bad” or “good” that I saw wasn’t the kids, it was the luck. That night, ours was just worse.
My husband doesn’t really think we have the worst kid in the world. He lights up when they’re together, can never stop talking about how wonderful she is, and loves her personality which is such a combination of sweetness and strength. But in moments like that, I get where he’s coming from.
But, no, honey. We are not completely messing the whole thing up. I have just spent a lot more time around little kids, and my perspective is totally different. I’ve seen the most mild-mannered kids at playground wage wars against their parents over crayons or t-shirts. In all those years I babysat before having our daughter, I’ve been kicked, punched, pinched, and called stupid by even some of my favorite charges.
The fact is, husband, toddlers are tough. All kids are, at times. Just like the rest of us, they have emotions that come about in reaction to circumstances, but they don’t have the tools to express themselves properly. So, instead they act like little a-holes.
That night, since we never managed to get our ice cream at the mall, I suggested we stop at the supermarket and he obliged. Once inside the store, I navigated like a champ, unencumbered by the typical stress of dragging a two-year-old around. As I approached the checkout with my pint of mint-chip, I heard it. And saw it.
All around me, toddlers were wailing in shopping carts, repeating the word “no,” yanking cell phones out of their mothers’ purses and hurling them on the ground, screaming “I want it!” about some bizarre toy or a pack of gum they saw on display. But I wasn’t judging them, just like those parents at the mall had probably not been judging us.
We’ve all been there, and as parents we have to stand in solidarity. No one has a worse kid and no one is doing a worse job. We just all have our moments and that’s that. In that particular moment I might have looked like a relaxed single gal grabbing a pint of ice cream and heading home for a chill Friday night on the couch. When really I’m a stressed-out, exhausted mom who’d spent her whole day — scratch that, week — drying tears and soothing tantrums.
I texted my husband from inside the store: “Current meltdown count: 6. Happening in real time. What about ours?”
“LOL,” he replied. “She’s being an absolute angel.”