Wednesday, July 14, 2010

sister hood of motherhood

Uuggh. I just got back from the grocery store where I witnessed a 3-4 year old girl having one of those EPIC melt-downs that only a child of that age can have. She was crying, screaming, face bright red, banging her little fists on the ice-cream freezer door; she'd spied those adorable little Ben & Jerry's single-serving containers and she was NOT LEAVING until she got one.

The poor woman apologized to ME, because her daughter was blocking my Ben & Jerry's. I looked at her with complete sympathy and said "No need to apologize; I've been there myself. I am so sorry you're going through this right now. It will get better." I thought she was going to burst into tears right then. I left the ice-cream isle and as I gathered the last couple of items, paid for them, and walked out of the store, I could STILL hear the little girl screaming and saw the mother trying to physically force her into the cart and out of the ice-cream isle. I could tell by the mother's face that she was at her absolute breaking point.

We've all been there, when the urge to say and do things you'll regret later is so huge, so overpowering, that the ONLY thing stopping you is that you are in public and you don't want others to witness the child-abuse you are momentarily flirting with. I remember the first time I actually thought "Now I can kind of understand how it happens, how a parent who is overly exhausted with not enough support could just snap" and lash out at a child who has pushed you way, way beyond your limit.

At that point what you need is someone to step in: a spouse, your mother, a friend or neighbor...someone, anyone who can put some physical and emotional space between you and your child so that you can take a few deep breaths. So that you can find your center, so that you can think and gather your wits about you and walk back into the line of fire with a calm mind and a plan. You need someone who understands to step in and help you, just for a minute or two.

I saw all of that on that mother's face and I wished there was something I could do. I thought about trying to distract the child, I thought about asking the mother for her list and her cart so that I could finish the shopping that needed to be done. But being a complete stranger I couldn't really do either of those things. I walked out to my car feeling sick with helplessness.

Should I have done something? Was I minding my own business or did I take the easy way out, heading home with my own Ben & Jerry's? What would you have done, if anything?


Laura said...

Kate, you're so much sweeter than I am; the most I've ever done is just try to be gracious and let the mom know I'm not cursing her. What kills me is the bystanders who judge and mutter.

Linda said...

I'd just render that kid unconscience. Then I'd pack the little shit out to the car and put her in the trunk. Problem solved.


Jodi said...

Kate, you're a good soul...

Dee said...

Geeze, Linda , that's really horrible. Isn't it strange how memories from your childhood come back with such clarity !

Jenn said...

So I'm new to Spokane, well 8 months now, and am just loving finding wonderful women like you and penny carnival live in my new city. Now only if I could be craft making, gardening, wine loving friends with you all. Someday.
my blog, more of a "hey family on the westside, look how freaking cute my daughter that you never get to see anymore is" kind of blog:

Laurie said...

This really struck a chord with me b/c it is my f'ing life. I have a two-year old and a 9-month old, and when I tell my husband that I am on my way to "run the gauntlet of hellfire and misery" he understand that I going to the grocery store.

I experience the meltdown situation pretty regularly, and yes, thank god I am in public when that happens... although that does ratchet up the stress factor. But if someone had spoken to me with the kindness that you did (rather than frown and assume that I am a shitty parent), I probably would have burst into tears.

I think you did all that you could have given your stranger status. That was very sweet and I am sure was appreciated.

DanaLee said...

i was in africa and my new little girl would scream and cry when mom left. I mean like your girl in the ice cream situation. So i took her by the hand bent her over the bed and used my belt on her. She then fell asleep but from that day on she never did it again. When someone is at there wits end it never hurts to give them a hand. You should feel ashamed for leaving that woman there. If she would have objected you would have suffered an embarrassment so little pain compared to that of the mother. In Africa it is permissible to discipline ur children. Children are uncomfortable having no limits you r there to provide that for them. So I read ur blog so you can't say no one reads ur blog. I am 67 years old male well out of ur comfy social circle. So when u feel the need just step in and help, that is what angels do and in that moment u were her angel. Maybe you should write a blog on the cowardly angel.