By Dana Gornall
Dear Young Mother with the Screaming Child in Target,
I didn’t flinch when I heard the howl from your son, while we were all waiting in lines.
Truthfully, all of us with children have been there at one time or another. It’s my belief that if anyone tells you different, they are lying. I was there a few times myself. I remember being in a movie theater standing in the hallway right outside the bathroom. I had asked my 4-year old daughter to go potty before we left—it was winter time and cold outside. I wanted her to be comfortable and avoid any surprise stops on the way home.
My daughter balked at the idea. Stomping her feet, she insisted that she did not have to go potty even though I insisted she at least try. My two other children (older than her) stood by rolling their eyes in embarrassment and so I gave in. I tried to put on her coat but she was not having anything. Flailing her arms in every direction and screaming at the top of her lungs, it was impossible to slide her arms into the sleeves.
People began to stare.
Her will met mine and I let go. Eyes straight ahead I told her, “Fine,” and began to beeline for the exit. She was tired, I supposed. As we neared the door I could hear her running a few steps behind me, still screaming and—as we made it to that wonderful push bar that would open the door to outside—she yelled, “Aren’t you even going to let me wear my coat?”
People were still staring. I wished to die.
Bending down quietly, I pulled on her jacket, certain there would be a police car in the parking lot waiting to handcuff me and take me to jail for child abuse. At that point, a small part of me wouldn’t have minded—if only for five minutes or so—to get a reprieve of quiet.
We made it to the car without any police car in sight. Although, to be fair, I checked my rear view mirror occasionally on the ride home. This wasn’t the first temper tantrum and it most likely wasn’t the last.
So, when I stood in line at Target the other night in one of the few lines with registers open, I didn’t bat an eye when I heard the howl. All of us parents have been there before; it’s like a club.
I glanced over and saw you with the line of people behind you growing ever impatient and the elderly lady in front of you counting out her change from her wallet ever so slowly. Your cart appeared to be filled with groceries and toiletries for the week, and perhaps a birthday present for a kids’ party you might be dreading. Your face read of frustration and like you might need a few extra hours of sleep.
I remember that look.
After the first scream it was as though the atmosphere in the front of the store shifted and we all took a collective gasp in. And then your son howled again. I overheard you shush him and try to placate him with calming statements like, “We are almost done.” and, “We are going to the car soon.”
You followed me out into the parking lot, fishing inside one of the bags and retrieving a small object—something to distract, a bribe, no doubt. He seemed to be unphased and still unhappy, and I heard your voice tighten as you muttered to settle down.
My heart went out to you, dear Young Mother with the Screaming Child at Target. I wanted to stop and tell you it will be okay; don’t worry.
I wanted to tell you this was all temporary, that right now it felt hot and uncomfortable and that maybe you were questioning your parenting. Maybe you were questioning your decision to come to Target this Sunday evening or maybe even your choice to have a child at that particular point. I wanted to tell you to take a few deep breaths. That yes, some people are not going to understand and will be annoyed. Some people will avert their eyes and make comments under their breath. But many of us have been in your shoes.
We get it.
I wanted you to know this time will fly by very quickly and that it will just be a small part of parenting like the warm up before a race. That it would be important to find the pauses in your life right now, to relax into each moment. There will be good days and bad. There will be sleepless nights and days when you might question your sanity.
Thinking back at my own moments of being in stores and public places with children that have reached their breaking point, I realized the push-pull that happens in these moments. This metaphorical tug of war we play—we push, they pull back, we pull back, they push forward—and it cycles over and over again throughout our lifetime with them. We want them to be or do or say this and they want that. Our children want us to be or do or say that and we want this.
I’m still playing the game and my children are teenagers.
So, I’ll leave you with this, Dear Mother with the Screaming Child at Target: this is all temporary. There will be days when you must hold your ground, there will be days when you will give in. There will be outbursts in check out lines and doors will be slammed at home. There will be nights when you can’t sleep, and nights when you can’t keep your eyes open. Just remember when both of you are holding and tugging at the rope, most likely you won’t get very far.
But most likely, it will be okay.
Editor: John Lee Pendall
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