Thursday, November 17, 2011

Angels Among Us

I like going to Trader Joe's.  Having been a TJ's crew member for 3 years in Chicago, I find my time at Trader Joe's to be nostalgic, happy, and fun.  I like finding the products I used to love, and I like discovering the products I've never before seen.  Usually my trips to Trader Joe's end with a smile on my face and a rumble in my belly as I think about the food I get to eat at home from Trader Joe's.  My trip to Trader Joe's this week, however, threatened to end with me in tears, if it weren't for one angel who parked next to me at Trader Joe's.  She does not have a name, she does not have wings (at least not visible ones), but she is my angel.  If I ever needed proof, she is the proof I have always searched for.

I wanted it to be a quick trip to Trader Joe's, because we only needed a few items.  I took Audrey into the store while she was sleeping in her carseat, and where I would normally have put her in the stroller, I foolishly thought to myself, "this will be so fast, I don't even want to bother with the stroller in the trunk.  We'll just be in and out."  Famous last words.

We purchased a couple packages of nuts (which you can get great deals on at Trader Joe's, and I receive no kickback from them for saying so): almonds, peanuts and cashews. We also purchased a dried fruit bar for Sean.  He was proudly carrying the bar all the way through the checkout line, and all the way outside.  I had told him that if he ate his sandwich, he could have the fruit bar after.  He seemed to go along with this plan, but he insisted that he carry the bar himself.

When we got out to the parking lot, I enacted the usual drill:

me: Sean, when we get to the parking lot, I need a hand.  Remember we hold hands when we're in the parking lot because there are cars around.

He obliged.  And as if to reinforce my point, a car pulled around the lot just at that moment, facing us as we were about to cross the pavement.  The driver of the car, seeing my hands full with a sleeping Audrey in the carseat in one hand and holding Sean's hand and the groceries in the other, waved me across the way.  He kindly slowed to a stop, and he had a look of nostalgia or quiet love on his face.  It was the look of a grandfather, perhaps seeing in me his own child, and seeing in my kids his own grandkids.  He was enjoying the moment to take care of us as he would his own family.  Thank you, sir.

me: Okay, Sean, this kind man is letting us cross the street, let's go.

Sean resisted my pull on his arm, focused on some item? lost activity? some opportunity for fun that was back in the Trader Joe's sliding doors?  I don't know, but I quickly dismissed whatever distraction kept him from walking forward with me.

me: Sean, let's go please, the car is waiting.

Sean: Yes, but -

I've been getting the "yes, but" a lot lately.  Do I say this alot?  Do I consistently agree with him and then counteract whatever is his desire?  If I am doing this, I'm not aware of it, but I'm keenly aware in this moment that he's turned a tool around against me.

Sean: Yes, but - I want to -

me: Sean, we need to be fast, fast, fast (a common phrase of mine, and I don't know if it inspires speed or if I just feel better saying it) the car is waiting.

Sean: NNNOOooooo!

He begins pulling my arm back towards the store, and I'm pulled in two directions as I lunge forward with Audrey (still sleeping) in her carseat and simultaneously pulled backwards with Sean wanting to go back to the store.

me: (abruptly) Sean, you have a choice: either you come with me right now and be a good listener (for this line, I must credit Susie Qualls-Agniel) or I will pick you up and carry you to the car.

Sean: (louder) NNNNOOOOOOOOOoooo!

With this his body goes boneless - as the great children's writer, Mo Willems, likes to say.  I count to three, giving him the final opportunity to come with me of his own accord.  Before doing this, I glance back at the driver of the car, and I give him a silent apology.  His face has gone from seeing his family members in our faces to slight... terror? compassion? pity?  I have no time to figure out what he's thinking...

me: Sean, you have to the count of three: 1!

He's leaning back towards the store with his full weight. Screaming.

me: 2!

He's on the ground screaming. YUCK! He's on the ground of the parking lot. What germs could possibly be down there?!

me: 3!

I scoop him up with the hand carrying the groceries, and during the jumble as I re-situate things, Audrey's eyes bolt open.  She's disoriented, so gratefully, she's quiet.  She's perplexed and she looks a little lost.  Sean is still screaming, but he's added arching his back to his tantrum, which makes this moment seem more like a kidnapping than a parent/child disagreement.  I walk with a gait, Sean on my hip, the carseat clunking at my side, and I must look like a hunchback moving through the parking lot, except my "hunch" is not on my back.  It's on my hip.  Still screaming.

Thankfully, I've pulled the car keys out of the backpack before we left the store, so I'm able to unlock the car during the tantrum.  We cross the way, allowing the man in the car - God bless you, sir - to move through the parking lot.  I've given up trying to assess what he's taken from this moment.  I set Audrey down on the pavement beside the car, open her door, and toss Sean and the bag of groceries into the car.  I leave it up to the reader to imagine what this toss looks like, though in my defense, he is not harmed in the toss.  He hates this. He continues screaming and yelling at me.  I then use Audrey and her carseat as a blockade so that Sean may not leap out of the car again to run back towards Trader Joe's.  I lock Audrey into the base of her carseat, and I slam the door.  Then, I move to Sean's side of the car.  He sees me coming and darts underneath Audrey's carseat behind the driver seat.  I open the door on his side and have to crawl into the car to extract him.  What follows is more back arching from him, shouts of "No, No, No, Mama! No, No, No, Mama!" coupled with going entirely boneless and trying to wiggle out of my arms.  It's a challenge getting his butt in his carseat.  During the fracas, I lose my car keys.  I don't know where they have gone, but the task at hand is getting Sean into his carseat.  By this point, Audrey is starting to fret.  She was woken from a sound sleep, being jostled about in the parking lot, and now her brother is screaming.  I try a new approach to get him to work with me.

me: Sean, I need you to sit in your seat. (I question if he can even hear what I'm saying over the sound of his own voice.) And if you don't sit in your seat, I'm going to take your bar away.

This is a gamble.  If he listens to me, I have succeeded.  But if he doesn't listen to me, I have to follow through with this threat, which I know will only make things worse.

me: Are you going to sit in your seat?

Back arching, kicking, screaming, shouting no, [fill in your own tantrums here].

me: you have until the count of three. 1!


me: 2!

[no change]

me: 3!

The removal of the bar from his hands sends his tantrum into the overdrive: the silent scream.  His face turns a couple shades of red and purple, his body is solidly held in "back arch position", and his eyes are WILD.  I perform my final move - the knee to the crotch - which was a lot easier a year ago when he was smaller and weighed less.  Through kicks, screaming and many tears, I finally get the seat belt buckled.  I search frantically for my keys, don't see them, and close the door, nearly brought to tears myself.

angel: Mommy, you are doing a good job.  I had one myself, and he's in 2nd grade now, and he's much calmer and so much fun.

I turn to see a woman standing next to her mini-van.  Is this what my fairy godmother looks like?  I've entered the world of motherhood, and my fairy godmother drives a white minivan.  Sweet!  She comes over and pats me on the shoulder.

angel: you are doing a good job, I know it doesn't feel like it, but you are.  Oldest boy, right?  Oh, yes, and I have one of those, too (she's looking across Sean now to Audrey) - my second child is a girl, sweet as can be.

Audrey is smiling at the woman, her widest grin, showcasing her two teeth in the middle of her bottom jaw.

angel: it will get better.

me: thanks, because I feel a little beat up!

What I don't say is, "Where the F are my keys???"

angel: he will outgrow this, and he will be a really fun 2nd grader.

me: thank you, you are an angel.  I appreciate it.

angel: no problem.  keep up the good work - I have been there - it will get better.

me: thanks again!

After she and her daughter head into the store, I comb the car for my keys.  Sean is still screaming and crying, he wants his bar, he wants to snuggle, he wants to talk to Dad.  I search Audrey's side, Sean's side, my seat, the passenger seat.  I finally find the keys behind the passenger seat, lodged  in the kangaroo-esque pouch directly facing Sean's carseat.  We are off, with Sean still crying, Audrey still trying to figure out what just happened, and me trying to take deep breaths.

The beauty of having a visit by this angel-mother is that she gave me the message I needed to hear, right in the moment I needed to hear it.  She took an opportunity to speak, as if a vehicle of God, sending words my way that would keep me from an emotional breakdown right there in the Trader Joe's parking lot.  Like a loving presence from the great beyond, she looked at my kids with eyes of love, instead of with eyes of incredulity (which is where I was headed), and she allowed me a break from dealing with Sean for a moment.  Thank goodness for the angels among us.

Before taking her daughter into the store, the angel-mother asked one more question.

angel: What is his name?

The car door was closed, Sean's screaming muffled, but the sound charging through the mass of steel, and the wild look in his eyes was enough for her to understand the full picture.

me: Sean.

angel: (directly to Sean) Aw, Sean.  Your mommy loves you.

Sean took one moment to breathe, a quick inhalation, a break for his brain, a brief flow of oxygen so that he may see clearly.  I know he looked at this angel-mother for a split second, wondering what she just said, wondering if maybe she was there to save him from his own mother, wondering if she would sympathize and give him his fruit bar back.  In the split-second break, I also know that he processed what the angel-mother just said, and gave over to the sense of defeat.  He took a second deep breath in, arched his back as much as his seatbelt would allow, screamed, and regained the wild look in his eyes.  My angel-mother received this final scream, because it was directed at her instead of me.  The angel brought, just as she did to me, the exact message Sean needed to hear, right in the moment he needed to hear it.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Mommy Dearest

If anyone ever idealized the relationship between mother and child, it was me. I always envisioned that my existence as a mother would be full of warmth and light. Many days it is! However, there are those few exceptions that happen more frequently than I would expect. These situations currently revolve around Sean because he can walk and talk, and I'm sure once Audrey is able to think for herself, she'll present her own moments where I want to pull my hair out. For now, I give you, these shining examples of my exemplary mothering skills.

Dreams of Autonomy #1
Sean wakes up in the middle of the night screaming. I stumble into his room, hoping he doesn't wake up Audrey, and also wanting Tom to get some sleep before he has to teach in the morning. When I approach him to wrap him up in my arms and tell him it's okay, it must have been a bad dream, that he is safe and can go back to sleep, he shouts in my face, "No, Mama, I want to close the garage door myself!"

The garage door. A frequent obstacle in our day. Whether coming or going, Sean is focused on - dare I say, obsessed with? - opening and closing the garage door. Many times, he will insist - by way of a tantrum - that the door be retracted from its current position, so that he may push the button causing it to open or close. Where other children might dream of scary monsters or vicious animals, Sean is dreaming of his mother closing the garage door before he can get to it. I'm sure in this horrendous nightmare of his I'm also cackling maniacally, wringing my hands, and saying, "I did it first, ha ha!"

Dreams of Autonomy #2
Sean wakes up in the middle of the night screaming. I stumble into his room, hoping he doesn't wake up Audrey, and also wanting Tom to get some sleep before he has to teach in the morning. When I approach him to wrap him up in my arms and tell him it's okay, it must have been a bad dream, that he is safe and can go back to sleep, (is this starting to sound familiar??) he shouts in my face, "No, Mama, I want to put the water in the cup myself!"

The water cup. I must say, I didn't see that one coming. The garage door, I understand, this is something we deal with everyday, but the water cup? This is not usually an issue! Clearly, the dreams are progressing from me just laughing maniacally and taking away his most precious joys in life to me refusing to let him even get his own water.

Dreams of Autonomy #3
Sean wakes up in the middle of the night screaming. I stumble into his room, hoping he doesn't wake up Audrey, and also wanting Tom to get some sleep before he has to teach in the morning. When I approach him to wrap him up in my arms and tell him it's okay, it must have been a bad dream, that he is safe and can go back to sleep, (if you feel like you know where this is headed, still read on:) he shouts in my face, "No, Mama, I don't want you, I want Dada!"

What are you, a dummy?
The other day we were at the library in downtown Minneapolis. Sean loves it at the library. In the lobby area, you can sit and watch the elevators go up and down to all four levels, because the elevator shafts are exposed, and the walls of the elevators are all glass. I think this is the number 1 reason Sean likes going to the library downtown. Sure, there are books, and sure there's a great children's section, but really he's there for the elevators. After watching the elevators go up and down 6 or 7 times, we then proceed inside to RIDE the elevators for a while. We make lots of friends with strangers while we do this, most of whom smile at Sean while he asks me, "going up?" while we go down and "going down?" while we go up. Though I try to correct him each time and explain the sensation he's experiencing is actually is going down while we go down or going up while we go up, he insists it's the other way around. No matter!

After finding children's books that we like and checking out, we move across the lobby of the library to the coffee shop where we can take a rest. We purchase a muffin, a cup of coffee and a cheese stick (the latter for Sean, of course), and sit watching all the people coming and going downtown. I feel totally content in this moment, because I love our adventures downtown, and I love being around a diverse population and exposing our kids to that. I love coming to the library, and reading books together. I love seeing Sean's face light up as he watches the elevators, and I love getting to spend this time with these two precious kids. Born out of this moment of gratitude and contentment, I look at my son who is people-watching quietly.

me: Seancito, do you love coming to the library? Isn't this so much fun?

Sean: Actually Mama, this isn't the library, this is a cafe.

Okay, Weakling...
The way I make it through the day is by staying one step ahead of the 2 year old. This I learned from my mother and my sister-in-law, Susie. If I can somehow foresee what his needs might be throughout the day, I can avoid a tantrum. If I can keep Seancito well fed with snacks and water, he is much more amenable to running errands. If I can foresee those things he likes to do himself (re: garage door, water, etc) and just factor in the extra time it will take for him to accomplish these tasks rather than me do it for him, we usually have good days. This requires a lot more energy from me, because instead of me just unscrewing the lid off the milk by myself, I ask him if he would like to do it ("yes!"). Instead of opening the drawer where his toothbrush lies, I ask him if he would please get his toothbrush out ("yes!"). One of these would-be tantrums turned Seancito likes to "do it the self" moments surrounds his stepstool in the kitchen. This small wooden, two staired step stool is perfect for him getting up to the sink to wash his hands, standing up at the counter to help with his cereal and various and sundry other "do it the self" moments that he insists upon participating in. This morning, trying to avoid one of these usual tantrums, I stopped before moving the step stool myself, I thought twice before just picking it up, adjusting it to where I needed it to go, and I quickly formulated a question that would make Sean believe he was "doing it the self" instead of me doing it for him.

me: Sean, will you please help me move your step stool over to the sink so you can wash your hands?

Sean: Oh. Sure. (and then under his breath) It's too hard for mama to do it yourself.