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