“That Mother”

 You know the one: pulling her hair out stressed, yelling at her children as they climb the shelves and pull down fruit in a way that makes it all come tumbling down. The one who lectures them in the car all they way home; the one who sends them to their room until “their father gets home.” Yep, that was I. It was undeniably preposterous.

For fun’s sake, let’s take each one at a time.

We’d just picked up my little guy, Tommy, from preschool and had to go to the store at the worst possible hour of the day to get our assigned lemonade juice boxes for his Chinese New Year party the next day. In and out, I said to myself; it can’t be that bad. In the parking lot on our way in, however, the writing was on the wall: my sons pretending to duel with invisible light sabers while almost getting hit by an SUV that took the corner too fast.

Then the cereal aisle. Just passing through, my Tommy saw his favorite Joe’s Os and insisted on showing me he could get them himself after I told him no, we were only there for lemonade. As I was pulling the monkey off the shelves my older son, Jackson, saw blood oranges; “EEWWW!” he screeched, “these oranges have blood in them!”

“What?” Tommy squealed, looking over his shoulder from his place on the top shelf, “Are you kidding me???” He jumped from my arms just as Jackson pulled an orange out, and the rest came tumbling down.

“JACKSON!” I screamed. As if thirty-five oranges all over the cereal/produce section floor wasn’t enough, there was also an insane woman screaming at her son in public. We got the oranges handled, I stuck my finger in both their faces warning them that they need to make better choices, and we moved forward. Why, oh why, are the drinks always at the back of the store?

Drinks aren’t the only things at the back of the store, by the way; so are the free snacks. Today was spaghetti in pesto day and no meal in the world makes my young son happier than that one. He took the little paper cup and stuffed his face immediately. “Can I have another one?” he asked me through green herbs and olive oil mushed all over his mouth.

“No,” I said.

Immediately I regretted it; could I just give in this one time to get the hell out of this store in one piece? Too late, I couldn’t back pedal, I had to stay the course.

“WHAT??” he shouted, “I want another one!”

“No, they are for the other customers. You can’t make a meal at the free snack table! Besides, we’re going home to make dinner right now.”

“WHAT???” he repeated, “I said I want another one!”

This went on for a few minutes until finally I walked away from him; better to abandon him at the snack table than scream again. He followed me, lunged for my legs, and allowed me to drag him as he held on for dear life down to the lemonade. Keep walking, I thought, just keep walking.

We got to the drinks and, of course, they were out of lemonade juice boxes. The dilemma: get apple juice boxes or lemonade in large bottles. Not being up on my Chinese New Year etiquette, I wondered if lemonade is some kind of tradition? Still, the kid was on my legs screaming about spaghetti.

I grabbed two bottles of lemonade, handed them to my older son who, thank God, had gotten some sense about him and had just zipped his trap, and we headed for the register. Tommy saw Jackson holding both bottles and changed his complaint.

“WHHATT?? He gets to hold both bottles??”

I took one from Jackson and gave it to Tom. “There,” I said, “Now BE QUIET!”

I will say there was a logical voice in my head that told me shouting at children really is counter-productive; that telling a child to be quiet instead of giving him the opportunity to express his emotions was stifling, that really this was all because he was tired and hungry and wanted to go home and had absolutely nothing to do with me or what kind of mother I was.

All that said, the louder voice in my head said nothing except, SHUT THAT KID UP.

Of course I should have listened to the rational voice. If I didn’t know it by that point I certainly did when he threw the lemonade bottle (thank you, plastic) on the ground as he went back to the spaghetti complaint. While I knew any parent in that store understood the position I was in at that point, I was mortified (how it had taken that long is a mystery). I paid for the lemonade, and walked out of the store. If they followed me, they’d get a ride home; if not, they would have to figure it out on their own.

Tommy knew the lemonade throwing was a wrong move; he had pushed me to a place where there was no return. He dutifully followed in my footsteps and I could hear Jackson coming behind him, shouting in whispers at him for making the fatal mistake of throwing that bottle.

We got into the car and I launched into a verbal tirade. In the ten minutes it took to get us home I talked the whole time, calmly but in that you-have-hit-my–last-nerve tone. I knew they had stopped listening by the time we got out of the parking lot; nonetheless, when their eyes unlocked from mine in the rearview mirror they heard, “Are you listening?” or “Do you hear what I’m saying to you?” to which they replied yes; but I knew better. They had checked out and were letting me vent. Obedient? No. Smart? Absolutely.

We pulled into our driveway and I instructed, “You both get upstairs and don’t come down until your father gets home.” Even as the words left my mouth I could not believe my ears. Wait until your father comes home? What is this, 1955?

And in that moment, I knew I had lost my mind.

They went upstairs and I went into the kitchen to make dinner. It was breakfast for dinner night and as I stirred the batter for the pancakes I reflected on the previous hour’s madness in disbelief.

My dog made a run for one of the kittens; he knocked his big pit bull head right into Meow’s side, tossing him at least two feet. Meow looked up at Mario, came over to his nose, and bumped it with his. “Not now,” he was telling him, “I’m tired.” As the kitten moved to the couch to lay down the dog looked in every way downtrodden.

Never fear, however, brother kitten was near; Kitty-Kitty took his head out of the fishbowl long enough to notice Big Daddy wanted to play and within moments he had launched off the counter onto Mario’s back.

Animals, much like trees, breathe in your negativity and breathe out joy. As they galloped off I poured the batter into pancakes thinking just how ridiculous I had acted.

I walked up the stairs to apologize for my end of the disaster and I heard my boys through their bedroom door. They had a nursery rhyme CD in but had turned it into some sort of Foo Fighter-esque tune with their guitar and drums. Singing as loud as they could, not a care in the world, were the two boys that had made me absolutely crazy thirty minutes prior.

As I entered their room, they paused their rock impression just long enough to smile at me, and I smiled at them. We knew we all had been nut-cases today and nothing else needed to be said.

As I joined in their unusual rendition of “itsy-bitsy spider” I thought, maybe I’m not losing my mind after all.

At least not tonight.

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