Monday, July 28, 2008

Mommy Drive By

When I've read Flea's accounts of the Mommy Drive bys she's experienced, I cheer when she stands up for herself in the moment. I anxiously read the comments for more stories and feel such sadness and frustration when parents are struck dumb in the moment, unable to determine how to respond until later.

If only life were like fiction and we all either traveled with scriptwriters or had pause buttons so that we could figure out the most appropriate response to the unexpected critique.

I had a couple of mommy drive bys today, but they were the stealthy non-confrontational kind. I actually prefer confrontation. Especially when I'm already mad. But these . . . it took me hours to put my finger on exactly why I was upset, let alone how I could have reacted differently.

The girls and I went to The Science Center today. We parked on the (free!) planetarium side and took the long walk (airplanes! airplanes!) over the bridge (truck!) to the main building. After a very little while over there, we were done. Done, done, done, exhausted. It hadn't even been an hour since we left our car, but we were very, very done.

In fact, Ada hadn't been willing to be set down all day. She's been in an up-up-up carry me phase for a while now. Ellie is 4-1/2, and I'm trying to get her walk more, rely on the stroller less. So we were stuck, blocks from the car, stroller-less.

Ellie was not cooperative. I have always hated seeing adults pulling small children along by the arm or wrist, rather than holding their hands. I always swore that I would never be that kind of mom.

Today, I was that mom. Holding Ellie's hand when she doesn't want you to is like holding spaghetti. (Ditto putting a shoe on her foot. It's an interesting effect of her low muscle tone; you'd be amazed if you've never tried it.) Every time I let go of her hand/wrist, she collapsed to the floor, doubled over, sobbing. She refused to move on her own, and no amount of coaxing, cajoling, supporting, bribing, or threat-of-consequences-ing (no snack in the car if I count you to 3!) was at all motivational. But the girls were exhausted, no one was having fun, and we had to get back to the car.

So I held Ellie by the hand/wrist and walked. She walked along beside me, sobbing loudly, drawing attention. Not everybody stared. As we'd entered the Center, we'd passed a another mom doing a similar quick exit with screaming child, but she just had the one child, whom she was able to carry. Ada screamed and tried to climb me whenever I put her down. And she's just 1, so carrying her is reasonable. Ellie will be 5 in October, and she weighs 41 pounds.

So I walked, Ada on one hip, Ellie attached to my other hand, and people stared.

Figuring that the potty might be part of the problem, I stopped at the family bathroom near the exit. A woman was just going in with a little baby, presumably to change a diaper. She saw us, hesitated for a moment, then went ahead. And took forever. She had to be in there at least 5 minutes, all while Ellie was on the floor outside the door, tantruming. But I knew that she needed to go to the bathroom and surely this lady would be considerate and quick, right? Wrong.

While we waited 2 different women came over to intervene with Ellie. Others were staring, and I'm sure had similar opinions about my parenting but restrained themselves from coming up to us.

I moved Ellie out of the way, near a wall, while we waited. She was sitting on the carpet, doubled over with her forehead to the floor, sobbing in her pretty blue dress and white sandals, outfit per her request. Ada was in my arms, dressed identically to her big sister, fussing sympathetically.

The first woman came right up to Ellie, knelt down next to her, and starting trying to comfort her. The second woman, a little later, was standing where she could see Ellie but not me. She started to approach, saw me, and said, "Oh, I assumed she must be alone."

"No, I'm right here," I said. "This is a tantrum."

"OK," she said, somewhat doubtfully, and walked away.

That wasn't so bad. But when coupled with all the stares, plus the first woman who came back two more times to try to comfort Ellie while we waited, it all made me very uncomfortable.

If I'd know how long the inconsiderate nanny woman was going to take in the bathroom, I'd have gone into the big bathroom (despite Ellie's tearful protests that she'd prefer the little bathroom) or even gone straight out to our van and pulled out the portable potty seat.

But I had no way of knowing that we'd be waiting for long enough to cause such a scene, so we waited.

Then we marched on out to the car, mommy still murmuring reassurances to the girls, carrying one and pulling the other along. I didn't walk too fast, Ellie had no trouble keeping up with me, but the moment I relaxed my grip she just melted into a puddle on the ground. So I didn't relax until we were at the car.

Whereupon both girls got into their car seats without protest and fell asleep before we were back on the highway. At 11:30 in the morning. Way before naptime. Of course, they both woke up when we arrived at home 20 minutes later. (And, indeed, Ellie didn't nap at all this afternoon, Ada only went down after lodging a short but shrill protest.)

I have no idea why they were so tired - we're coming off an unprogrammed and relaxing weekend and a normal night's sleep, and this was a relatively short outing. Alas. All things considered, I can't think of too many things I would have done differently.

But back to the drive-by. When relating the story to mama friends tonight, I finally realized what bugged me so much about the nice lady who kept trying to comfort Ellie.

1) She never addressed me in any way, and you simply do not approach a small child who's in the care of an adult without at least making eye contact and getting a smile or nod from the caregiver.

2) She was interfering with my parenting. Ellie was throwing a tantrum. I have read books about how to handle tantrums. I was consciously considering my approach and acting the way I felt was most appropriate for my child. For someone else to intervene countermanded my approach and she had no authority to do that.

If I had it to do over again, I'd step forward and reassure the woman that I was the mother and in charge, and that I was handling this tantrum the way I saw fit. If I were feeling nice, I'd thank her for her concern before dismissing her.

To close, a quote from my current favorite discipline book, 1-2-3 Magic, from Chapter 7: "What to Do in Public:"

Fear of embarrassment and public disapproval has at times made even the most competent parents forget what they're supposed to do, change their tactics, and crumble. Try to remember this basic principle: The long-term welfare of your kids comes before short-term worries about what others are going to think.


Kathy G said...

Poor you! You try to entertain your kids in a fun and inexpensive way, and THAT'S how they show their gratitude? The least they could have done is take a three hour nap for you when you got home :-)

My "baby" is 20, so I've been where you are...just know that most of those moms who were staring at you weren't judging you but sympathizing with your plight. When I see a young child melting down, I always say a quick prayer for them AND for their parent, and then say "Thank God I'm past that stage!"

Amy said...

Maybe we all need to carry a sign in our diaper bags that says, "Tantrum in progress... Please do not stare!" because we have ALL been there. We could just set up the sign (I'm thinking of the sandwich board style, like an inverted V) and maybe some yellow "police tape" that says, "STAND BACK - MOM AT WORK" or something.

Every parent on the planet has been there, done that, got the t-shirt. Every parent on the planet has had the interfering woman come up and offer to "help." Ugh.

I always offer a parent whose kid is freaking out a sympathetic smile and a wink. If they say something, I'll say, "Where are the gypsies when you need them?" or "Having one of those put-the-kid-on-Ebay days, huh?"

We've all been there.


Jessica said...

Glad to get the full story since I only caught half of it last really does irritate and appall.

Sarahlynn said...

Kathy, regarding the nap: my thoughts exactly!

Amy, I love this sign idea!

Jessica, I think your nurse-offering-13-year-old-Vicodin-without-consulting-you story was more appalling!

Octamom said...

We've had some similar experiences--total strangers trying to intervene in a semi-time-out-in-the-midst-of-a-public-tantrum-thingy...
I'm always amazed and then frustrated with myself that I don't assertively put someone back in their stranger place. Weird--and glad I'm not the only one...

Good for you, sticking to your guns, even in the face of stranger intervention!

Beachcomber said...

(goes off to look into sign creation)

Tracey said...

Boy have I come a long way in how I view the parenting of others now that I have some of my own! :) I used to be one of those high and mighty campers who scoffed that MY children would NEVER behave in such a way. Boy was *I* an *ass*.

That being said, I have been stared at and talked about by people too when my daughter has had a loud screaming tantrum. So not fun. And I am getting better about standing up and not trying to hush it all out of embarrassment, but man is that hard.

Sorry you had such a hard time that day.

Lynnie said...

That sounds awful! All of us parents have totally been there. I LOVE all the people out there who do the opposite of what you described and just laugh and say, "Don't worry, been there!" That goes a long way!

The other day I was at the grocery with my 2 and 4 year old daughters. They were SCREAMING and pulling the small grocery basket away from each other in the dairy aisle. Instead of mediating, I sprinted down the aisle, grabbed some cream, and sprinted back down to them. A lady watching saw me run away from them and laughed. "I just know I can make it to the cream and back before I can settle that!" I explained. "Oh, I have SO BEEN THERE," she said and laughed so hard I truly knew she had! We need people like THAT in the aisles, don't we?

Canada said...

Man, I don't miss those days!!!! I love Amy's sign idea (though now that my kids are almost 8, they respond well to the hissed "smarten up or we're leaving" threat - gotta love it).
Ironically, my worst tantrum experience was not with my kids but with my neighbour friend's 4 year old whom I was babysitting when I was in grad school (and 22). The child and I had a little disagreement over which popsicles I should buy for her. I stood firm in the three selections I was offering (they were the choices her mom would make), and wouldn't give in when she screamed for the others. People were staring at me like I was beating her or something (she was sitting in the cart, in the seat) She howled all the way through checkout, and I calmly announced to anyone who gave me a second glance that I was just babysitting!!!! (Hmmm, maybe I should have used that line when my own kids acted up in public . . . )

Sarahlynn said...

Octamom, next time I'll be prepared! (Of course, next time it will be something else.)

Tracey, I have a pregnant friend who often shares stories of horrible parenting she sees at places like Target. I think . . . "just you wait, dearie!"

Lynnie, that's a lovely story! I try to be that person whenever I can.

Canada, my problem is that usually what my girls want more than anything else is to leave, which ruins my best threat. My current substitute: If I count you to 3, there'll be no music in the car on the way home. And you'll have to listen to National Public Radio!

datri said...

My daughter is an expert "drop and flop" kid. I'm afraid she's going to dislocate her arm when she does that, or I will pulling her down the street. Is that something that comes with the extra 21? Geez. Fortunately, she doesn't tantrum. I had enough of that with my older kid, she has a mild form of autism. Talk about monster tantrums!

Sarahlynn said...

Datri, yeah, tantrums aren't usually Ellie's protest of choice. Pile of spaghetti on the floor is more her usual style. (Or, today, pile of spaghetti in the middle of the path at the Botanical Garden.) And she absolutely has dislocated her elbow with this maneuver. Several times! Her pediatrician (who also has a daughter with T21) sees a lot of this. Hmmm . . .