In the case of unreasonable behaviors vs. legitimate complaints when it comes to toddlerdum, parents be wary — it’s a fine line to walk.
Case in point:
My husband, mother-in-law, and I took my two children to a kiddie amusement park filled with Christmas cheer, shows, rides, Sesame Street characters, song, dance, lights, and a parade. The place screamed, Merry Christmas, kids! Go have fun! Adults, too!
And fun we had. We stayed for five hours, despite being outside in the December chill. We took in a show in an outdoor amphitheater, rode as many rides as the kids wanted to, watched the parade, and saw Santa.
My almost five-year-old son was still rocking to the beat, a rainbow unicorn lollipop in hand, as we left the park. Watching his joyful heart sing with glee was worth every minute we spent there. If there were a magazine called, The Magical World of Childhood, he would have been the on the cover.
My daughter on the other hand, not yet three, was a different story as we left the park.
She was beyond over-it, by the time we left the park, in a get-me-out-of-here sort of way. I am pretty sure all she wanted was her jammies, some dinner, and a comfy, warm bed. Creature comforts was all my girl wanted, and I knew it.
So before I throw her under the bus, I should note that she did have a blast for the first four hours. I loved watching her go on all the rides without fear with her brother, and especially loved seeing her little face filled with awe and wonder as she watched the parade.
At some point after that, things turned. Her complaints, in the form of crying loudly in the stroller, demanding that I be the only one who push her, demanding she be held, followed by demanding to ride in the stroller, wanting her rainbow unicorn lollipop, not wanting it, and so on made for a glorious exit.
She was an unrighteous mess as we walked toward the parking lot. Which left me feeling annoyed after having had such a fabulous, festive time. I felt my patience running thin after making multiple efforts to appease her. I walked faster, as she wailed from the stroller, and got more ticked off that she was ruining my chirpy mood.
Here’s where the case gets convoluted as I walked a fine line between parent vs. child.
Was I in the right to soldier on with her crying in the stroller without making a single other effort to comfort her because enough was enough? Or was she in the right because our excursion had simply gone past her age-related threshold to handle another second in the park?
If we had left earlier, that wouldn’t have been fair to my son because we would have had to drag him out of there in the height of his glory. He probably would have been the one to complain instead of her.
Which leads me to another point: Parenting in this case equals a no-win situation.
Like my daughter, I was beyond over-it, by the time we left the park, in a get-me-out-of-here sort of way. I am DEFINITELY sure all I wanted was my jammies, some dinner, and a comfy, warm bed. Creature comforts was all I wanted, and I knew it.
At least she and I had a few things in common.
As the conflict worsened, I told myself:
Crying or not, I will make her stick it out in the stroller. We’d be to the car in a few minutes. She’ll live. It’s okay if she is uncomfortable for a few more minutes. Stay calm. Damn you, motherhood. Damn you, kiddie amusement park. Damn you, Christmas. Who has alcohol?
After more inconsolable crying, my husband picked her up out of the stroller and carried her, as she loudly protested, through the parking lot while I pushed the empty stroller. As they walked ahead of me, I felt some relief. That was until my daughter and I made eye contact. Damn you again, motherhood. As soon as that happened, she dramatically reached for me, like I was the only human on Earth that could save her from torture, and screamed in holy agony that I hold her at that very instant.
That’s when things got harried.
Pissed off, I slammed down her sticky rainbow unicorn lollipop, that I had jockeyed in my hand to that point, on the pavement as other families walked merrily along. I hate you, rainbow unicorn lollipop.
But I’ll tell you, after slamming that lollipop to the ground — think shattered shards of rainbow candy EVERYWHERE — I felt better, even as I aggressively ripped her from my husband’s arms because I knew she had won.
I would comfort her. I would carry her. Because I am her mother. And that’s what I do. I comfort her. Graceful or not.
But again, it’s a fine line.
I know some of her complaints were legitimate. I was fully aware that five hours outside in chilly weather was a little too much. But gosh darn it, couldn’t she just hang in there a little longer? I wanted to teach her to suck it up and assure her that she was fine. But she wasn’t having it. Which made me want to let her cry longer because I was so frustrated. Which, of course, made her cry at even higher octaves because SHE was so frustrated.
Jesus. This is beginning to sound like some mother-daughter horror film.
But the thing is, I know I could have consoled her a lot earlier than I did and prevented the prolonged conflict (that was all of ten minutes – felt like ten hours). I knew if I’d carried her from the moment she whimpered before leaving the park and snuggled her into my chest, I could have consoled her. I can always console her.
But on this occasion, it was EXHAUSTING, and I had done it for an hour. Let’s face it, I will never be able to sustain that kind of pressure-filled consolation. Not now. Not in the future. I am beginning to think that the best love I can give her is to let her experience discomfort for a little while before reacting to her every need. Which is what I was trying to do until my frustration got the best of me.
In the aftermath, I still find myself ruminating about the case. Should I have been the one to ‘suck it up’ and snuggled and carried her from the start? Or should I have stayed calm, and though I didn’t like hearing her cry, told myself that she was absolutely fine? Nothing was truly wrong with her — she was simply tired, as was I.
I am not proud of our escapade in the parking lot, but once I reached my breaking point (and she hers), I couldn’t help but laugh at the way I slammed down that asshole rainbow unicorn lollipop on the ground. I held it high in the air like a gavel declaring order in court and got everyone’s attention.
I am the mother. That is my job. Graceful or not, I took control.
The situation is over. She is fine, and the incident is no doubt long forgotten in her mind. I am fine, yet I wonder who wins in the case of unreasonable behaviors vs. legitimate complaints in toddlerdum?
I defer to the jury as I raise my rainbow unicorn lollipop to a classic and impossible (and laughable) tribulation in motherhood.