I let him have a chocolate milk with his burger.
“High fructose corn syrup is a sure way to make an awesome day crappy, mama” I whispered in my head.
When he sincerely asked with good manners, he noticed my hesitation. He observed me slowly nod my head.
Then he finished his burger.
He genuinely asked me again with good manners if he could eat the green jello on his plate.
‘I finished my burger, mom,' he gently argued his case.
“Green food dye is a death wish,” I whispered to myself.
How to Parent Tough Moments
Truth. He did finish his burger, his “real food”.
Maybe, this time will be different, I whispered.
His eyes again saw through me. He witnessed my hesitation. I slowly nodded my head with as little conviction as humanly possible. I wanted to reach out and scream, “STOP!”
‘Yes!' he exclaimed with such joy. I didn't jump up. I didn't stop him.
I smiled softly to myself with a sense of comfort in knowing or at least believing that every child deserves dessert every once in a while.
I took a deep breath, paid the bill, took his hand in mine, and walked swiftly out of the restaurant.
“Mama, can we go to the library?” he asked eyeing the library across the street.
“Sure,” I answered without hesitation and we skipped across the road.
Maybe this time will be different, I whispered.
He raced over to the children's section looking determinedly for the next Nate the Great book. He is a voracious reader even at 5.
We gathered books and sat down on the couch, snuggling up to one another. I smiled softly, again, to myself. This is nice. This is what life should be like.
“Mom, I am hungry,” he declared looking up at me.
Crap. Ticking time bomb. I panicked in my mind, quickly trying to find the “right” words (are there “right” words?) to avoid the impending explosion.
“Sweetheart, you must be growing!”
“Mama, I am hungry. I need a snack.”
“Wow, honey, we finished lunch a few minutes ago. You gobbled up your burger.” I began to explain. I scrambled for observational statements. I tried to acknowledge and validate. I began to suffocate beneath uncertainty and inadequacy.
“Mama, I am hungry,” he began to whine. His voice cracked and I felt the energy of his roller coaster ride inching up, up, up, the rails.
“Remember that when you whine, I am not going to respond to you,” I reminded him.
He pulled himself together and said calmly, “Mama, I am hungry.”
“Well, we ate a few moments ago. How can I help you make it to dinner time? I have apples in the car for your brother after camp. I am sure he wouldn't mind if you had one of his apples.” I felt my voice trail off. Weak. Losing strength with the knowledge that in 3-2-1…
As quick as a wink, my 5.5-year-old fell to the ground. His body writhing, his legs kicking, his eyes looking straight up to the ceiling, his face red, and his scream echoing throughout the quiet walls of the library.
People stared at us.
I sat on the floor next to him. I rubbed his belly. I tried to take his hand in mine, again, just as easily as I did ten minutes ago leaving the restaurant. He wouldn't take my offer.
“Sweetheart, are you able to calm your body?”
“NO!” he shrieked.
“Would you like help calming your body?”
“NO!!! I WANT A SNACK!!”
You see. He didn't want a snack. He wanted a treat that would ultimately kill us both as we moved forward in the day.
“You are making the right decision, mama,” I whispered.
“Stay calm. He needs you to stay calm. He needs you. He is in more pain than you are in,” I whispered.
“Okay, I am going to pick you up. I will find a place to calm down.”
He threw library books. He called me vicious names.
An old man held the door for me as my son's strength began to overtake my petite body. Our eyes met.
Did he understand? Had he been there?
We got to our car. My son threw himself on the sidewalk. His face red and glistening with salty tears as his shirt began to show the signs of his sweaty body.
“You can do this, mama. Get him in the car. Move anything from his reach that he can throw while you're driving. Help him buckle in. Help him calm down. Play a story, Rub his leg. Rub his foot. Look at him in the eyes. Remind him you are there for him. Remind him you love him.”
I sat in the driver's seat. I started the car. I played one of his favorite storytime podcasts. I watched his eyes in the rearview mirror begin to gloss over as the rage moved quickly out of his body. He stared out the window. He shut his eyes.
My head fell into my hands. My head hit the steering wheel. I turned my head and looked out to window across the street. I saw the old man. He watched me break down. He stared in my direction as I caught tears on the ridge of my lip. I tasted the salt. I shook my head left and right.
The old man looked at me in a way that let me know that I wasn't a total failure, that I do not own my son's challenges, that I am fighting to help him move forward in life. I could see his deep breath exhale from his wrinkled face as he smiled softly.
“Next time, it will be different,” I whispered.