Saturday was a visit to Gymboree for the first time. Bella has been so clingy lately, I actually thought about letting parents know right off the bat, “Please do not make eye contact with her. Do not talk to or touch her IN ANY WAY (even for safety reasons) and avoid walking within 3 feet of her perimeter. Also, if she starts walking to you – it’s a test. Run away – again, avoiding all eye contact. Thanks so much.”
But of course I didn’t, and while she played nicely, she fell apart several times at things other kids rolled right past. I could feel the other parent’s glances at her after a few times of that. I was determined not to let it get to me or her. She’s just this way lately.
While on the parachute, Bella was being fussy. She didn’t like all the noise, she didn’t like other kids touching her, and while trying to get back to me, she stopped in front of one of the dads and he reached out to pat her arm and said, “Hi there!”
I should have told him.
She completely lost it and screamed bloody.frickin.murder, her eyes as big as saucers and then fell over trying to get away from him.
As I picked her up and she sobbed as if he had beat her mercilessly, I glanced at him apologetically and saw the look of, “Wow, you should really control your kid.”
It was at that moment I felt about two inches big. Because I knew exactly what he was thinking – with his daughter standing there laughing at the bubbles and playing with the other kids. He was wondering why my daughter was so spoiled and temperamental, and why I didn’t do something. After all, I’m her mom. I should know what to do.
I know how he felt, because I am *that* mom who feels the same way.
I am the mom that I used to look at and judge. The one with the child who was totally off their rocker at library, or a playdate, or at the park. I would make quick assumptions about her and her unruly child. Obviously she didn’t pay the “right” kind of attention to her kid. She needed to be firmer/nicer/more attentive/less attentive. I felt a mix of sorry and disdain for her – because certainly she was trying her best but obviously she needed to step it up a notch. Kids shouldn’t be allowed to act like that.
So as I sat there, embarrassed and feeling a little panicked at the level of trauma Bella seemed to be taking this too, I had the strangest thought come over me.
“I don’t know what to do right now.”
There wasn’t a single thing I could do about her not wanting to be on the parachute, having people talk to her, be touched, or join in the fun. It was as if a ton of bricks hit me as all the parents looked my way while my child continued to melt down and I couldn’t force her to feel any other way. I had no idea what to do. I was holding her, but other than that I didn’t know how to react. I scanned my memory for any thing I had read on this kind of stuff – laugh it off, encourage her to get back out there, let her be, take her away, tell her it’s ok, keep holding her…
I didn’t know. So I just sat there with her in my lap.
It was then I thought, “I wonder if this is how every parent feels at some point, but I’ve just never known it at this level.” I have never had such a moment of awareness about myself like that before. It was almost an out of body experience, because I knew how I felt – and I knew how they felt looking at us. I’ve felt their way many times.
It wasn’t pleasant, but it changed my perspective on being a parent. Completely. In those few seconds, I think I must have gained 10 times the empathy I’ve ever had for anyone handling a upset child. The realization that there must have been many times someone sat in front of me with no clue how to handle a meltdown and saw me and others judge them with our eyes as they scramble.
No one wants to be that mom – the one that makes assumptions and wonders why the other mom’s kid is completely out of control. But it’s very, very easy to be.
Some days we will be the mom that just doesn’t know what to do. That is struggling with trying to figure out how to control a non-verbal child in a world of, “Let’s just raise our kid with rainbows and hugs – no hard words or nasty looks when they act up.” I know how that feels now. It’s impossible. So I learn to let go a little and empathize a lot more. To just show with my eyes to another parent, “Hey, we’ve all been there.”
Hoping that maybe someday I’ll look up from calming a screaming child, and see that reflected right back at me.