(Excerpted from the anthology TODDLER: Real-Life Stories of Those Fickle, Irrational, Urgent, Tiny People We Love.)
Yay, it's Sunday morning. Sun is shining. Morning is bright. I've got the day off! Read the New York Times in bed. Look into Bill's sleepy eyes and smirk. We can have a romantic breakfast in bed.
Oh wait . . . I forgot.
We have a two-year-old son who is best described as a perpetual motion machine. We are his parents. More meaningfully, we are " his people." We are on call 24/7. We are completely unqualified for the job. We took on a lifetime commitment for a brief moment of pleasure. I think, I'll just close my eyes and go back to sleep.
I guess not. Crawl out of bed. Time to clock in; I'm back on duty. Somebody's got to negotiate us a better contract. Maybe I'll start a parenting union in my spare time.
Oh, wait . . . I don't have any spare time.
I don't have any kind of time.
Here come those fat little delicious feet stomping and thumping along the hardwood floors to our bedroom. My arms are open. My heart is smiling. Yet, all I really want to do is crawl back beneath the blankets and daydream. Me, alone, lying on a beach. No one ever warned me that motherhood would make me a master of wishing for two entirely contradictory thoughts every other minute, and then feeling guilt-ridden and exhausted during the nanoseconds in between.
It is a beautiful sunny day in April. Bill suggests the three of us drive out to Point Reyes for mountain bike riding and a kayak trip. I married not only an exceptional athlete but a die- hard wilderness man too. We live in beautiful Northern California, but deep inside I am still an escaped Type-A New Yorker who grew up thinking Manhattan was the Center of the Universe and Central Park was the backwoods. We pack up the Jeep. Jack grabs his militia of stuffed bunnies off the bed and fills the back seat with his entourage. Bill loads the inflatable kayak we borrowed from out friend Betty. I mount the bikes on the bike rack. I keep telling myself we are going to have a fun day, but deep down inside I know it's there. Patiently lurking. Waiting. Stalking. Disguised beneath that sweet, cherubic face, lies all the necessary kindling for the mother of all tantrums.
We keep feeding Jack snacks so he doesn't get bored during the hour-long drive. He is not keen about sitting still for any length of time. Two soymilks and one Pop-Tart later, we arrive at the mountain bike trails without much fuss. I put Jack on the bike seat mounted behind me and we take off down the road. Bill and I are laughing as he details ad nauseum the different trees we are biking past. Just to torture me. He knows all trees look the same to me and that I am absolutely certain there is some crazy person hiding behind each one. Just when I am beginning to think that maybe we can do fun family activities together, Jack begins crying because he has dropped his sippy cup. We reluctantly turn around and spend the next twenty minutes searching for his cup with the wild banshee hysterically crying in the most beautiful, serene country you could ever imagine. Two twenty-something cyclists speed by us. They are surely wondering why we can't do something about that crying kid! The sippy cup is gone forever I'm afraid. We decide to end our bike ride.
What sorry losers, giving in to a two-year-old.
In the car, we feed Jack crackers and cheese to keep his mind off the cup and the twenty minute windy drive to Tomales Bay where we intend to go kayaking. The food placates him for a while. We make it to the bay singing "Dang me, dang me. Ought to take a rope and hang me. Hang me from the highest tree" over and over and over. Everyone is doing just fine when we arrive at the parking lot.
Except for two not-so-minor problems.
After manually inflating three-quarters of the kayak, we realize one of the screw caps to the air tubes is missing. Without it we cannot keep the kayak inflated. We search the car without success. Meanwhile, outside the car, Jack is behaving like a lunatic, running around the parking lot, growling, swatting bugs and birds with a kayak oar and yelping, " CHARGE!!" We let him go. We're too angry about the kayak. Who cares what others think of our child? Maybe we are lousy parents. All we want to do is grumble over how we got jilted and shortchanged on our bike ride and now our kayaking trip is going up in smoke too. Instead of grabbing the oar out of Jack's hands, we are hastily loading up the kayak, and scheming up a good alibi to tell Betty about losing the kayak cap or better yet, blame her for losing the cap and then suspiciously loaning us dangerous and faulty equipment.
"We could have drowned!" I will tell her.
Once we're all packed and ready to go, the second not-so-minor problem occurs. I pick up Jack to put him in his car seat and he pukes all over me. Then he cries because he doesn't want to get in the car and have to endure the tortuously curvy back roads home. We decide to drive to a nearby nursery to use their restroom to clean up. In the dusty mirror in the bathroom I see one of those haggard, stressed out moms I swore I'd never become. Outside it is a magnificent, warm Sunday afternoon and tranquil, hopeful gardeners are peacefully planning their spring perennial beds.
I stop to take in the serenity. Then I turn and notice Bill wandering around the nursery looking very, very miserable. I turn again and see Jack on the other side of the property nonchalantly skipping,pulling the name tags out of plants, and throwing them up in the air while singing, "Yippeeee." I turn again and see two traumatized nurserymen pointing at Jack. I yell over to Bill. He runs towards Jack. I take a shortcut by leaping over boxwoods, lavenders, and ouch, miniature rose bushes. I seize the perpetrator and hurry back to the parking lot with a blond moptop whirling dervish grabbing leaves off of plants, screaming and kicking wildly in the air.
"No, NO, NOOO! MAMA. NO, MAMA. You are the Mean Mama. HELP, HELP! HELP! LET ME GO! WHAAAAAAA! WHAAAAAA! WHAAAAA!"
I am out of breath, sweating, dizzy from hyperventilating. Sunblock is dripping into my eyes. The acrid stench of soy-milk vomit still saturates the air. I make it to the Jeep. People are staring at me as I strap my hysterical child into his car seat and emphatically slam the door closed. I snatch my sunglasses off and give them the evil eye.
Don't &@%# with me.
Bill slithers in to the driver's seat, pretending he doesn't know us.
He tries to avert their stares. We are not speaking. Jack's wailing soon subsides into quieter sobbing and sniffling. Nestled amongst his stuffed bunnies, teetering on the cusp of sleep, he laments, "Papa, this is the worstest day of my life."
We arrive home. Frustrated. Confused. But we are still standing, and our boy is asleep for the night. I tuck him into bed and kiss his soft cheeks. We unload the bikes and the busted kayak. It's been a long day. Bill heads for Jack's room, while I put on a pot of tea. He returns having heisted Jack's heart-shaped basket of chocolate Easter eggs (a gift from Grandma). Together the two of us sit back, relax, and enjoy a colorful sunset from our kitchen table, devouring every last delectable chocolate egg.
We are learning to appreciate the small things in life.