Everything seemed to be going well. I had left for school pick-up earlier than usual to drop two of my boys off with my mom so they wouldn't have to endure the 45-minute trip to retrieve my third. Traffic was light, and I arrived at the school in no time.
I sat in the pick-up line with a smile, excited to see my boy and hear about his day. But the boy who descended upon me was distant and not looking for a conversation. I tried anyway.
"Hi Baby! How was your day?" No response. I asked him to please close the door and get in his seat so that we could get to baseball practice. I also asked him where his socks were, as they were no longer on his feet, where they had been at drop-off. "They're lost," he said. "And I don't even want to go baseball practice. I wish we only had games!" I took a deep breath and swallowed my disappointment about the loss of our happy reunion that never was.
Turns out the bummer of a reunion was only the tip of the iceberg, and my son had a lot more anger and frustration to share. The fact that I had brought turkey, and not cheese, for his snack put him over the edge.
As anyone who has kids knows, the transition from school to home often poses challenges. And as anyone who knows me will attest to, I am patient, and I fully believe that children heal through the release of their emotions. But I am also very practical and plan to live a long life. So, when I started driving and my son began throwing things and kicking my seat, I recognized the need to stop.
I pulled into the parking lot of a super posh gym on a busy street and parked so that I could turn around, stop the toys from flying and listen to my son. I kept repeating that I could see he was really upset, and he kept kicking and screaming and telling me to shut up. As cars pulled in and out of the lot, I felt embarrassed and alone.
At a certain point, he opened the car door and just walked away -- out of the parking lot and down the sidewalk of the busy street -- barefoot. He said he was walking home, which he could have done. I took a deep breath, searching desperately for just one more ounce of patience. I was sure that his fears would kick in and that he'd turn around and come back, or at least stop, but neither happened. I felt confident that he wouldn't run into the street, but as he broke his record for farthest distance from mother in a public place, my confidence waned.
I saw a woman down at the end of the parking lot get out of her car and walk towards him, I assumed to make sure he was OK. At that point, I took a deep breath and realized he wasn't coming back on his own and that I needed to go get him.
I walked toward him and the woman, who had assessed the situation and was headed back to her car. As I grew nearer, my son's slow gait exploded into a sprint, and I had to grab him to stop him from bolting. He attempted to fight me off, kicking and screaming, and eventually ended up lying down on the sidewalk of this busy street. I sat next to him on the ground and kept us both safe while he continued to tantrum.
After several minutes that felt like several hours, I told my son he could continue to cry, but that we needed to get back into the car. I needed to retrieve his brothers, and we were already late for baseball practice. His accusation that I was not walking the right way to the car was almost too much for me to bear at that point, but somehow, I mustered the creativity to suggest that he walk first and I follow. This is how we made our way back to the car.
As we were opening the car door, I noticed the woman who had checked on him earlier was again walking towards us. I felt the knot in my stomach tighten as she approached the car and stopped. I could only imagine what was going to come out of her mouth!
"Are you feeling better?" she asked my son. "No!" he barked back. And then she said, "Well, I'm sure you'll feel better soon. At least you have a great mom. You're really lucky!"
I almost fainted. I mean, this was one of those "Is someone going to call security on us?" scenes. I smiled and thanked her. My son said, "I DON'T have a great mom!"
We all got in our cars and went our separate ways. I asked my son if he wanted some turkey. He said, "YES! I've been WAITING!" I handed him the turkey and headed towards the baseball field, where he hopped out of the car, all smiles.
This happened seven years ago, and I can still remember all the details. I've never seen that woman again, but so many years later I still feel her support, and I call up the memory often when working with parents who feel judged. Sure, there is no shortage of people out there ready to critique our every move. But there are also many many bystanders who really do empathize when things get hard for us parents. And occasionally, there's a real gem who pops out of nowhere and gives us that stroke of encouragement when we need it most.