To the girl in the orange shirt in the elevator at IKEA yesterday:
You know, at first I was going to write a blog about our encounter. Then I wasn't going to give you the time of day. Now I'm back to writing, but for a different reason.
When the elevator doors were open right after I picked up Curly and Superstar from the playplace (li'l ~j. is now officially too tall for that gig), I encouraged my crew to run because as we all know, those elevators are slower than ten slow things. I was pushing a shopping cart, Atcha was in her carseat, in the basket of the cart, quietly and happily chewing on her blanket. Li'l ~j. and Superstar were excitedly talking about what they'd order for dinner in the IKEA restaurant (they were so hungry!) while Curly sat on the floor to put on her socks and shoes (no shoes in the playplace!). And then there was Bubby, sitting in the seat of the cart, buckled in, barefoot (he had long ago kicked off his shoes and yanked off his socks), and also very hungry. He was throwing one of his fits. He knows how to scream. I'm not exaggerating when I say that I'd wager he's woken the neighbors with his nighttime rants. I was ignoring him, which is what I knew to do during this brand of tantrum. I was excited that our day was almost finished, and that after dinner we'd be home. With all that excitement in the elevator, I looked to you.
You were staring straight ahead, over the head of your toddler, sitting so quietly in her cart-seat, and over the baby girl in her seat, in the basket of your cart. Both your daughters had the proper foot coverings, were spotless in their pink and white, and in case any room might have been left to one's imagination regarding their gender, you chose to top it all of with those headbands with bows bigger than their heads. Yet you didn't smile. You were clenching your teeth, I could see that.
Your mom, who was there to maybe help you with your kids, or maybe buy you some furniture, or whatever, she was another story. She glared at me. She and I made eye contact and I smiled, to which she deliberately did not smile back.
At this point I was made very aware of Bubby's screaming. I began to sweat. C'MON, elevator! Hurry up! My boy's screams are intolerable for other humans! I felt bad.
Until I realized that my feeling bad was your intention. Then I felt unfairly caught off-guard. As the elevator doors opened by the waving of Superstar's hands (she always plays that trick!), you exited with your pouty mom, and with an eyeroll and a head twitch, the two of you glanced over your shoulders at me. The only words I heard were "...kids...screaming...control...mother..." .
I admit, I was stunned. As you sauntered off toward the Erktorps, I led my kids in a daze to the restaurant. Deliberately straining to gain composure, I mentally prepared to grab the right number of spoons and forks and yogurts, and reminded the girls how to glide their trays along the cafeteria-type bars. "Pasta, please, with red sauce," said Curly. I was so proud of her and I remembered that she does this at school now. Bubby was still screaming. His screams filled the place (and IKEA is a big place!). I paid for our meals and struggled to find a clean table near the restaurant's play area. After getting Superstar and Curly set up, and helping Li'l ~j., I wiped off a nearby highchair with a napkin and buckled the strap around Bubby's chubby waist. He stopped screaming in exchange for an open cup of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and a strawberry-banana yogurt. I checked on Atcha, who was still happy in her carseat (she always is!). The three older girls were eating.
That's when I broke down.
Using those crappy brown napkins to dry my tears, I balanced between trying not to cry and knowing that it was coming anyway, so try to at least make it discreet. I looked at my kids. I was so proud of them, and my heart swelled with love (which didn't help the cause of my crying!). Li'l ~j. saw me. "Mommy, what's wrong?"
"Oh, Sweetie. I'm okay."
"Mommy, do you miss Papi or something?"
"Oh, of course, I always miss him when he's not with us, but that's not why I'm crying."
"Then why are you crying?"
Now this is an interesting situation (which I know you don't know right now): your 9 & 1/2 year old wants to know something that you don't necessarily want to share, but she's too old for some shiny distraction. And too smart. She wants truth.
"Because that lady who was on the elevator gave me a mean look." (Whether you're a 4th grader and a mean look means you didn't say the right thing at recess, or you're 31 and a mean look is the lowest of insults to what it means to be a mother: a mean look is a mean look.)
"Yeah...I saw that. Why did she do that?"
"I think she didn't like that Bubby was screaming."
"Well, I think she had a pretty bad attitude."
"I just think that if we see people like that, who have bad attitudes, maybe you can just think to yourself, 'Nobody's perfect.'"
I thanked her and hugged her. She's saved me on more than one occassion.
While we finished our meals I thought upon what had just happened -- the whole of it. And I'm going to share it with you, right now:
That morning, I woke up as usual and got Superstar ready for preschool. My husband took her to school and then took the van to get the tires rotated while I was home with the other four (the two older kids didn't have school that day). I ended up having to give baths to both Bubby and Atcha (two separate baths for reasons of poop), which I had not planned on, but it worked out. I also managed to get myself ready and see to it that the older two girls had hair brushed, teeth brushed, all that stuff (you'll find out later when your daughters grow up -- it's lots of stuff, and often harder to supervise their doing it themselves rather than you just doing it for them). We all piled in our van and picked up Superstar from preschool.
Then we drove to our pediatrician's office for Bubby's two year well-check. That's right, my 33-lb. boy is only 2 years old. My main concern, which I discussed with the doctor, was Bubby's tantrums (atrocious!). "Sometimes he's just having trouble communicating, and other times he's throwing a tantrum, and I can tell the difference. I really, sincerely feel that Darin and I are both very patient with him...it's just that when we're in public...well, other people don't like the screaming so much." Our doctor told me, "You know, the children that have gone from not hearing at all to suddenly being able to hear everything - for example, those who get cochlear implants - those are the kids with the worst behavioral problems. And you're right, sometimes he is just having trouble communicating, and that's how he deals with it because he's only 2 years old. But when it's a tantrum, you're right to ignore it. You should start attaching discipline to it, timeouts to let him know that it's not acceptable, but you're right to ignore it. You know what you're doing. "
After our meeting with the doctor, three of my children (and their mom) got flu shots.
Following the doctor appointment we drove to the gas station to fill the van, and then to Sonic to get a snack (tots and strawberry limeade). Then we got on the freeway and drove to Salt Lake, and then east to Primary Children's Medical Center. Baby Atcha had to have an x-ray of her hip and a consult with a pediatric orthopedic surgeon. We made a stop in the ladies' room, changed diapers, washed hands, and walked back to the parking garage.
Driving towards the setting sun, and with only one request to "just go home", the kids and I talked about how neat it would be to stop and see Papi's new office. We drove to Draper and found the right building, and got to meet some of Darin's co-workers, about whom we had heard only wonderful things. After a tour of the facilities we took the frontage road to IKEA.
After our shopping experience (where Li'l ~j. was my big helper despite her growing hunger) is where we met.
That's what I had done that day. Not too shabby.
Sitting there at the restaurant, reflecting on my day and all that I had accomplished I wondered to whom I could go for comfort. I thought of many friends, other mothers who would support me. But I also realized that maybe the very thing said (not necessarily by my friends, but likely by me as I've done it so often before) to resolve the issue would be something like, "Oh, what does she know," with a tone just as venomous as how I was treated.
That's not what I want.
What I want, Girl with the orange shirt, is for you to remember. Because it is inevitable that you, too, will be caught off guard one day. During a time in your life when you don't have your mom there to help you, when you have a load of kids and hear crap all the time like, "You don't take them ALL out at once, do you?", you will plan and prepare and you'll remember to take your time and you'll remember all the diapers and the wipes and the sippy cups and the changes of clothes, and things will be going really well, but when one of your kids acts tired/hungry/their age, someone will give you that look. Someone who doesn't know. And I hope you'll be sorry for how you acted yesterday, just as I am sorry to whoever it was about whom I thought, "My kid will NEVER...". I don't know why we do this. Nothing comes from insulting what another holds most sacred. Nothing. As a friend once reminded me, one of the adversary's biggest weapons is pitting women against women.
I forgive you.
Oh, and just so you know, after our little encounter, three other women smiled at, engaged, spoke to, and complimented my children. And their mom.