Monday, February 04, 2008

How My Mountain of Maternal (Debt) was Mitigated by 5 Random Acts of Kindness

It was more of a meerkat-y kind of feeling.

When we arrived at the Zoo on Saturday, the parking lot was packed. Cars stalked pedestrians exiting the zoo like big cats starved for antelope. Families turned wary eyes to the cars skulking behind them; mothers clutched little ones closer, and fathers hunched protectively over strollers as multiple cars circled their herd.

We drove slowly up each row, Ten minutes passed. Fifteen minutes passed. We'd long ago lost my sister's minivan. It was every vehicle for himself.

"Go to the front rows," I told my husband, "The early arrivers will be leaving now."

He took my suggestion and drove to the very first row. We turned down the row just behind a family who was leaving. We followed them to their car. Another car came from the opposite direction. We both paused, waiting.

As the father loaded the toddler into the car seat, the driver of the other car rolled down her window and called the mother over. She slinked over to the window, stopping a couple of feet back. We saw only her back, broad and formless in loose overall shorts and big tee-shirt. The other driver leaned out the window, spoke and gestured a bit. The overall-clad mother turned back to look at us, looked again at the other driver who appeared to be pleading, looked back at us, smiled at the other driver and climbed in her car.

"Oh my God," I said to my husband, "That person just negotiated with that lady to take the spot we've been waiting on! And I think she's going to do it!"

"We're pointing the right direction," my husband said, "They know we followed them to this spot, they'll do the right thing and we'll get the spot."

But the overall-clad mother's husband, driving, backed out and froze, boxing us in, blocking us. The other driver zipped into the parking spot. Another exiting family had been walking up behind us and saw the whole thing. The mother gestured to me, and I rolled down the window.

"Geez!" she said, "We're leaving, that's our car, right next to the spot you just had stolen." She walked to her car, shaking her head.

I was doing the same thing. So was my husband. As the other car pulled out and we pulled in, Thief Mother couldn't look at us.

We parked and sat for a minute.

"I'm wiped out," I said.

"Me too," my husband said, "This day has had too much stress already and this parking lot..."

"Vicious," I said, "This is why I do my best to avoid places parents take their kids for fun."

"I know," he agreed, "Parents can be a vicious bunch."

"No doubt."

We considered bailing. We'd already threatened to cancel the zoo trip for the kids, who'd spent the morning acting like they'd been bred from a maniac and a brat. In case you wondered, that would not make them our children.

"I don't know if I can handle the zoo," I said.

"Me either," said my husband.

The children wisely remained silent, knowing the precarious position they were in. They must have heard the truth of it in our tone.

"That lady was nice, though, telling us about her spot. And we did get to park in the front row, on such a busy day," I pointed out, "That's pretty good. And we're here to have fun. It could be the turning point, you know."

"Sure, true," my husband agreed.

"My sister and all are probably waiting," I said, after a minute.

"Yeah," said my husband. He unlocked the door and we both slowly climbed out of the car. The children exhaled in relief.

We crossed to the Zoo entrance, and my sister and I stood by the fence with the half a dozen kids while the dads bought the tickets. Suddenly, Persistence made a break for it. She raced through a slight opening in the gate and flew into a crowd of people in the zoo.

My heart stopped, but my feet moved rapidly. Luckily the lady at the entrance saw what happened so didn't even try to stop me as I ran into the zoo.

"Persistence," I yelled, unmindful of the attention I got, "Persistence, you STOP! Come BACK!" Gleeful in her game and power, she continued running. "PERSISTENCE!!" I yelled again, and something in my tone got her attention. She paused, turned back, and froze. I caught up with her, and picked her up. I babbled incoherently about scared and danger and in big trouble. We walked back to our group, my husband and brother-in-law now there, too.

I briefly explained what happened and the executives decided that Persistence got to see the zoo strapped into a stroller. This made for an extremely pleasant viewing experience. Each exhibit we went to erupted into a begging, pleading and tantrumming child insisting she needed to get out. We were unswayed by any misguided sympathy. On a few occasions one of us would pick her up and hold her so she could see, but back into the stroller she went.

She resorted to her favorite tactic: verbal abuse.

"Mommy, you RUDE and STUPID!" she yelled.

Had there been a bench or chance, I would have sunk onto it, defeated, and dropped my head into my hands.

My sister stood by me in sympathy, "Bad case of the threes."

"Yeah," I agreed.

"You're doing the right thing, though. They test and you just have to hold firm. It's ugly for a while but worth it in the end."

That didn't feel like much of a light at the end of the tunnel, at the time. Three is a terrible time in so many ways---wonderful, too---but I've been through a typical case of the threes, before. You'd think I'd be better the second time, but nothing about Persistence seems quite typical right now.

By the time we'd finished the children's zoo area, and decided it was time to leave, Persistence had worked herself up to Super Special.

"I want a ride a carousel!" she shrieked, over and over and over and over. By the time we got to the Wonderful World of Primates, I looked at the others and said, "I think we ought to just go." But the group wanted desperately to see the monkeys and knowing Persistence's love of them, I reluctantly agreed. I carried her through the exhibit.

"Look," I joked, "It's your people! Do you feel the love, Pers? You want to call out to them in monkey language?"

"Ooooh ooohh aaaaah aaaahhhh!" she yodeled.

We paused and looked. The primates stared at us. I think we bored them. Another big furless one and small furless one chortling at them. How original.

But it delighted Persistence, who showed a small ray of her normally pleasant and charming personality for the first time that day.

"It's a zoo day for you, it's a zoo day for you, you look like a monkey and you act like one too!" I sang to her, mangling the mangle of the happy birthday song.

She giggled.

"You want to live here at the zoo with the monkeys?" I joked.

She shook her head.

"No? You want to live at home with mom and dad?" I asked.

She nodded her head.

I hugged her and we finished walking through the exhibit singing our monkeys in the zoo song. But my head and heart wondered and worried, was I doing it right? enough? okay? Other three year olds do this too. I'm not a bad parent. I'm not mangling anything other than the song. I tried to reassure myself.

But Persistence, and Patience too, have been testing this feeling of self-assuredness, to the point that my tank is practically on E. Since my main job is mom, and that is having a challenge period right now, I've been feeling a bit low.

That's why I am so grateful for the 5 pieces of "You Don't Suck" and "Hey Maybe I Can Do Something All Right, After All" that some kind people passed my way just when I needed it.

Thank you, Emily, so very much for this:

I have to pass this on to some BBBs (best blogging buddies) who are also in my "fur" real life (yuk yuk yuk):

Jenny, who's been a buddy for me even though she's got her own pet health issues and her own three year old
Kyla, who's been a buddy for me even though she's in school and got her own three year old issues
Melissa, who's been a buddy with reassurance from down the mom road, offers of lunch and debate chats.

And the real Gwen and Mrs. Chicky, who have been such buddies, with emails and check-ins and offers of ears and nice words. Thanks...this is for you, too.

But I owe this prop to so many people, every one who comes here and comments with insight, warmth, humor, wisdom and well, uses their words. Thank you.

Thank you so much, Maddy from Whitterer on Autism, for this:

Just a few of the many awesome bloggers who should get this are:

Arkie Mama
Leslie at Minivan Diaries
Karen at needs new batteries
De at Sober Briquette
Mary Alice on the Frontlines

Thank you so much Slouching Mom for this:

I'd give it right back, LOL, but she's already got it, so instead just a few of the long list of blogs I look forward to daily:

Emily at Wheels on the Bus

Thank you so much, Ewe, for the mwah:

I am passing this along to people who are regularly there for me in comments. That means you, Sci-Fi Dad, Robert, Ellie, Dharmamama, Heidi, Kathryn, Flutter, Jeff, Suki, Painted Maypole, Mayberry, Magpie, Thordora, Angela (mommybytes), Anne (Nahm), We Be Toys, Liv, Yolanda, SpaceMom, Jen (one plus two Jen), Christine, Karen, and Andrea. I am so, so sorry if I left off a name (and for lack of links). I'm down to the wire on time here. Send me an email and I'll correct, with apologies. I do look forward to what you have to say, each day. Thanks.

Then De at Sober Briquette awarded me this:

The Original Perfect Post Awards – Jan 08

for this post: If I could just recall how to float. . .

and even complimented my art (that's a ranuculus flower, up close and personal, FTR). That was so touching, De. Thanks. That post was hard, and to know it somehow meant something...well...I'm humbled and grateful.

Thank you.

Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert
Also blogging at:
Using My Words
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thordora said...

Oh we have the threes BAD in our house. It does pass, but man, somedays....I want to eat glass.

And I'm glad we walk.take the bus everywhere. I can't handle people like that. I just can't.

Mama Drama Jenny, the Bloggess said...

Oh Julie, I just want to give you a giant hug and thank you. I'm actually crying over here and I'm too verklempt to even go into it but let me just say that you make me feel normal and I needed that today after the toddler-hell weekend I had.

le35 said...

We're going through my first case of the threes here. Saturday at Walmart was one of those days where I just picked Jackie up and hauled her out the the car. Getting into the carseat was a chore and then she didn't want to talk to me. Threes are just plain hard! You did the right thing about sticking to your guns and then having fun with her when she was ready. Way to go for a mom! And if you didn't have the second thoughts about how good a mom you are, I'd be worried. I think that in some ways, it's a sign of a good mom. GREAT job, and thanks for sharing your story. It makes me feel like I'm not alone.

Jeff said...

Thanks for the smack :-)

... but how am I going to explain that lipstick on my collar?

Maddy said...

You're oh so very welcome!

It's always a toss up between Meercats and Prairie Dogs around here, too cute by half.

I'm always at a bit of a loss when one of mine hurls abuse at me in public. In theory we're supposed to go home, but that's always tough on the others.

Next time you should take my husband as a driver, he always finds a parking spot, no matter what.

melissa said...

Thanks oodles!

We're having a bad case of the tweens now. Let me tell you, it's a lot harder to strap them in a stroller when they're five feet tall...not to mention all of the funny looks. :)

liv said...

sometimes it's no fun, is it? makes me not want to take the street urchins anywhere, you know?

Cathy said...

Thank you!!

My second is about to enter the 3s. Am steeling myself already.

I've never understood the whole "Terrible Twos" thing. Most parents I know heartily agree that three is far more terrifying. said...

Thanks for the Mwah! We've finally made it past 3 and into the 4's and so far, not much better... I remember thinking about strangling my son ala Bart Simpson at that age, but he is so much better now (except when he is totally crazy and out of control, but that's another problem...). He just shrugs his shoulders and looks just as puzzled as we are when his sister acts up.

Good luck Julie, you'll make it through!

Aliki2006 said...

Oh Julie, thanks for the props, really and truly.

The hard part about having a SEVEN year-old who calls you "stupid" in public is that he's SEVEN and not three and people are oh so less forgiving of that. Three was okay with T., but four is starting to look a little hairy, too.

Stay sane--you're doing so wonderfully.

the dragonfly said...

I cannot believe they did that to you in the parking lot! Incredible.

I'm glad you had the happy moment with Persistence and the monkeys.

And yay for all the bloggy bling!

Karen said...

Rock on mommies of three year olds! Rock on!
And Julie - thanks, you made my day.

dharmamama said...

Oh! Three! For some reason, I knew that, but it didn't really click what that meant until this post. (Thick-headed, me) Good heavens, I remember when Evan was three and a half... I was ready to sell him to the gypsies! But they only take 4s and older. heh.

And this was a child that was SO easy up until then. We were psychically connected up until then. It had been *magic* up until then.

I read Louise Bates Ames' "Your Three Year Old" (subtitled 'Friend or Enemy', aptly enough) and it helped me know I was *not* insane, my child had not been kidnapped and replaced with a demon, it was *normal*. Normal, normal, normal. There are things about that book that are *slightly* outdated, but I love that whole series. Tons of research about child development. The boys' preschool was set up with guidelines from the institute that did the research, Gesell Institute.

I am happy to report that the threes did indeed pass. He's 15 now, and we are still deeply connected. It's still magic. lol Three and a half was truly the most difficult time.

Thanks for the smackeroo! Right back atcha.

ALM said...

Parenting is SUCH a difficult job... and there's no rule book! You have good guts; continue to go with them and it will all be fine. (Wishing I could internalize that same advice!)

Blogversary said...

You are brave for even thinking of taking a 3 yr old to the zoo! Then to do it, wow.

SciFi Dad said...

So is that a "mwah" award or a "ensure continuing comments" award? ;)

In all seriousness, we've all been there, with a toddler who is finding her way in the world. Admittedly, my daughter has never run off in public - she's much too clingy to her mother for that sort of behaviour - but we still have the tantrums and the difficulties.

Keep writing honestly about your kids: the good and the bad. Just make sure you do it in such a manner that you won't regret having them read it ten or 15 years from now, and everything will be fine.

slouching mom said...

Oh, that parking lot story! That makes me FURIOUS! The NERVE!

(trying to calm down)

You deserve all these awards, and more.

Mayberry said...

Mwah right back at ya, babe!

Oh three. I am so afraid of you. T-minus 2 months from TODAY.

Mrs. Chicky said...

Aw, I like kitties.

If I wasn't feeling like death I'd give you a smooch. You'll have to take one virtually.


PunditMom said...

I never cease to be amazed at people's rudeness and aggressiveness over parking spaces.

Gwen said...

Some people carry baseball bats just for those very kind of zoo parkers. Not that I'm advocating violence or anything, oh no. But, you know, if your bat accidentally grazed a car, who'd know? (you realize I jest).

Three, oh three, you lovely number.
Patience and wisdom, patience and wisdom.

jeanie said...

Three is SO MUCH WORSERER than two!! Hooray for the other mother - and what a beech about the first.

Congratulations on all the shiny stuff!!

Kathryn said...

I am going through this right along with you. The sassy talk in my house has been upped the last few weeks and I have had it. I don't know if I am being too hard on them or not, but I would rather be a little too hard than not hard enough and have a sassy-mouthed brat on my hands.
You really did the right thing! Well done!
Man, parenthood is rough!
Congrats on all of your well-deserved awards! And thanks for the Mwah!. I love it!

Robert said...

This is the second post today that reminded me of my own parking adventure as a child. When I was about ten (not sure, honestly), my mother gave me the job of "guarding" a spot near the door of a department store while she went to get her car. We were picking up a rug or something, so she didn't want to carry it too far. Well, about the time she'd walked out of sight, a man in a Camaro drove right towards me, basically making me choose between my kneecaps and that space. He rolled forward by inches until I had backed all the way up. I walked backward slowly enough, though, that my mother had had time to return with the car. She screamed at him so loud (the words, to this day, are unintelligible in my mind) and it was amplified by the garage we were in. He just shrugged and walked inside. In short, I feel for you on the parking thing.

As for the running away, my daughter did that last year at the Georgia Republican Convention (i.e., maybe two thousand people around) and managed to run into the area where I was not allowed (as I was not a delegate, but just an alternate) and the officials might have stopped me, but she just so happened to run right by her mother. So, again, I feel you.

I know it's not always easy to stick by your guns. I just tell people who look at me funny when they see me holding or ignoring a screaming child, "If I stick to my guns now, then I won't have to when she wants a sports car at sixteen." You can do it. It's the right thing. I wish more parents would stick to theirs (I wish more parents would actually care about their kids at all).

Thanks for the award.

EdT. said...

Take it from me, you will survive this period - I did! And, if I remember, time (or the death of lots of brain cells) helps numb the bad memories, while keeping the good ones (more or less) intact.

It's been 17 years since mine was a T3, and we can now go to the zoo (or the museum) and not make any sort of a scene whatsoever! And just think, in less than a year, we will be able to go to the casinos and strip clubs, too. ;-)


Sober Briquette said...

They stayed silent in the car? While you and your husband talked? About NOT going to the zoo?

What manner of bewitchment is this?

Thanks for the Sassy Mama. If I start running on empty, now I've got a reserve.

Suz said...

You have me scared for three. My kids are like that now. Except they haven't learned the word for "stupid" and "poopy-head"...yet.

And. OMG. I had a parking spot theiving incident this weekend, too. What is up with people? I agree with you. Parents are mean.

Mary Alice said...

Thanks Julie :-)

wheelsonthebus said...

Congrats AND thank you!!

It is funny to read this next to my post giving you the award, also about a child with a "bad case of the threes."


annenahm said...

Right back at ya, sweets!

Yolanda said...

Thank you, Julie. For the smooches and the gripping post.

I have a while until three, but I have read many stories like this and I know that what you're going through is common. Doubt is common. Guilt is common. But self-mercy and forgiveness is few and far between. You don't have to take the blame for everything Persistence does wrong no more than you pat yourself on the back for everything she does right.

ewe are here said...

I'm constantly amazed at how a busy parking lot can bring out the worst in people, especially at 'family oriented' places like zoos. You'd think they'd be trying to set positive examples for their kids...


Kyla said...

Today we stopped at Target for a quick grocery/shoe trip (BubTar is growing like a weed!) and I made the "mistake" of taking KayTar's box of straws and putting them on the conveyor belt. She went batsh!t crazy. Oh Lord. I gave them back to her once I realized how attached she was, but the gasket was already blown. The lady in line behind me chortled as KayTar continued the massive freak out and said, "Is all that really about the straws?" And I said, "I'm afraid so." and chortled a bit myself. What else is there to do?

To steal a line from Jess, Oh.The.Joys. ;)

Hang in there. And thanks!!

Christine said...

you deserve those lovely awards (and that parking space!).

and my son has a HORRIBLE case of the threes right now. dinner was down right dreadful.

i feel your pain.

Running on empty

jen said...

thank you for this, i feel incredibly less alone after reading it.

jennifer h said...

I hope that Thief Mother suffered without end at the zoo that day. Whatever Persistence put you through that day, I hope it her trip to the zoo was a bajillion times harder.

Threes were so much harder than 2s. It's one of the big tricks of parenting, thinking the 2s are as bad as it gets.

Sounds like you handled the day like a champ. And you didn't pull out that other mother's hair, an accomplishment in itself.

Jenn said...

If I were on the jury, you'd have been acquitted.

Multi-tasking Mommy said...

At least she didn't decide that she did want to live in the zoo with the animals!

So, are the threes worse than the twos?

Magpie said...

And Mwah to you too!

Michele said...

OK, I still can't get over the bee-itch that took your parking place. What is wrong with people!

we_be_toys said...

Thanks so much for the "Mwah!" Right back at ya!
I look to you to keep me from getting too wrapped up in trite, and girl- the 3s are truly a trying time - hang in there - it DOES get better, for a little while, before the teen years,...Augh! Now I'M feeling low!!

Space Mom said...

Mwah back at ya!

But just remember, ALL 3 year olds are crazy! You are not alone!

Bon said...

late...but thank you, Julie. it came at a particularly good time for a little boost of warmth, and i am grateful.

also terrified of three as it looms, but grateful. :)