I have great sympathy for people who have toddlers. And when I’m out and about in the world, if I see one of these teeny, crumb-encrusted humans, I’ll smile and cluck and then thank my lucky stars I’m not pushing that Pseudomonas-slimed grocery cart fire truck. Anyone who has attempted it knows that shopping with these moody, unpredictable people extends the errand by four-and-a-half hours. I’ve written it before, and three sentences attest, that I prefer to avoid small children. I assert that miniature, pre-verbal people spend the entire day trying to die, and it is the unlucky responsibility of the attending adult to thwart their efforts. Luckily, we’re largely successful… and then after they’re asleep (and the adult has consumed four glasses of wine) it’s all cute and hilarious.
Yesterday I watched a mother of two little (suicidal) boys tempt the fates in a moment of desperation. Blinded by desire to get the hell out of the grocery store, she shouldered eight overflowing, reusable totes and let her sons brave the escalator without handholding. I’d give the four year old an 8.2 on his dismount. Mom managed to hold onto her bundles as she quickly pivoted to offer her tiny toddler encouragement: “Come on, honey… just step off!” which he translated as “sit down and back away from the finger-eating edge.” Riding behind this trio, I saw how this would unfold, so had already freed up a hand to rescue the snow-suited, supine child from a certain trip to the emergency room.
My reward for saving the fingertips of this adorable towheaded boy? Screams. Red-faced wailing. Of course, I thought, he’s scared and a weird lady just picked him up. But that really wasn’t it… because toddlers are insane. “He doesn’t like to be ‘helped,’” his mother explained (still holding her groceries). Utterly embarrassed, she enters Responsible Public Mom Mode wherein she’s trying to urge the irrational screamer to say, “thank you.” Now I’m trapped in her parenting moment. And as my frozens soften, we’re all stuck in the grocery store vestibule in a ridiculous toddler tango:
“Say thank you to the nice lady.”
“It’s OK, really, happy to help.”
“She was so nice to help you.”
“I have two boys… and at this age, they’re always trying to die. It’s exhausting.”
“SAY THANK YOU!”
“Um… he’s so cute… bye!”
My now 9-year-old was just like that kid. Bull-headed as Bill Maher on religion, he hated any sort of change, or moments without Mommy, or help (“I do it! Self!”). Brodie’s moods were controlled by a switch operated by the Devil. I rationalized it as a “phase,” but the ugly truth was that I was scared of my own child. And though I always adored, loved, and worshipped him, at the time, I didn’t really like him that much. Enter Zealot Sister. Paige observed the pattern I had cowered into (avoid, deflect, ignore, appease) and with big-sisterly authority, told me I was losing a war to a three-year-old, and ruining him in the process. Within a few days she had enacted strict punishments for parental defiance, more restricted access to Mommy as she forced him into small moments of independence, and a sticker system for “good days.” Wouldn’t it be a lovely story if that worked? Well, it did… but so did locking him in a cold garage with the threat of spiders. I’m not kidding. For some children, three minutes on the stairs isn’t going to cut it.
Now that they’re older (and saner) I enjoy my kids much, much more. But now I’m faced with tween-ager insubordination that requires a different sort of parental beat-down that I haven’t practiced. There’s no more red-faced wailing to discourage, but tiny moments of sneaky rebellion where I think They Ought to Know Better. Teddy’s become a total asshole in the classroom… loudly complaining that the math is “ugh… sooooo easy.” Granted, if your kid is going to get in trouble at school, this is the Asian way to do it. (A Ma tells me Bernie used to correct his teachers all the time.) Wailing escalator boy reminded me that though I smugly sashay through stores unencumbered by sticky succubusses, I’ve got so much more work to do to make sure Brodie and Teddy don’t grow up to be insufferable. Wailing escalator boy reminded me it takes friends (and sometimes strangers) to encourage me to remain vigilant. Wailing escalator boy made me miss Zealot Sister.
**Elevator safety caveat: any plastic surgeon or hand surgeon or ER doc will tell you that the escalator eats baby fingers. Be careful out there.