Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Importance of Taking Turns

Last week we were at the museum. We'd been there about 25 minutes or so, just leaving the dinosaur fossils and headed into the mammal section, when suddenly a small girl of about 4 comes running through and down the ramp. She was wailing/squealing in that way small children do when they are having a blast but know that they are BIG trouble when they get caught. Running after her was her mother, shouting the things mom shout in this situation. "STOP! You stop right now! Stand still!! I said STOP!!" She caught the girl right next to us and started in on the rest of the mom speech "I told you to stop. I told you to stay next to Mommy & Daddy. There is no running in here. We don't run indoors. There are too many people. You could get lost. You need to listen to the rules. If I have to chase you down again we are leaving." in that tone you get when you are frightened your child will be lost or hurt and angry that they are not listening to you. Stern Mom Voice. As she lead her whining child off I leaned over to DH and said "It's her turn today." and he replied "Well we can relax then."

I used to worry about being *that mom*. You know, the one with *that child* in the store. The child you could hear 2 aisles over crying and wailing for something, the one with the exasperated mother saying tensely "Stop whining. I said no!" Those people? Havoc was a colicky baby. He cried nearly all the time. Grocery store trips were hell until he was about 8 months old and I learned he would happily munch on a plum while I shopped. Then I was *that mom who let her kid eat the unwashed fruit she hadn't paid for yet* in the grocery store. I did always take a plum to the checkout and insist on paying for it & letting them keep it. The plum trick stopped working when he was about 14 months old and had added some words to his vocabulary - WANT and THAT and NO!  He'd much rather express himself than eat a plum.

Then his brother was born. Mayhem was placid enough, unless Havoc was upset. If Havoc was whining, Mayhem had to join in. Removing just Havoc from the store had been enough of a problem. Removing Havoc and Mayhem was darn near impossible because most of the time, the whining and wailing began after I had stood in the check out line for some times and had finally reached a point where I was unloading groceries onto the belt. Maybe I am a terrible person, making others suffer through the wailfest, but while I am perfectly willing to leave a cart in the pasta aisle & haul small noisy beings outside until they calm down, I am not willing to reload the cart, get out of line, move the cart out of the way and then remove the noisemakers and then get BACK into line, only for it to start over again because Havoc wanted to put the olives on the belt & I didn't realize it and had put them on the belt myself. 

Then I got sick. I developed bronchitis when Mayhem was 2 months old and it lingered for 9 months. Most days I was just too miserable to care and would push the kids around Wal Mart beating myself up inside about what I lousy mother I was, what a poor excuse for a human being I was, not teaching my kids how to behave in public, making these innocent people suffer listening to the wailing of my children. But I was sick and tired and damn it I needed milk.  I didn't have the energy to keep walking in and out of the store. I was about 3 months into this when one day the wailing began and it took me a minute to realize that it wasn't coming from my cart. Someone else's child was wailing! OH RAPTURE! it wasn't just me!!! I heard the mother say in a tone I knew all too well "I said NO! You cannot have the cookies. Put the cookies down! 1....2...PUT THE COOKIES DOWN." and something somewhere inside me said "It's not your turn today."

It's not my turn today..... you mean, it isn't all about me? Other people are involved in this? Other people can be *that mother*? It's a big worldwide game that all parents get to play. We all get a chance to be *that parent* with *that child* in the store, the restaurant, the airport, the museum. But unlike the games of our own childhood, no one wants to be *it*. We spend a lot of time & effort making sure we are not *it*.  But inevitably, our turn does come around.  Usually shortly after we make some statement that starts "My child would never....".

The idea that this is just a single incident, just my turn today, and not an overall indictment of my parenting has helped me come to terms with my children's occasionally forays into unsocial behavior. It's made me stress about them less, made me less tense before we go into the store and better able to cope in the middle of the situation. "This isn't proof that my child is a little maniac. It's just my turn today." It's made me notice more the occasions when my children behave well (which, honestly, is the majority of the time, but because there was that period where it was all miserable, I sometimes don't notice when it is good) It's made smile at mothers who's children are acting up, who are whining and grabbing things off the shelf. "Ah, it's your turn today.  Don't worry, it will be someone else's turn tomorrow."

So if your child is acting up in public and you see me looking at you, please know I am not judging you. I am not mentally commenting on your parenting skills or lack thereof. I am looking at you with sympathy and relief. I'm sorry it's your turn & glad it's not mine this time. But I know my turn is coming.  Probably Saturday, when we go out to dinner.


April said...

What a super neat blog, I'll be back for sure!

Black Hockey Jesus said...

I like the idea that we're all paying together for everyone's wrongs. Builds community spirit.