That One Time I Was a Rockstar Mommy
I have to tell you this story, because I know I will pay dearly for it, and I just have to play it as many times as I can before then.
Husband left his phone at my mom’s house after a Sunday dinner. I arranged to meet my brother to get it back the following afternoon. It was a rainy day. There is a Chick-Fil-A conveniently located pretty much exactly half-way. We could meet, sit and chat over junk food, and the Man Cub could climb around and get out of the house for a bit.
We ordered chicken and waffle fries and found a small table right next to the plexiglass boundary of the play area. Man Cub, of course, wanted nothing to do with waffle fries once he saw the slide – for which I am grateful – so, as there were no other kids in there anyway, I stripped him of his shoes and released him while we sat and ate and watched from just outside the wall.
A short time later a young father and his son – maybe a year older than Man Cub – pulled open the door of the play area and stored tiny sneakers in a tiny cubby. Little Boy took off for the big stairs, and Young Father sat down on the bench inside the play area with his smartphone.
Boys played, Young Father occasionally got up to spin a mirror or push a button, my brother and I ate and talked and watched.
Eventually, during a lull in our own conversation, my brother looked up and casually commented, “Ooop. Throwing punches.”
I turned to the large set of playground stairs just behind my shoulder and saw the two boys engaged in passionate dialogue. Okay … my son was engaging in passionate dialogue (no doubt on the scourge of human trafficking or the urgent need of clean water in remote villages all over India – judging by his tone). The other kid was silent, looking kind of bewildered at him. And in his zeal for social justice, Man Cub’s arms were waiving (no idea where he gets that) – dangerously close to Little Boy’s face.
He was not angry. He was not hitting. He was not trying to hurt the kid. That much was obvious.
And not just to me. I noticed Young Father caught in the tension of protecting his progeny from danger, and unnecessarily disciplining a child that did not belong to him – especially with said child’s mother now watching. He started to get up, then hesitated, glanced at me, waited.
I knocked on the wall.
Man Cub started, and twisted around to answer the banging.
I didn’t want to yell, because it would have to be loud to overcome the muffling effect, and I’m not really the kind of person who screams in public settings unless it’s really urgent. I mouthed and signed, “No.”
This move – the silent mouthing and congruent sign language – is a little trick we’ve been working on (when I remember and when I have some kind of control of my emotions, so about half of the time) for two reasons:
- To teach both Man Cub and myself that we can communicate effectively without getting crazy, and
- For those occasions when he is not right next to me or cannot hear me.
… like this.
Usually when we do this, he shouts, “No! No! No!” back at me. Sometimes he grabs the three fingers I just snapped together. Sometimes he arches backwards and flails his arms. Sometimes he screams. Lately he’s been roaring at me. Sometimes it’s a random combination of any (or – Lord help me – all) of the above.
This time, this day, the heavens parted and swine fluttered past the windows, and my sweet little Man Cub – in public, no less – looked at me, stopped waiving his arms, said a few more calm words to Little Boy, and climbed away up the stairs.
My next instinct was to run into the play area, scoop him up in my arms, pour endless praise and kisses on him for listening so well, and tell him how good he just did.
But then, out of the corner of my eye, I happened to catch the stunned look on Young Father’s face, and I willed myself to remain seated, to pick up a waffle fry, and to carry on.
“Play it cool. Play it cool. Don’t blow it now. Just play. It. Cool. Happens all the time.”
My brother started to comment, but I can’t play anything cool in front of him anyway so – face still turned to empty sauce tubs – I laughed, “He’s going to throw epic temper tantrums the next 10 times we visit a grocery store to make up for that, but I’ll take it. That was freaking awesome.”
A Young Mama eventually came around with a tray of calories, and Young Father and his Little Boy exited the arena to eat. My brother and I finished, and Man Cub actually decided he was done with the slide before I had to drag him away from it kicking and screaming. We slipped little shoes back on, packed our things, and – having shown the lucky patrons of Chick-Fil-A how parenting is done – we headed home.
Tomorrow, I will also show the grocery store how parenting is done as I push a wailing almost-two-year-old through the produce section, and alternately beg and threaten him to cease and desist for 10 minutes until we can exit the store. But I will cling to the memory of that one time …