Laura Bass shares a story about loving our kids even when things don’t go according to plan. Now you can find the Kindred Mom book, Strong, Brave, and Beautiful: Stories of Hope for Moms in the Weeds, wherever books are sold. Subscribe to the Kindred Mom newsletter and receive a preview of the book today! Photo by Timothy Eberly on Unsplash
“Mommy said dammit, mommy said dammit.”
The post office was silent, other than the 2-year-old on my hip loudly proclaiming to the packed pre-holiday post office line that I had said dammit. I, in fact, had not said anything–I was standing in silence other than the occasional “shh” to my child, who I kept switching from hip to hip to accommodate my just-starting to show baby bump. I whispered “shhh” yet again, hoping he would forget the unfortunate word he overheard at a recent football game, but he studied my face, rapidly turning into the shade of a beet, and decided that getting louder was the only reasonable response.
“Mommy said dammit, Mommy said dammit,” he sang out, again and again. I glanced around the post office, seeing both furtive smiles and disapproving glances cast my way. An intimidating man in full military dress stood behind me, expressionless, and I wondered what he was thinking. We’d already spent more than twenty minutes in line, and I knew the line would only get longer each day as the calendar moved closer to Christmas. I tried to calculate how much longer we had left before we reached the front. I needed to get this package in the mail.
Sweating profusely and bright red, embarrassed, I was unsure of what to do. Should I abandon my place in line to go discipline my child? Did he even know that dammit was a bad word? Why was he choosing this moment to repeat this word, to draw it out from the recesses of his brain? Would it be worth it to get out of line to discipline him if it made the last twenty minutes I’ve spent waiting, twenty minutes that were cutting into precious naptime, irrelevant? Or should I just suck it up, and deal with the embarrassment, knowing I probably wouldn’t see any of these people again, and get my package mailed?
I’m not sure what the right choice was, but I was pregnant and I was tired, and I wasn’t coming back to the post office. We were getting the package in the mail and that was that, no matter how embarrassed I was.
I tried the gentle sing-song voice: “Hey buddy, let’s not say that, okay?”
I tried ignoring him.
I tried hissing angrily through my teeth, “Stop saying that!”
I tried distraction techniques: “Look, play with my keys! Look, those stamps on the bulletin board have Charlie Brown on them!”
I even tried to reason with him, knowing full well that two-year-olds are unreasonable and I was wasting my breath. “Hey buddy, mommy wasn’t even talking, I didn’t say anything at all. Let’s just be quiet for a minute okay?”
He’d pause for a few minutes and the fire would start to fade from my cheeks. Just as soon as I thought we were in the clear, he’d start up again.
“Mommy said dammit, mommy said dammit.”
The line crawled forward and I did my best to avoid eye contact. Finally, I made it to the counter and purchased the postage, sliding my package over the dull beige counter with relief. Taking a deep breath, I forged to the door, looking at the sidewalk as I walked out into the crisp air. “Mommy said dammit, mommy said dammit,” echoed around me as I hurried to the car. Sliding the minivan door open, I quickly buckled him into his seat and sank into the driver’s seat. Hot tears spilled from my eyes and I rested my head on the steering wheel.
I spotted my 3-year-old on the playground climbing wall, a sleeping baby snuggled against me in the Ergo, when I saw my 6-year-old running toward me. His face was white and he was followed by two moms with serious expressions.
“This can’t be good,” I thought.
He started sobbing the second he reached me and one of the moms pointed towards the playground structure. “He fell, all the way from the top… it looked like he just lost his balance… and he landed head first. He popped right up, but his neck… it looked like he jammed it.”
I gave him a quick glance over, checking for obvious signs of injury, and held him, awkwardly with the baby strapped to my chest. Rubbing his back with one hand, I scrolled through my phone with the other, looking for the pediatrician’s number. “That must have been so scary, buddy. I’m just going to call the doctor real quick because you fell from so high.”
The phone rang as I asked the other moms, “How high up do you think he fell from? I’m going to see if the pediatrician can check him out.”
“Probably eight feet,” said one.
“I hope he’s okay,” said the other. “I can’t believe he just popped right up like that… it was a really scary fall.”
“Thank you so much for bringing him over here,” I said as the doctor’s office picked up. I explained the situation to the receptionist as panic at the internal injury possibilities and shame for not being right there, somehow able to prevent the fall, battled inside me.
“Yes, go ahead and head this way, we’ll squeeze him in,” said the receptionist.
My 3-year-old was not pleased to leave the park. My 6-year-old was still sobbing. The baby looked around in confusion, rubbing his eyes sleepily. I called my husband on the way to the doctors office.
“I’ll meet you there,” he said.
I squeezed the double stroller into the exam room, sat my 6-year-old on the exam table. He was no longer sobbing, but was subdued, the occasional tear still falling down his cheek.
Usually, taking all three kids to the doctor is planned carefully. What time of day will everyone be the least cranky? Do we have plenty of snacks and distractions? Is our favorite doctor, the one who wears ties adorned with Mickey Mouse and Elmo and has the voices to match, available?
Exactly none of these things were the case for this last minute appointment. It was inching closer to dinner time, and my 3-year-old was holding tight to his resentment about having to leave the park suddenly.
The doctor walked in, a no-nonsense woman close to retirement, and appraised the situation.
My 3-year-old was refusing to stay in the stroller, wildly throwing his limbs about and screaming, attempting to snatch a toy from his baby brother. “If we can’t behave, you’ll have to get buckled,” I told him, greeting the doctor in the same breath.
This only increased the volume of his screams. He was most definitely not behaving.
Over his screams, I tried to give the doctor the pertinent information.
She nodded, turned to examine my oldest as I continued to struggle with my middle child. She piped in once, telling him firmly but not unkindly that he needed to listen to me, and his epic tantrum finally faded to hiccuping tears. My cheeks were bright red, both from the embarrassment and the wrestling match.
“It sounds like quite a fall, but he got lucky—I think he’ll just be sore for a day or two. Come back tomorrow, just so we can make sure nothing pops up after the fact,” she said, completing her examination. As she typed the notes into her computer, she added “You did a really good job handling that tantrum, mom. Calm and firm, that’s the way to handle those.”
I nodded, whispering a “thank you” as my eyes filled with tears. Now that I knew my son was okay, now that my other son’s tantrum had ceased, the adrenaline disappeared and I found myself exhausted and emotional.
My husband arrived at the office just as the doctor was exiting the room. We walked to the parking lot together and I recapped the appointment.
Almost shyly, at the end, I said, “She told me I did a good job handling the tantrum.”
He whistled. “She’s not the type to give out compliments, just because.” He was more familiar with the doctors than I was, having been a patient at this practice as a child. “Sounds like you had it all handled, babe. Great job.”
“I don’t WANT to go to church,” yelled one of my kids.
I rolled my eyes and with clenched teeth, said for the fourth time, “We are going so get dressed.”
By the time we got in the car, there had been more meltdowns than I care to count. Our dog, feeling separation anxiety after we’d been away for a week, climbed in the car after the kids.
My husband looked at me, eyebrows raised, “Church is outside…?”
“That’s fine,” I said. “She can come.”
My kids had finally gotten dressed in the church clothes I’d picked out, but I didn’t even bother to tell them to put on their church shoes. Church was outside, and after so many months of virtual church due to the pandemic, I didn’t even have church shoes in everyone’s size. Tennis shoes would do. No one’s socks matched their outfit. I was raised in a Sunday best kind of house and church, and though our church is much more casual, it can be hard to shed expectations ingrained in your childhood. A few years ago, I might have apologized to anyone who would have listened, “I know they aren’t wearing their church shoes–we just couldn’t get it together this morning.” A few years ago, I would have never entertained the idea of letting our dog come to church, even if it was outside.
I spent the first ten minutes of church trying to quietly coax my toddler over to our seats. He was much more interested in the parking lot.
When I finally settled in a chair, my four-year-old announced loudly he needed to go potty.
In the middle of the sermon, the quiet game two of my children had been playing turned into a loud shout of “SUPERCHARGED!”
Sobs over a skinned knee rose above the prayers of the people.
By the end of the service, I looked at my husband and said, “Well, the dog was the best behaved out of all of them.”
There was a time that my anxiety over my children’s behavior during the church service would have skyrocketed. I would have felt the scalding eyes of judgment with each noise that came from one of my children.
I have fallen into the trap of believing a mother’s job is to have perfectly behaved kids. I have felt shame flush my cheeks when my children were not acting like I thought they should. I have berated myself for being the mother whose child screams “dammit” in the post office, whose child falls eight feet off of a playground structure, whose child is throwing a tantrum in the doctor’s office, whose children weren’t perfectly behaved during a church service.
But any mother knows; children are unpredictable. Despite our best efforts to teach them how to act in civilized society, they are impulsive and have their own ideas about how things should go. Children, like all of us, make mistakes.
Children—and their mothers—deserve grace.
A mother’s job isn’t to handle every situation flawlessly (mothers are human, too). A mother’s job is to love, even when—especially when—things don’t go according to plan.
Just like the doctor who offered grace and encouragement when my son was having an epic meltdown in her office, I can extend grace to myself—and to others—who are showing up day after day and muddling through the messiness of motherhood.
Laura Bass is a native North Carolinian who lives in a house full of boys. She spends her days picking up Legos, encouraging creativity in her kids, and filling all her free minutes with words—both writing and reading them. She can be found blogging at www.laurapbass.com or on Instagram.