It was a hot morning, blossoming into an even hotter, muggier day. I didn’t want to go to work, but was pulling it together. My son didn’t want to go to camp, but was not quite managing it.
I’d let him watch it an ipad show at breakfast, so that was the first sign of trouble. He’d been watching since I got in the shower, which meant that he was even less mentally prepared to haul ass out the the door to camp than he’d been initially.
We’d had a leisurely breakfast, I’d made the requested french toast, which left us without enough time to get ourselves together and get out the door. With very little difficulty, we began to run late. I couldn’t find a towel when I got out of the shower, opened my closet to find that I hated all my clothes. C asked for another banana and watched more show.
By the time I asked him to find his sneakers and get his teeth brushed, he’d nearly convinced himself that he wouldn’t have to go to camp today. I considered calling out of work, spending the day in the sprinklers at the park, but with vacation time coming up, it didn’t seem in particularly good form to blow off the day.
The sneakers became a stand-off. “I can’t find them,” he said. I pointed to them in the hallway, with all the rest of the shoes. “They’re too heavy,” he said, so I suggested he carry them one at a time. He hid them under the covers of my bed.
Frustrated and grossed out by shoes in my sheets, I resorted to punishments. The casualties mounted: his favorite transformer, Legos, the iPad. By this time we were both well on the way to nuclear meltdown. I plunked him down and we grouched the sneakers on. I slung on my backpack and his, grabbed the bike helmet so he could ride the 8 blocks to camp.
Massive helmet refusal ensues. Foot stamping, full on screaming, then he threw himself on the floor, fists flailing, eyes tearing. Somehow we’d got way beyond the point of no return. But I wouldn’t believe it. I coaxed, I cajoled, I prodded. At the height of the drama I smacked his hand. No deal. He wouldn’t budge. Neither would I. We were more entrenched than ever.
I remembered a story my mom told me. She tells it from her perspective, although I remember it, if through the hazy dusty sunbeams of childhood. We were at a standoff in the living room area of her studio apartment on 34th Street. She on one side of the room, I on the other. I’d sought refuge by the purple painted window wall. “You come half way,” she’d said, “and I’ll go halfway, and we’ll meet in the middle.” The patience she had, for a child barely seen, a child barely known, a child who arrived from the sky via plane ride to drop into her life for bits and segments, a child who was different every time, a mother’s life that was different, too. We met half way. We still do.
I tamp my anger back down. Deep breath. Check the clock. Aargh. We are both going to be miserably late. We’re at least 20 minutes from drop off, my commute another 45, then back in 5.5 hours for pick up. I say “wear your helmet or no bike,” which he knows is the rule anyway. He gets it on.
Out the door, down the stairs, onto the sidewalk. Gets on the bike, gets off the bike. Pulls off the helmet. I get it back on. We’ve moved less than five feet from the front door of our building. He wants to carry his lunch. He doesn’t want to carry his lunch. He wants to eat his lunch. I give him an emergency cookie. He can’t eat and ride. We wait. It’s a good cookie, but it’s not a magic elixir, and when it’s gone, we’re still less than five feet from the door, only now we’re out of cookies. “Ready to ride to camp?” “No!” He screams. His face crumples into a cry, he kicks the bike, yoinks off the helmet. “Do you want to ride?” I ask, at the end of whatever rags of patience I even remotely have left. “I don’t want to ride,” he says.
Walking to camp instead of riding will put us another 15 minutes behind schedule, but at least we’ll be moving. I bring the bike and the helmet back inside, deposit them in the hallway closet we are not supposed to use. But using the hallway closet is the least of my problems right now, I can’t haul the kid back into the apartment just to put the bike back where it lives or I will risk having to attempt getting out the door for the second time! I really only have the courage to get us out the door once per day.
I lock the door, meet C back on the sidewalk. Only now he wants the bike again. But come on, there ought to be limits. Somewhere there must be a limit, and here on the sidewalk we must have long since surpassed it, so I decide this, right here, this will be the line in the concrete.
“We’re not riding, we’re walking.”
“No!” And he throws himself onto the sidewalk, which not only gets his point across, but hurts. Now he’s crying for real. I extract a band aid from my back pack, cover the emerging scrape. It’s amazing how a tiny scrape takes on legendary status when part of a sidewalk temper-tantrum, but would be thoroughly brushed off during exuberant play.
“Alright, that’s it,” I say.
“No! That’s not it,” he yells, “THAT’S NOT IT!”
I take his hand and encourage him to walk. Nope. I pick him up and sling him over my shoulder with the two backpacks.
He wails. He wants me to let him down. I let him down. He won’t walk. He shrieks. He cries. His nose runs. His pants fall down. I carry him like a sack of potatoes, hunched over. Pedestrians look on aghast. Moms passing by look on with sympathy. They know, they’ve been there. Moms in abayas and hijabs, moms in cut-offs and wedge sandals, moms in thick stockings and wigs, moms with strollers, moms with all shades of skin, moms with all shapes of eyes, moms with scooters under their arms, moms with cream cheese on their blouses, moms with broods, moms with only one. The sympathy of one mother to another in the midst of an uncontrollable temper-tantrum knows no cultural boundaries, and for this I am grateful.
We finally get to camp. We don’t go in right away. We sit instead in the air conditioned stairwell and talk it out.
“What happened this morning?” I ask.
“I wanted to finish watching my show.”
“You freaked out because you wanted to finish watching a show?”
“All that madness was over a show that you could watch after camp when you get home?”
“I wanted to.”
“Hon, there’s lots of good reasons to lose your grip. And I get that, I know what that’s about. But wanting to watch a show, a show that is on Netflix, that you could watch at any time… well that’s not a super good reason.”
I don’t think he buys it, but we have a hug. He tells me he’s ready for camp, and I bring him in. I head to work.
That was back some time in July, and as the school year rushes toward us like a rogue wave, I hope that we don’t have another morning like that. First little half day is tomorrow, then it starts for realsies on Monday.
Camp ended a week earlier than I thought it did, and Dave was working straight through until today, so I took some vacation days and we had an NYC staycation. Play dates, ferry rides, libraries, water parks, Rockaway beaches, NYC is amazing.