Is there ever the right thing to say to a parent with a screaming child? As the parent of three well-versed screaming banshees at some point in their lives, I just can’t give you a straight answer. At the risk of sounding like I do not love my children I’ll just say it right now — I love them but there are days when I feel like I could give them away. Our third blessing has caused us to remember the joys of toddlerhood. Her name: Aliza. Her given sibling name is “Alizilla”. As she came out of the womb she screamed rebellion at any shopping mall, discount store and even hardware establishments.
At 12 months she began wailing as soon as we would pull into Wal-Mart. Well-meaning parents and friends have given me all the advice to no avail. We pack like hikers on the Appalachian Trail for Aliza’s trips and that’s just to get groceries. The best advice my mother could give me was “leave her at home”. But she lives an hour and a half away and let’s face it, I’m not wasting cold hard spending cash on a babysitter if I’m just going grocery shopping.
Maybe I’m just getting too old for this. I used to be a good parent. Really. When my now 7 and 8 year old children were small, I was in the baby groove. I was ruthless and sharp in my discipline and they toed the line. They were 21 months apart, both in diapers and into relatively every thing else together. I had energy then. And now…there’s just one baby and she can manage to clear a restaurant in ten seconds flat and have other parents ready to give me advice in less than five.
And oh how several years have changed my attitude. When my husband and I were dating and childless we scoffed at those loud annoying families and wished out loud that they would do the world a favor and get a babysitter. After our first child we spent a whole year inside the house and when we did take her out we left promptly when she made a peep — just after our first cup of coffee was served. When our second one came along we were too cheap to get a babysitter and would bring them both along with us and felt we had a right to get out of the house regardless of how loud, rude and unmanageable our children were. We were the ones that those suave unmarried people who were able to brush their hair and bathe themselves regularly looked down upon.
And now… one little Houdini just three months shy of being two, has the ability to crawl out of her carseat, wails the entire time she is in a vehicle and in a shopping establishment. And she has to be endured by you, me and the general public! As she screams, I am calm. But inside I want to scream at everyone, “I NEED TOILET PAPER, PADS AND MILK!” but from the looks that they give me, I don’t think they would believe me or even hear me. I imagine that they are amazed at my resolve, impressed at my stone cold face ignoring the storm in front of me while I grind the gristle inside my gut.
But it doesn’t take long for someone to ask me if she needs a nap. “NO,” I say sweetly, “she doesn’t she just had one!” “Oh…she must be hungry.” Nope, we have granola bars, fruit snacks, a lollipop and raisins right here in her bag. Or the all too often standard sing-song phrase, “Someone’s not happy.” Really? She’s in a good mood. You should see what she’s like at the mall! And then, a sweet thinking grandma or grandpa offers some hard tack candy. “But there’s no sugar in it,” they say as they reel back in offense at their well-intended help.
In the check out line I go through the motions for everyone else and ask if we can count the balloons or look for Elmo, Dora or the top five on the terrorist watch list…anyone to stop the incessant noise. As we leave I hear cheering. I turn around to see who would dare and I’m just imagining it. I buckle the screaming child into her car seat and try to bend her in the middle to sit. I say over and over, “It’s not negotiable, you have to sit in your car seat, the police man will arrest mommy. You have to sit in your carseat!” so that peering eyeballs do not think they are witnessing another mother beating their child in a parking lot syndrome.
As we are leaving I watch another toddler happily holding her mother’s hand walking calmly. I convince myself that the mother figure is probably the babysitter. I contemplate other families I know who never have to endure this just to get the necessities of life. They have no character. It’s amazing to go shopping with three kids, sure. But when one screams the whole time, now that’s tenacity. The eight minutes home she continues to scream. My pep talk to myself, I’m afraid, is wavering.
We arrive home and the wailing ensues until we get inside the house and it just stops. Immediately Aliza runs to her toys and begins asking me in her tender voice, “Mom?, Mum? whatchinabdooyapap kitty?” “Bubbee Night night?” And I ask if she’d like to take a nap. She nods her head yes, rubs her red, tear stained eyes and grabs her “bubbee”. She gives me a kiss, pulls her blankie over herself and sleeps for a half an hour. I’m in love again with the child that really is perfect at this moment. What other kid do you know that asks to take a nap?
So, yes, Virginia there is a right thing to say to a parent of a screaming child — “I’ll take her!”