This morning I had what was possibly the worst single 15-minute span in my mothering career. All was well at the house until I needed to get Evan in the car to take him to preschool. I cleaned him up from breakfast, put on his shoes and brushed his hair. He wanted to play with his trains, so I let him for a few minutes while I finished getting ready. Then, I told him we needed to go get in the car. He said no. I gave him some options; did he want to walk out to the car by himself or did he want me to carry him? Again, no, he wanted to play with his trains. When it became clear that there was no way he was going willingly, I picked him up and brought him out to the car.
He stiffened his entire body and wailed in protest while I had to physically muscle him into his car seat. He kicked and cried but there was nothing I could do but just buckle him in. Of course, this is when several neighbors happened to be walking by my driveway on their way home from taking their kids to school. I gave them the sheepish “kids will be kids!” smile and they looked sympathetic.
After I finally got him in, the real problems began. He cried and screamed and raged. He kicked the back of my seat repeatedly. I knew there was nothing I could say to make it stop – it was a tantrum, pure and simple, and he needed a little alone time to let it run its course. I was as much his captive as he was mine. As I drove to the school, the traffic was awful and I had to stop at what seemed like every red light. Meanwhile, my seat is vibrating from the kicking and my ears are ringing from the screaming. I turned up the radio, and it drowned out nothing.
He was yelling that he wanted to go back home, that he wanted to play with trains, that he didn’t want me to get him in the car.
Hot tears were rising in my eyes and a lump in my throat. The screaming was getting to me. I was getting angry with him for making me miserable, at myself for not knowing how better to handle it, at the cars around me for driving too slowly.
Ten minutes into the drive, he started calming down. “Mommy, hold me,” he said. I told him as soon as we got there I’d hold him.
When we finally arrived, he actually had a smile on his face and showed no evidence of the tantrum. I, on the other hand, was red-eyed and tense from clenching my jaw and neck while I drove.
We got out of the car and I held him for a minute. I told him he needed to apologize for having a tantrum and behaving that way in the car. “I’m sorry, Mommy,“ he said, and then told me he wanted to carry his lunchbox. I handed it to him and he happily walked into school…until it was time to put the lunchbox away in his cubby. I told him we needed to put it down so he could go out to the playground. He refused and I could see the relapse coming. I finally had to take it out of his hand and walk him outside. He cried and cried and cried some more. At that point, I was late for work and had no choice but to hand over my screaming child to the teachers and walk away.
I walked out of there with tears in my eyes again, feeling like a horrible mother. I’m bigger than he is, but many times, not more powerful.