Of course, my kids were happy to see me. So happy to see me it could break your heart if you weren’t careful. Fat little hands and chubby cheeks, arms reaching up for me, so excited. Mommy’s here! And it had been a long day, just as long as all the others. Eight hours in an office for me. Over eight hours in a room full of other day-care-going toddlers for them. “Mommy! Mommy’s here! Hi, Mommy!”
“Hi, hi, I missed you so much!” I’d tell them, even though I’ve read that you’re not supposed to say that. You know. In case their little baby brains forgot about you in your absence, because then they might feel guilty for having a good time without you, or whatever. Whatever, is what I say to whomever made that one up. It’s that kind of bullshit that leads us to raise children who can’t handle even thirty seconds of trauma or inner turmoil. I did miss them. I’m telling them. So what.
So anyway. I picked up my babies and their binkies and blankies and off we went, happy as can be. Into the car seats, strap-strap-click-click and we’re on our way home. That’s how it happened in my imagination. What really happened is that the three-year-old needed to find a “wock” before we left and so yanked free of me to go inspect some nearby loose gravel. “Hey – hey!” I said, giving chase but unable to actually swoop in and grab him up due to my arms already being occupied with a wriggly two-year-old.
Happily, it was only a minute before he found an acceptable rock; he showed it to me. “It’s the one I was wooking for,” he said.
“Excellent,” said I, thinking – seriously, tomorrow I’m putting my foot down. No more rocks! Soon there will be no more parking lot, because it will all be at my house. It ends here and now, kid, just you wait and see. FYI: I did not stop him the next day, nor the next after that. It just seemed too hard. Quite frankly I think almost everything about parenting is too hard. I don’t know why they let anyone do it at all.
Strap-strap-click-click, finally, one down, one to go. Close the door and circle around the car to the other side. Two-year-old is getting a bit fussy in my arms but I’m not worried. As babies go, he’s typically pretty compliant.
Well. Except when he’s not.
Today, for instance.
By the time I’ve opened the rear driver’s side door, he’s already off the rails. It’s that quick. “Nononononononooooo! Noooo! Don’t want to! No seat no seat no seat! No car! Noooooo!”
I look around as you always do, knowing that someone surely will think I am kidnapping him. “Shhhh!” I tell him. Like that ever works. “Shhhh…calm down! Sweetie, shhhh, we have to go – ”
“NOOOOOOOOOO! Wet me go! Wet me go! I not going! I NOT GOING NO NO NOOOOOOO!”
Sweet Jesus. Please help me.
And I’ll interrupt this story here, for a brief word on plank position. “Plank position” is most commonly known in exercise circles as the pose one adopts when one is preparing to do push-ups. Hands and toes are on the floor, arms straight, body locked in parallel to the floor and straight as a board (hence the “plank”). In the lives of some parents of very young children, it is also the position one’s child adopts when said child is uninterested in car travel. The child’s body goes stiff and rigid and actually straighter than most boards I’ve seen. The child usually accompanies this performance with shrill and desperate screams. The problem is that in order to safely install the child into the car seat, the child must be willing to bend at the waist.
I don’t know if my kids were special or if all babies become superhuman when they’ve decided not to do something. I do know that among the available super-powers, car seat avoidance is not one I’d agree to bestow on my children, given a choice. Unfortunately the powers that be did not consult with me before endowing my offspring with spines of steel.
So here I was, baby like a board, my own body halfway in and halfway out of the car. My “calm downs” were getting me nowhere. The three-year-old sat transfixed in his own car seat, clearly too overwhelmed to consider launching his own tantrum.
The two-year-old continued to scream.
I tried pushing on his midsection with one hand while wrestling his arms into the straps with the other, but really, this was a job for two hands. So instead I tried to lean my elbow into his waist while using two hands to sort of pin his arms. Also ineffective, not to mention incredibly awkward. I was sweating. The child kept screaming. A car pulled into a parking space near mine. Its driver, a mom I didn’t know, gave me a sympathetic if maybe slightly suspicious smile. As she hurried away I thought, Good. Let her call 911 and maybe the police can get this little maniac into his seat!
By now I was sweating profusely and close to a nervous collapse. I hunched over and climbed into the car for better leverage, but the elbow maneuver would do me no good. More parents arrived, car doors slammed. My words – “Stop it . . . now just get . . . come on” – were becoming meaningless. Plus I was wrestling with a baby.
“Dammit, that’s it,” I said, and the curse word startled him but not for nearly long enough. His little body bucked even harder, holding me back with the sheer power of his hatred. I was truly at the very end of my wits. I realized there was no other way. The legs would have to be involved. My legs. My big, strong, grown-up adult legs. I looked at my son’s tear-streaked face, his panicky little eyes, and I drove my knee into his abdomen.
I could have cried, I really could have. I didn’t want to hurt him. I didn’t know what else to do. As for him, he screamed louder and bucked harder but could not overcome the weight of his mother. Now it was just a matter of getting both arms in the straps and clicking the whole godforsaken thing into place. Which would have been much easier if my kneeling leg weren’t blocking the main part of the harness. Goddammit.
Parents continued to hurry by; I am happy to report that several of them have been in this exact same situation themselves, at some point. I know because I’ve seen it, though quite honestly I don’t recall seeing any of them apply 150 or so pounds of weight to their child’s intestinal area. To tell you the truth I’m not sure how they handled it, but I’m pretty sure whatever the method, it had to be better than this.
Which is exactly what parenting is all about. Isn’t it? Thinking that surely, the rest of the parents are doing it better than you are. That the impossible situations would be way less impossible if only you knew what you were doing.
Well I mean, I don’t know that for sure. I hope that’s what parenting is all about. Is It? At least sort of about that? I am pretty sure I heard someone say so, one time.
No? All right, fine. Maybe not. Maybe I never heard anyone say that, but I should have, because it’s true. We are not supposed to know exactly what we are doing. Like it or not, there are hundreds or maybe thousands of things we can do every day to cause irreparable damage to our kids. But that is how they learn. And also how we learn. Bad things happen, and so do good things. Which ones do you want to pay attention to, kid?
Certainly there are parents out there who seem to do everything right. Most definitely there are parents who at least believe they do everything right. I admire them and feel kind of bad for them, all at the same time. The one thing I know for sure is that I am not one of them. I do things wrong all the time.
So if you, too, feel like you are doing it all wrong, feel free to come and talk to me. I mean, maybe not in person. I hate unannounced visitors. Also I rarely answer my phone. But definitely talk to me on the internet. I will listen. And empathize. And tell you it will all be fine.
How do I know it will be fine, you ask? Because. That two-year-old is now seven, and he never, ever fights with me about getting in the car. Also, based on the available evidence, his gastrointestinal tract works just fine. See? It’s all good.
I mean, it is. All good.