My husband asked us to pick up a book that he had on hold at the library today. Ethan was excited about this library trip. We spent a good half hour -- a pleasant half hour -- selecting a book for him to check out in addition to the one my husband had on hold. Because he was having such a grand ol' time, he even accompanied me upstairs happily to retrieve a book for myself from the adult fiction section. This is when it all went downhill. The elevator, you see, was out of order. How the relevancy of an elevator even comes into play in this story is your guess as much as it is mine. Before long I was carrying three books and a forty pound child down a flight of stairs as he wailed at what very possibly could have been the top of his lungs. Ethan's hysterical screaming was permeating through the quiet library. Of course, I thought. What better time for a child to have an utter meltdown than a library? It's sort of like the time he vomited all over the Publix bakery. Anyway, I wrestled with him, I wrestled with the books, I wrestled with staying upright and sweating buckets trying to make the trek out to the library lobby. I placed the stack of books down on the counter on our way out which resulted in an amped up tantrum because I left his books in the library. (How dare I do that, right? What was I thinking?) Of course, we were all but chased out of the library while everyone watched in horror and then we were chased out of the lobby as people continued to stop and stare. An eccentric-looking woman with a bright colored hat came over to offer her help in the matter, which translates to her singing Raffi songs and asking Ethan questions he wasn't going to answer while simultaneously telling me that she knew how to handle this as I told her to go the f*@k away in the nicest way possible. Which, you know, since I'm totally passive was more like "okay, thanks, but I think we have it." The point is, she did not get my point.
When I thought the screaming couldn't get any louder, it did. I took Ethan to a quiet area near the bicycle racks to try to rationalize with him and it sort of worked, until I said things he didn't want to hear ("we had to leave the books on the counter for now because...") in which case it really didn't work. At all. Two young girls in their early 20's clad in exercise clothes and perfectly brushed ponytails walked by and stared at us on their way in and I knew it was coming. I knew it was coming before the words were even uttered. "Yeah, my kids are never going to act like that." The one on the left said it. The one on the right nodded in agreement. It took every ounce of self-control I had (and was losing steadfastly) to not pull my best "come at me, bro!" at them before falling to the floor in hysterics. Instead, Ethan calmed down and asked me -- in between sniffles -- "did Rivers make the George fly in hip, hip?" Yeah. The most humiliating, exhausting moment of my parenting career and my kid wants to talk about Weezer and the Island In The Sun video. Eventually we got to finish checking out the books and all was well. Except those two young ladies, because my mind wouldn't let it go no matter how much I expected it to happen.
At some point, the separation happens. The parents vs. the non-parents. The us vs. them. The going-to-the-grocery-store-with-snot-on-my-sleeves vs. the I-would-never-leave-the-house-like-that. I've had non-parent friends ask me why I don't just "find" a babysitter as if it's a game of hide-and-seek with strangers in the park to determine who I will leave my child with. I've had non-parent friends ask me why I don't just "tell" Ethan it's time to potty train (or go to sleep, or take a nap, or eat his chicken, or whatever). I can't get upset. I can't do much but laugh because it's hard to get something you've never had to experience and, no doubt, the idea of myself as a parent that I had before I was a parent sure doesn't mesh up to reality. I mean, I just took a bite of a mostly-eaten plum I found behind a couch cushion and called it lunch and my pre-kids self would have sworn that I would have a balanced meal on the table for myself every afternoon because "you don't give up yourself just because you have kids."
There is so much defensiveness in parenting. Too much defensiveness in parenting. I'm lucky enough that if I run to Target with pasta sauce down the front of my shirt and almond milk dried on my cheek and wipes stuck to the bottom of my shoe, I have a few non-parent friends who can laugh along with me. Probably because I've never been very put together so maybe I'm not the best example here. The point is, you never know what you're going to do until you're doing it. You can rehearse your script until you hear the lines in your sleep but you can wake up to a plot twist without any notice whatsoever. You can think you know all of the answers as an outsider presented with a situation that is completely not applicable but you don't -- not even close. In fact, you can barely even understand the question.
It's not the first time it has happened. It's probably not even the hundredth time it has happened. In my post-tantrum aggression, I may have (okay, I definitely did) muttered the words, "freaking people who don't have kids." (I know, I'm so crass you probably just gasped a little.) I probably (see also: definitely) muttered it ten times over this afternoon alone and I'm almost afraid to think about all of the times I've said something similar in the past because, as any parent knows, this happens all of the time. All it takes is one non-parent to step up to the podium and recite everything there is to know about raising children, after all.
Months ago now, I met a mom at Barnes and Noble who was lovingly gazing at Ethan as she told us she was pregnant with her first child, a boy, and how she couldn't wait to play trains and read stories. Eventually her dreams widened to all of the things she would do because she had read the books she was stockpiling: learn how to teach a baby to sleep through the night, get a baby to eat vegetables, have a child who listens to whatever it is told and the list went on until I eventually just started tuning her out in pity and fought the urge to tell her to just get a grip already or she wasn't going to last in parenting.
But if I could be standing outside that library calming my screaming child (or in the restaurant feeling the heat of the stares from the non-parents at the next table or...well, you get the hint) again, maybe I could take a deep breath. And bite my lip. And remember all of the great plans I had before I was a parent -- all of the things I knew to be truths simply because I thought them. All of the wants that I wanted so badly enough that I couldn't imagine them not coming true. All of the times a seasoned parents rolled their eyes when they overheard me listening my plans for motherhood. Maybe then I could just smile and not give it a second thought -- except to maybe secretly hope that one day I could catch that same young lady frantically trying to calm down her screaming child outside the library. (Hey, what? I'm human.)
After all, no one knows what the future holds even five minutes from the time you're reading this. That's life. And sometimes all it takes is a child to teach us this valuable lesson.