They say God/Mother Nature/fate never gives us anything we can’t handle. I just wish He/She/it would put it to a committee first.
It’s my personal belief that we are given the exact opposite of what we can handle, that we are tested most in the areas where we are weakest. It’s probably the universe’s way of making us grow as human beings. Or something.
Take me: I am terrible under pressure and have a temper like a light switch. So what did the universe do? It gave me two kids who require a tremendous amount of patience.
To make it worse, before I had children, impatient parents were the kind I hated the most. I witnessed their outbursts and assumed they were miserable people who shouldn’t have reproduced. That may be true in some cases but some of us are really nice.
We’ve just been pushed too far.
Take, for example, a recent day out with my kids.
To start off, I was a wee bit stressed. The kids were off from school and an ice storm was coming so I knew we were facing days cooped up in the house. I was also sleep deprived, because my 4-year-old had woken me up at 2 a.m., just to ask how I was. The plan was to get them out of the house and moving around, and then deal with the dishes, laundry, etc., later.
Going out with my kids can be — interesting. Jack’s autism means he can be single-minded to a maddening degree. His current obsession is hand dryers and he must check every public restroom to see which kind they have. He also needs to know exactly where everyone is, all the time.
Charlie is 4 but has yet to master toilet training. Also, her speech can be difficult to understand and her receptive language is delayed. As such, we have frequent and frustrating exchanges in which one of us is telling the other something really, really important that just can’t be understood. Often tears are involved on both sides.
We headed to Monkey Joe’s, one of those bounce house valhallas that kids love and parents loathe. I particularly hate it because I always get static electric shocks out the wazoo when we’re there.
Since school was out, the place was packed with squealing kids. Every 20 minutes, Charlie would ask to use the bathroom and we would push through the crowds to get there, but every single time she had already filled her diaper. She has this bizarre ritual of greeting her waste, asking after its health and saying how happy she is to see it. She bids it farewell and sometimes even cries when we throw the diaper out. (Yeah, we use disposables and therefore suck.) Perhaps it’s her Celtic blood that makes her take a few minutes to reminisce on all the great times she had with that Pull-Up. Whatever it is, it tacks an extra five to 10 minutes on every trip to the bathroom. Jack happily accompanies us each time to study the hand dryer.
“It’s an Xlerator, Mama!” he shouts happily.
By lunch time I have been zapped by static electricity roughly 5,000 times and I’m ready to leave.
On the way home, Jack asks if we can eat at McDonald’s. Why not? I think.
Yes, I sometimes let my children eat McDonald’s but before you go all Jamie Oliver on me, let me stress the sometimes part. Also, that part about it causing cancer? I’m not buying it. Besides, my kid already has cancer and I figure, what are the chances of the universe kicking us in the nuts twice, am I right or am I right?
…we have never been to this McDonald’s before and the kids are thrilled by the play area, which is teeming with children climbing what looks like a primary-colored intestine.
My son inspects the insides of the tubes and finds the ones that lead to the “baby” slides. My daughter starts climbing and doesn’t stop until she is waving at me from a window about 20 feet off the ground. She has joined a pack of 10-year-old boys, who don’t see her as a 4-year-old child but as an inanimate object they can push past and climb on top of to get where they are going.
After a few minutes, Jack comes over and asks for Charlie.
“She’s up there,” I say, pointing to the highest tube.
He looks horrified.
“That’s so high up. She’s going to get scared.”
“She’s not scared, buddy.”
Suddenly, I hear her voice right behind me.
“Mama! Hi, Mama!”
I turn around but she’s not there.
“Mama!” I hear again. “Mama! Where are you?”
It takes me a minute to realize she is at the top of the tallest slide and that her voice is carrying through the tube.
Jack starts to cry.
“She’s stuck! She’s stuck up there!”
“She’s not stuck, buddy. She’ll come down when she’s ready.”
But she doesn’t. Several boys slide down and one of them tells me, “She’s in the way. She won’t come down.”
“Charlie!” I call. “Charlie, come on down.”
And then I hear the words that make my stomach sink.
“You can do it on your own, sweetie,” I call up cheerfully but I’m not convinced. “Just come down the slide. Or turn around and climb back down.”
There is a pause and then again:
Jack cries harder.
“She’s up there all by herself!” he sobs. “She’s so scared.”
I kneel down in front of him and put my hands on his shoulders. Damn it, another electric shock.
“She’s going to be fine,” I say.
“But she’s all alone!”
“Jack, I need you to be a big boy and stay right here.”
I turn to the opening of the tube.
“I’m going in.”
Even though I am short, climbing up those pipes is nearly impossible. The angles are so steep I have to belly crawl, pulling my body weight with my arms. Kids scramble past me, claw over me, to get where they are going. Seriously?
It occurs to me as I inch up that no one has cleaned this thing in a while, if ever. It smells like feet. The plastic is grey with dirt and stray hairs cling tenuously to the bolts holding it together.
I hear Jack sobbing on the ground and Charlie calling to me from above. Another group of kids comes up behind me and tries to get past but I turn and block the tube with my feet.
“Guys! Seriously. Stop. Wait your turn.”
One tries to push past me again and I grab him by the arm.
“I said stop! Get behind me and WAIT YOUR TURN.”
This time they listen and we inch up the swerving tubes as a pack. We finally round a corner and there’s my Charlie, smiling sweetly, her feet dangling down a — HOLY HELL, they call that a slide??? It’s practically a vertical drop.
An unmistakable smell hits me and I realize that the sight of the laundry chute McDonald’s is calling a McSlide must have really scared the crap out of her because she has filled her diaper. The last diaper we had. Damn.
“Mama!” she cries, grinning, and crawls to me. I reach out for her and as my hand touches her shoulder all the energy I’ve built up sliding along plastic tubes is discharged in a massive, painful electric shock so strong I can hear the pop.
“HOLY F*CKING SH*T! F*CK! F*CK! F*CK!!!”
I grab her wrist and pull her back down the tubes feet first. We emerge into the relatively fresh air and Jack smiles through his tears.
“Mama! Charlie!” he cries, and throws his arms around his sister like he hasn’t seen her for weeks. I smooth my hair from my face and stand up. Suddenly I notice the once loud room has gone quiet and that the parents are glaring at me.
“What?” I want to shout.
And then it hits me: the tubes. The tubes carry sound. They carry sound really, really well. Every profanity-laced sentence I uttered on the way up and down, every time I yelled at their kids and my own, has been carried and broadcast to the room with alarming clarity.
Slowly, I lean over to Jack and say, “Get your shoes.”
“But — but — but I’m having so much fun!” he cries.
Turning to him, I growl in a there-is-no-Dana-there-is-only-Zuul voice: “We are leaving. NOW.”
We pack up and go quickly and quietly, our tails between our legs except for my daughter, who doesn’t have room because there is an enormous pile of crap in her pants.
The point of all this is that yes, I am still working on my temper. But I have dropped a habit equally as bad, if not worse: I no longer judge parents who are losing it for no apparent reason.
What I now know is that there’s ALWAYS a good reason to be yelling at your kids, and that when I come across a mom — or dad — turning purple with rage, I’m witnessing only a part of what could well be a trying day. I get that I wasn’t there when she patiently answered her children’s questions and calmly responded to their needs. I don’t know how many times she has been zapped by static electricity, or listened to her daughter eulogize her own feces, or heard her son wax lyrical about the Xlerator’s newest model.
All I can say is that if the universe is indeed testing us, it really better have an excellent reason, such as strengthening us or improving us in some way.
Because otherwise, it’s just being a prick.