I drafted this post a little over a year ago! I still remember the day as clear as a photograph in my mind. I wish I’d gotten it published in a more timely manner. It may have taken a year to tell this story, but I feel like it’s still worth telling.
And so, without further ado:
December 16, 2016.
It’s been…interesting lately.
On Monday morning at 0400 my husband was on his way to the ER. He was coughing so much and so hard that he couldn’t breathe and there was blood in his spit. He spent the day there undergoing tests and stuff.
Since then I’ve tried my hardest to keep things low key for him, but with a temperamental preschooler and a toddler in the house “low key” is not something that really happens.
This afternoon I took the girls for a quick and simple Target run. I have been completely out of wipes and I figured I’d run in and get some and run out. We’d stop by the park on the way home and everything would be hunky-dory.
Yeah. It wasn’t happening.
In the Target parking lot my Big Girl decided to start a tantrum. She wanted ice cream, and I said no because we’d shared a cupcake at lunch. Then she wanted to wait in the car, and visions of nosey concerned strangers, police, and CPS danced in my head even though I would have loved to leave my screaming child in the car.
I resolved myself to taking her with me and I pulled her across the parking lot screaming into the store.
Just wipes. That’s all I needed. I know exactly where they are. In and out. All the pretty shiny tempting things would wait for another day.
I got a lot of looks as I pulled Big Girl through the kids’ clothes section. I was trying to handle it with “gentle parenting” but I just gave up and resigned myself to taking deep breaths, keeping my mouth shut so that I wouldn’t snap, and doing my best not to hurt my child. I knew I was on edge. When we got to the wipes section I was inches from losing my mind. I grabbed what I needed and beelined to the checkout.
I searched in vain for a quick checkout line, and managed to grab a self checkout behind another mom who was solo and was buying two big toy horses, the ones I told my SIL I’d get one of for my niece for Christmas.
Big Girl threw herself on the floor and tantrumed while I paid, then she got distracted by the tchotchkes in the checkout aisle, finding the mini My Little Pony toys. At least she’s quiet, I thought. But I knew what was coming.
“Mommy I want Rainbow Dash and this other one!”
“No, I’m not buying you toys today,” I replied calmly. She started to pull all the Pony toys off the rack. “Don’t take the rest of those down, leave them there!” But it was too late.
Since she’d disobeyed me I said we were leaving and started out the doors. Of course this all set off tantrum 2.0 and I was just happy we were leaving.
I didn’t mind the stares. It wasn’t that I was embarrassed. I don’t care a fig what people think. I knew my girl was having a hard time but I wasn’t in a head or heart space to work through it right then using peaceful parenting techniques. It’s really hard to do that when I have an increasingly-agitated baby who doesn’t have the patience for me to spend the time working with Big Girl. It takes forever to get Big Girl past her tantrums, because the peaceful parenting techniques just don’t work with her but they’re better than punishing her for being a growing, evolving human.
We were crossing the parking lot behind the mom who bought the toy horses. As I outpaced her in my hurry to get my screaming child to the car she smiled at me and said “We’ve all been there.”
Oh the relief it was to just talk to not just another adult, but one who was sympathetic and nice. She helped de-escalate both myself and my toddler. I commented on the toys she’d bought, saying I was planning on getting one for my niece for Christmas to go with the doll she got for her birthday a few weeks ago.
“Oh they’re on sale for half off right now! You might want to get them today…” I thought of going back into the lion’s den and I rolled my eyes.
“Like I wanna go back in there with this disaster,” was my general reply.
“If you want, I’ll stay out here with them although that’s kinda scary I know, or I could go with you…it’s a deal on Cartwheel so if you don’t have the app I could do it with mine,” she said.
By then Big Girl had calmed down enough to talk civilly, and I decided to go for it. Half off an expensive toy is a good deal and I’ve learned not to let things like that pass me by. I picked up Big Girl to give her some love, since thanks to the distraction she was calm enough then to be receptive and she was ready for it. She snuggled into me, and my new friend offered to push Babs in the stroller.
We went back in for the toys and we chatted. I didn’t even know how I felt. Awkward? Excited? Desperate? All of the above? It was kind of odd, this random stranger encounter, and yet it was a saving grace that I was gonna take. I had a lump in my throat.
In short, we completed our errand and she walked us back out to the Frogpod (the name of our van- a story for another time). We stashed the toys. I didn’t even know her name. Sometimes that’s okay- I can walk away from something magical without needing to weigh it down with mundane details. But sometimes I regret doing that. With gratitude I reached out my hand and introduced myself.
“I’m Summer,” she replied.
Summer, I don’t know you but thank you for your kindness to a random stranger on a random day. You could have judged as so many others do; but instead you chose compassion- the best gift anyone can offer another human, especially a hurting and frustrated mother like myself.