The other day, something happened. My four year old broke me. It was the standard getting ready for preschool shenanigans when she decided she didn’t want to wear any of the shoes she had available to her.
I was already feeling stretched and my patience was thin. Like, tempered chocolate thin. I was tired and not in any mood to tap into her feelings and reach some kind of compromise.
I did try, admittedly half-heartedly, to reason with her. I tried offering her two choices. I tried guilt tripping her, “some kids don’t even have shoes and here you are complaining about the ones you have”. Eventually I gave her a timeframe and told her if she hadn’t chosen a pair of shoes to wear in 5 seconds, I would choose them for her.
It was nearing the end of the 5 seconds and I thought, “really? You’re really going to go there? Can you not sense the mood this morning? It’s in everyone’s best interest that you PUT YOUR SHOES ON!”
Time was up! I forced some shoes onto her feet and she threw me a greasy look.
As I got up and turned my back, I heard her removing the shoes. Then she put the final nail in the coffin and threw each shoe across the room with gusto.
My anger was coming up from a simmer to a quick boil. I tried again to reason and told her she could wear the other pair then. I forced them onto her feet. Again. Same outcome.
That’s when I lost it. I screamed at her and yanked her into her room and told her she WOULD be wearing her shoes and we WOULD be leaving for school. Right now!
I felt the rage in me. I felt myself trying to reel it in and I knew I’d gone too far, but it bubbled out regardless. “Why do you do this?!!!” I half-yelled, half-pleaded.
She was upset but finally complied and on the way to school, she sat in the car and in an animated fashion, pointed things out to me that she could see from the window.
I truly didn’t know how to respond. Should I show her I’m still angry? How do I do that? Do I just ignore her? Is that abuse?
Isn’t it over? I should just move on, right?
But here’s the thing: I couldn’t move on. She had moved on, but I hadn’t. The anger weighed heavily in the pit of my stomach and I thought about what I would do if I felt so wronged by an adult, so often. Surely I wouldn’t associate with such a person. Surely I would unfriend them in real life. But then this is a different kettle of fish. This is my child.
Underneath the anger was a deep sense of sadness. I was so sad at myself and for myself. I knew it wasn’t necessary to react the way I did, but my cup had long been empty and I knew that part of my anger stemmed from being a 24/7 mum with no time to do anything but parent… and watch the occasional trash TV show as a form of escapism.
After dropping my daughter to preschool, I sat in the car with my son for some time having a pity party to myself and messaging some friends about how crap my morning had been.
I vowed to start focusing some real attention on myself and foster some sense of self-worth. I thought about how to incorporate some exercise into my days. Not lugging an escapee toddler around the shops kind of exercise. The fancy kind of exercise… where you get to go somewhere without kids and remember what breathing feels like, and marvel at the feel of muscles being reawakened for the first time in years.
Finally I collected myself, feeling much more positive, and went to start the car. “Nnnnnneh-neh neh-neh”.
The engine didn’t roar to life. What was happening? Maybe one of the dials had been knocked. I started to check everything and realised that my son had turned the lights on. Crap. I turned them off then tried to start the car again. Same result. Come onnnn. Pleeeeease! I tried again a few more times before resigning to the fact that the battery was dead.
That’s ok, I’ll call NRMA, I thought. I called and of course my membership had lapsed. Some time ago. Not to worry, I’ll just sign up. Then they told me the price.
Whaaaaaaaat?!! Finances were already getting a bit stretched and now this. I felt tears welling in my eyes and my voice went a bit croaky as I rambled at the guy on the phone about “not really having the money” and “having to transfer some from another account”. I passive-aggressively told him not to worry about it and that I’d have to call my husband to drive down an hour to help me.
He literally had no cares to give as I then did a 180 on my decision and told him to go ahead with the membership.
With that, he cleaned his hands of me and transferred me to the roadside assistance team.
The girl on the phone was nice enough. Went through all the formalities and told me I could be looking at a two hour wait.
TWO HOURS?!!! I couldn’t disguise my shock and disgust. I told her “I have a baby with me and it’s getting hot in the car”. Damn right it’s getting hot. I’ve already been sat here for nearing an hour having a pity party sans any beverages or nibbles!
I misdirected some anger at her and she told me i had been placed on the “priority” list and it shouldn’t take that long. Then she swiftly got rid of me.
I realised I didn’t have anything to drink in the car, and my son and I were getting thirsty, so I packed him up in the pram and headed down to the servo down the road.
I surveyed the overpriced water bottles and then eyed every single packet of chips. Two hours is a long time, you know. A girl could starve to death. I eyed all of the chips and the ingredients and left the store, then decided no, I really at least needed a water, so I headed back in. I was sure they thought I was doing a botched shoplifting attempt.
Finally I decided that I really did need a packet of chips and also, I needed to occupy my son for possibly two hours so I got some plain chips for him too. I don’t know why I bothered inspecting the ingredients like I was on a forensic investigation show. We all know I was getting the chips. They had a special on for two packets, so I had to.
Feeling like a triumphant Tom Hanks when he opens the coconut in Castaway, I confidently marched out of the servo and then realised I had nowhere to go, so I found a little table and chairs out the front and perched there. My face was a bit tear-streaked and by the end of the salt and Vinny chips, my tongue was feeling damaged. My son kept looking up at me with this cute face, raising his eyebrows like “isn’t this the best day ever?”
He was getting chips in a real-live packet, so in his mind, it was.
Meanwhile I was feeling fragile and bruised after the morning’s events when I received a text informing me that the roadside assistance vehicle was on its way.
I made my way back to the car. I was parked out the front of a block of units where a few women were playing with their children. They were an interesting bunch. One was wearing a hijab, one was wearing track pants and one was wearing exercise pants and a sports bra, her hair woven and plaited, and her taut tummy exposed. It struck me that they had possibly been brought together by circumstance. I don’t want to make wild assumptions but it appeared to be a pretty low income area. The car that was parked in front of mine was a few metres from the curb, missing a side mirror and had a council notice slapped on it, presumably requesting the owner to move the car.
As the roadside assistance car pulled up and into the driveway, the exercise-clothes-braided-hair mum came over to my car. She must have realised I was in a spot of bother. “Can I get you anything, darl?” She asked me. “Do you want a drink or do you need some nappies or anything?”
I assured her I was ok and should be on my way soon, but I really appreciated her kind gesture.
As she was leaving I said “just having some car troubles” and she replied “I know what you mean… that’s my heap of crap in front” and pointed to the desolate car parked in front of mine.
It kind of struck me then. Here was this woman, obviously with troubles of her own, generously offering assistance to a complete stranger. Without any hesitation, she would have helped me, giving me her own child’s nappies when she obviously didn’t have the finances to remedy her own car situation. Here she was, playing happily with her son at the front of a unit block.
It really served to show me that despite things not always going to plan and sometimes going terribly wrong, we always have a choice about what we focus on. I could allow an unfortunate morning to ruin the rest of my day, or I could carry on and make the most of the afternoon.
With that philosophical realisation, I roared off into the sunset (or mid-morning sun) and about a 100 metres up the road, got pulled over by the police for a random breath test. Seriously. It’s lucky I don’t drink.
Photo by Jens Johnsson on Unsplash