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Where the babies stand ~ A meltdown story

In the checkout line at the grocery store, one of my kids—who is old enough to know better—yelled a curse word. This kid did it in response to a sibling, who should have known better, punching the Curser in the back. One of those misbehaviors is mortifying enough. Two made me want to melt into the white linoleum floor until coming to a rest somewhere near the paleozoic layer of earth’s crust. Hello, trilobites. I bet you didn’t embarrass your moms.

On a ranking of curse words, with 1 being “oh my stars!” and 10 being words that would make Chelsea Handler blush, this was a solid 5. It was bad enough to make people pivot toward my child and stare him, then at me. React! React!

This is what I did as a stellar, patient, thoughtful, wise mom of many:

I loudly addressed The Curser, “Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me? Are YOU kidding me? Are you kidding ME? See that horse over there?” I pointed at the penny horse along the wall on the other side of the checkout lanes.

The child nodded and I continued, “You go stand over there by the horsey because that’s where the babies stand!”

It made no sense then and it makes even less sense now, but that’s what I said. The child walked over and sat in a chair next to the horse. Then I turned to The Puncher and grittily commanded, “Stand next to me! Here! Next to me! Here! I can’t trust you!” as if left unchecked, an unprecedented punching spree would break out.

And then I seethed a seethe that shrank my internal organs by 50%.

The checkout clerk said, “How are you today?” and I snorted. Hadn’t he just witnessed what went down in Lane 13? I am always the chatty customer in checkout lanes, asking how they are and noting the awesome sale on canned biscuits and that’s why I had to get so many, right? But I was silent. I paid. I made eye contact with Curser and Puncher and let them trail me and the cart to the van. Once there, they helped load grocery sacks into the back of the van even though I told them I didn’t need their help.

As they unloaded, they noticed the two bags of goldfish I bought at their request—one for each in their favorite jazzy flavors with explosions of radness. One of them said, sadly, “I don’t even want these anymore” and the other agreed. Their appetites for Xtreme cheesy snacks had been crushed because of what went down minutes earlier. I smiled at their stab at penance, foregoing post-school pre-dinner gullet stuffing because of their misbehavior. I watched Curser put the cart away and we drove home where I got more bad news about another child screwing up, except with more spectacular magnitude that siblings Curser and Puncher.

It was too much. I went upstairs and sobbed. What kind of mother has kids who ____? Me. From the outside, this seems like an overreaction but it was a good, cleansing cry that left clarity.

Had the events of checkout lane 13 occurred at home, I would have simply told them to go their separate ways and knock it off. I wouldn’t have told Curser to go stand over there by the doggie, where the babies stand. I realized I took it so hard because it happened in public, shattering the image I like to portray of a cool, collected, excellent mom. The Public Mom and the Private Mom are can be two different people, and that inconsistency is painful to acknowledge. Usually, my kids really do behave pretty well in public, which is why I lacked the strategy for dealing with a public meltdown by older kids.

The kids apologized and were forgiven. Eventually, they felt better enough to devour their goldfish. I said goodbye to the trilobites, don’t change, but I hope I never see you again.

I will.



4 comments to Where the babies stand ~ A meltdown story

  • Human. That’s what kind of mom you are. An amazing human mom. My olders were acting up in Target one day and I probably said “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?” and worse. I separated them making one stand in front of me and one behind me. Well the one in front had his back to us and walked to the other side of the aisle. Shortly thereafter he turned around arms flailing yelling “GET OFF ME” but no one was near him. Not even arm’s length near him. A lady just down the aisle turned around, cracked up and said “boys”. It was ridiculous enough that we all ended up laughing, but it was a very good lesson on how ridiculous they make themselves look by acting a fool in public! We’ve all seen it happen to others, right? Because it happens to all moms. My hat’s off to you with your brood.

    PS One public meltdown doesn’t make you any less cool, calm, collected and excellent! Because you totally are.

  • Jo

    We all know that you are possibly the best mum in the universe. I know that with big families, people in public are always on the lookout – waiting to see and judge your parenting skills. I absolutely adore the whole “because that’s where the babies stand” thing. You know, babies who curse. I’m absolutely adding that to my arsenal.

  • You may not have earned points toward Parent of the Year, but you wrote a beautiful, touching post that showed your willingness to improve as a parent with the world. I call that a win, and your kids will surely survive a rare case of being off your game.

  • Those who stared have probably gone through the same thing or have no children.
    You have no reason to feel bad. It’s human to just react like that some times.

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