turn that frown upside down

Most mornings, after we drop Claire off at school, Etta and I meet up with our friends (my mom friends and their kids, her toddler bffs) to do something fun– zoo, story time, science class for preschoolers at the museum. We’re so used to this that any deviation from the fun-with-friends theme kind of feels like a letdown for both of us. Sometimes, though, a mama has to go to Target, and then one can only hope for the best.

The best is not what we got this morning. I thought she was on board with my “first we go to Target, then we go to the park” plan, but her whole body stiffened as we approached the red cart, and I knew I was about to have a fight on my hands. I attempted to fold Cardboard Etta into the seat and strapped her in. That’s when she deployed her favorite protest method: the high-pitched dental drill whine. I was determined not to bail– I had stuff to get so I could make Valentines for Claire’s classmates, teachers, and therapists, and we had also depleted our Goldfish stocks. (I needed to pick up my prescriptions, too, but I’m just now realizing I forgot those.) I gritted my teeth and planned to Just Get Through This.

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She continued to whine like a dental drill as I pushed her through the store. I pretended it wasn’t happening. At one point, a mama pushing a cart with a toddler and a baby caught my eye and we both just laughed and exchanged a “what can ya do?” look. SOLIDARITY, MAMAS. Somewhere in our rounds through the store, Etta decided to stop whining and enjoy tossing things into the cart for me. There is nothing she loves more than being a Big Helper, so if I hand her stuff and then let her put it in the basket, she feels like she’s helping. By the time we got to the always-ridiculously-understaffed checkouts, she was happy to put things on the conveyer belt for me and chat with the cashier. “Hi,” she said, “name Etta Jane.” She always makes me think of Tarzan with the stilted way she introduces herself to others.

Of course, right as my kid’s tantrum ended, an adult woman decided to throw one herself. Just behind us, I began to hear yelling and expletives. I have no idea what happened, but this lady was pissed, and she was yelling at one of the nicest cashiers at our Target, so I’m just going to go ahead and assume she was being a giant jerk for no reason. She had a toddler with her, and he was crying in fear as his mother screamed invectives at the nice people in red. “Baby sad,” Etta said. “That lady MAD.” I had to wheel past her yelling obscenities as we left the store. “That lady is throwing a tantrum, Etta. She’s being really rude. Even grownups throw fits in public sometimes, but it’s still not OK,” I said. I kind of hope the lady heard me. She jerked her crying kid by the hand and said they were “getting the f*** outta here.” I wish I could have scooped up her kid and taken him to the park with us. I felt my jaw clenched at her outburst as we drove away.

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It was sunny and 50 degrees at the park. We had the whole place to ourselves. My girl’s hair shone in the winter sunlight, and I watched her little curls flying as I pushed her on the swings. “Swing higher, Mommy!” We didn’t talk much; we just soaked up the sun together. I love that she chose a “baby swing” for herself, just like when I ask her if she’s big or little, she tells me she’s a “widdle gurl.” Darling, you can stay my little girl forever. She played in the sand and made me a “castle.” She braved the big slide, the one with two humps. Then we did some more swinging and came home for lunch. I let her watch some Elmo to wind down before nap, and she snuggled in my lap while I breathed in her coconut-scented hair and kissed her sweet cheeks.

Sometimes, when my teeth are gritted and I’m pushing that cart through Target with the squealing kid everyone is staring at, it’s hard to see beyond that moment. And when I feel trapped in such a moment, sometimes I wish I could throw a tantrum too. But this whole parenting thing has been like a nonstop class on both the zen of being in the moment when the moments are lovely and the zen of knowing that even the crappy moments are just a moment too, and they will pass.

As I scooped her up and carried her down the hall for her nap, she asked, “happy, Mommy?” Indeed, little one. So very happy. So happy I’m willing to forget all about that dental drill sound you sometimes like to make because most of my time with you is oh so sweet and oh so fleeting, something to soak up like a rare warm day in February, something to bask in like winter sun, something to breathe deep like sweet coconut-scented baby curls, so I will breathe it in until bursting.

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