The young mother cast a weary glance my way over the top of the squirmy toddler’s head. She moved the bag of chips towards the back of the cart, just out of reach from those stretched-out fingers. The little boy’s lip stuck out, but he didn’t shriek or cry. I gave her a sympathetic smile as we passed and we went our separate ways in the grocery store. I’d been there once. Another Mom vs. Child battle won!
When the kids were little and I found myself exasperated with them, my husband would remind me to pick my battles. It was hard. I wanted them – expected them – to just behave how I wanted them to all the time simply because I was “The Mom”. When they didn’t listen to my logic (good, sound, Mom-logic!) I felt like minor situations escalated from disagreement to battles to war in the space of a few short minutes. The problem wasn’t a matter of me picking a battle. The problem was that I thought three-year-olds would listen to reason. Ha!
One of the things that I had to learn was that I didn’t have to win every battle to win the war. Again, it was tough lesson. I wanted to be right. I wanted the kids to know I was right. I wanted the kids to be little grown-ups in those tiny little bodies and see how I only had their best interest at heart. The most selfish part of that equation was that I also didn’t want others to judge me as being a bad parent. After all, if my kid had on a horrible, mis-matched outfit at pre-school it was obviously because I was the worst Mom ever, right?
There was a time in my life when I thought I’d just never be able to go in public again—especially restaurants and stores. I suppose if that were true, I’d have a few more dollars in the bank account right now. When I found out Erin was on the way, one of the first thoughts I had was, How in the world will I be able to keep track of three kids in the grocery store? Someone’s gonna lose a finger…or an eye!
When I look back now, especially when I see people in the store with their kids, I have a completely different take on toddlers and parents. I am quick to NOT judge, because I’ve been in their shoes. I’ve had my exhausted kid scream about how much he hated me in the parking lot because we had to leave the dance party at the elementary school when it was getting late and his sisters were tired. I’ve been the mom whispering through clenched teeth about how they were going to really “get it” when we got home if I got any more sass. I have had to go to the store manager and alert them to the egg on the floor and apologize because my kid grabbed one out of the container and chucked it in two seconds when I opened it to check for cracked eggs. Been there, done that.
All in all, my kids were actually pretty well-behaved youngsters in public. It’s just that my memory doesn’t recall the times we peacefully strolled the aisles or sat at a restaurant. I can even laugh a little bit at those battles won and lost. Ultimately, we all won a little bit, because with one in college and two now in high school no one is throwing eggs at the grocery store and their clothes match quite well. They even give me fashion advice. I sometimes bribe my kids with promises of gum purchases to get them to go to the store with me now.
I can’t say I saw this mother with the chip-loving toddler and eyed her with envy. Those years were not always easy, but I cherish them now. We look back on those once-exasperating moments and laugh a little when the kids actually remember certain incidents and tell me what was going through their minds at the time. Those years were a rite of passage in the journey of Motherhood, and now it’s definitely in a different stage, where our trips to Costco involve me trying to get out of the store without indulging in the frozen yogurt sundaes with the kids at the end of the trip—a battle rarely won. And that’s a whole new war.