Our walk home from school is 7 blocks, but sometimes it feels like 70. On one particularly rainy day, I picked up my son up from school during a brief dry period and began our short walk home. Since our stroller was wet from the earlier downpour and my third trimester belly made it increasingly challenging to carry him, I needed him to walk the 7 blocks beside me, while I pushed the stroller full of his toys and our belongings. 2 blocks into our journey, he stepped in a puddle, after I had warned “don’t step in the puddles,” and then began crying that his feet were muddy. After cleaning up from that he stopped 1 block later while crossing a busy street to complain that he didn’t want to walk anymore. Scooping him up and carrying him like a football, I scurried our caravan out of traffic. 2 blocks later we had another puddle incident that sent him into a tantrum on the wet concrete sidewalk.
As you may have read before, I’ve handled my fair share of tantrums. I started with rationalizing: “I’ll clean off your feet and then it will be all better.” I moved on to begging: “please just put your shoes back on so we can walk home.” I bargained: “if you get up now, we can go have a snack.” I waited. I threatened: “ok, mommy is going to leave you here.” He continued to roll around screaming, his hair full of dirt, face streaming with tears, and his shirt wiggling up his back with leaves now sticking to his wet body like paper mache. As I see him about to roll his face into a dirty, rotten, wet banana peel I give in and pick him up. Balancing him on my hip, I sternly look at him, point at the banana and say, “do you see that? You almost rubbed your face on that gross banana. You have to listen to mommy.” He looked scared at the notion of the banana touching his face, calmed down, and looked apologetically into my eyes. His little lip quivered and I almost felt bad for making such a big deal over a banana peel except that it seemed to work.
At this moment, I hear a car horn and look up to see a coworker driving by. She looks the opposite of how I feel: relaxed, happy, clean. Her son is in the backseat of the car, not covered in wet leaves and not crying. I find out that they are on their way to see a show and I am jealous of her evening. The idea of bringing this soggy toddler to a theatre makes me laugh and then I pity myself. I can’t believe that I still have 2 more blocks to walk before I am home and that this trek has now wasted 30 minutes of our evening. Due to further issues, it takes us another 15 minutes before we are home and I am exhausted. I feel defeated as a parent.
The next day, the coworker who I envied for her evening out at the theatre with her well-behaved son, confided in me that she also had behavioral issues with her son that night. There was drama before they got into the car regarding what he would wear to the show that continued while they were driving. 1 block before they saw me, she had to pull the car over due to their fighting. She admits that when she saw me, she was thinking that I looked stylish and happy, looking lovingly into my adorable toddler’s eyes before crossing the street with my designer stroller. She even used my son as an example how one should behave in lecturing her son.
I was reminded of two important lessons that everyone learns as a child:
1. Don’t judge a book by its cover.
2. The grass is always greener on the other side.
The next morning, my coworker and I laughed at how mistaken we both had been. We shared the tales of our parenting fails and commiserated about how our lovely evenings had taken a turn for the worse. The next time N had a public tantrum, I remembered this as I scanned the faces of the parents around me. You’ve been here before too– maybe even moments earlier– and if you haven’t yet, you will. And I am thankful that I have friends and coworkers around me who let me be honest about how difficult these parenting moments are and let me know that I am not alone.
[All opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer. This post is adapted from an earlier version, published here.]