Sometimes being a mother is the most wonderful thing in the world. Sometimes it’s a minute-by-minute battle, and I’m surprised at the end that there aren’t any casualties. Sometimes it’s just plain boring, and I can’t help but feeling slightly jealous of the footloose and fancy-free folks, going to the movies or even on a quick road trip on a whim, while I’m stuck at home. But after a particularly trying evening recently, when I felt like admitting defeat, I stopped myself in the middle of wishing for a mommy vacation. It’s the whole be careful what you wish for thing. I will take a trying evening with my children any night over the empty, nightmarish nothingness of not having them at all.
Right now, my thirteen-month-old, who is a challenge on a good day, is cutting five teeth, three of which are molars. Now, this kid doesn’t sit quietly by and let things happen to him. When he is in pain, he lets you know about it. He lets the guy down the street know. I’m pretty sure he’s trying to let our family in Colorado know. This is all new to me. With my elder son, cutting teeth was not fun. With Ian, it’s unbearable. I am pretty sure that hell is full of poorly written fan fiction, burnt popcorn, and a never-ending soundtrack of Ian cutting teeth.
I am not a stay-at-home mom. I’m a part-time-work-velcro-baby-on-the-hip mom. It worked really well with my first child, and it’s not that it doesn’t work this time, just that, when you bring your kid with you to work, it’s distracting when he starts to scream. And the screaming isn’t limited to teething. It’s Ian’s mode of communication, and has been since he left the womb. Happy screams, sad screams, mad screams, screams when he’s hungry, screams when he’s thirsty, screams when he’s tired, screams when he wants attention, screams when he’s excited, even screams while he is sound asleep. But the teething screams are the worst.
Someone once told me, “I had a child like that; it was so hard until he learned to talk.” Granted, Ian’s vocabulary is limited, but he knows sign language and can communicate that way—when he chooses. That’s my problem, I know, because I haven’t enforced it like I did with Peter. But even if I were more vigilant, how much would it help? When he was only a week old, his pediatrician said (as Ian turned purple in the face and wailed at the top of his lungs), “Oh, this one likes to be held.” And I thought, Have we already ruined him? Is he dependent on another person to make him happy? What a terrible thought that he might not be able to self-soothe. At two months, when he would only go down in his crib if he was nursed or rocked to sleep, I called his doctor in desperation and finally got permission to let him cry it out. It was excruciating, but he eventually slept.
So at work earlier this week, Ian had one of his screaming moments when a little eighty-five-year-old lady came in. I cannot count how many times I’ve apologized to customers for how loud he is. Usually he’s just happy-loud, but it’s still distracting. Or with the teething, I get a lot of understanding nods and sympathy. But this particular time, this lady actually asked me to take him away. She said she’d never heard anything like it in her life and didn’t want any chance of hearing it again. And I thought, Really? Have you never been in a restaurant when a kid had a meltdown? Have you never been to the grocery store or a park or any place where children go? (Turns out she used to be a stewardess, which makes the whole thing even more baffling.)
I in no way condone parents ignoring their children when they throw tantrums or reenforcing bad behaviors by giving in, but there’s a big difference between the kind of public meltdown that children use to get what they want and real crying. It bothers and embarrasses me when Ian acts out in public (Peter, too, but nine-point-five times out of ten, it’s Ian), and if the normal methods of soothing don’t work, my husband or I take him out. It’s the polite thing to do and what I expect of other parents.
I guess what drives me nuts about the other day is that I fixed the problem; he was already quiet. I wanted to say, Lady, do you have to continue to make me feel like an inadequate parent? I know that I’m not doing as good a job with him as I did with his brother; you don’t have to remind me by covering your ears and looking at him like he has a third eye. I clung to Ian, feeling for him because I knew he was in pain. At the same time, I wanted to tell the woman that at least she could leave, while I was stuck.
But there I go again, thinking the wrong thing. I don’t want to be away from my baby, really. I want him to be well-behaved, a joy to others. But I also want him to be himself, and if that means he’s more spirited than his brother, I just need to work a little harder. I also need to work on myself, and my patience, in particular. And maybe, if I live to see eighty-five, instead of being judgmental and hurtful by saying, “Please, take him away. I can’t handle that. How can you stand it?”, I’ll remember my own trials (all water under the bridge by then, right?) and show compassion to harried young mothers.