My rant begins as I circle the No Frills parking lot for the second time.
All day long I have been patient. I have been patient through games of dinosaur and games of watch-the-baby-chick-hatch(-18-times). I have been patient through I don’t want to go to the grocery store today even though we have no food left in the house but maybe I’ll want to later. Though I prefer to shop earlier in the day, I have no trouble finding work to do and I have done other work while waiting for them to feel like going to the grocery store.
I have been patient through multiple pairs of socks chosen and discarded for precise and important reasons (colour, pattern, feeling inside the shoe, a dearth of castles on them). I have been patient through meltdowns over the need to wear this exact very-long shirt even though it conflicts with the need to display the skirt that is covered by the very-long shirt and there is no resolution to this contradiction and thus many tears. I have been patient through the abandonment of this finally-resolved contradictory outfit when it becomes suddenly necessary to wear an outfit that matches the sister’s outfit instead.
I have sought consensual solutions for the day’s requirements. I have endeavoured to arrange the day so that all of our needs are met, no matter how trivial the need might seem to my adult perspective. I have been patient beyond the point most adult humans would consider it efficient or prudent or desirable to continue in the vein of patience.
Now, as we arrive at last at the grocery store and it is evident that we have failed to hit the magic hour before crowds will fill the aisles and complicate the already-wearying task that is grocery shopping with an almost-5 and almost-3-year-old, I am not patient.
“You [blank] [blank] girls! Do you see how full the parking lot is? Do you see that there is nowhere even remotely near the door for us to park? Do you realize this means the store will be crowded, and the lines will be long? Do you remember how all day I have been saying we need to go to the grocery store and the earlier we go the easier it will be? Can you please put it into your heads right now that Mama knows what she is talking about when she tells you things, and she tells you things for a reason, and you should just freaking listen to her?”
Silence. I park. Not even really all that far from the door.
“Mama,” says Aphra placidly, “who were you talking to?”
“I was talking to you girls!”
“But—” she is perplexed but unruffled—“you were being mean!”
I laugh. I laugh with delight at my almost-3-year-old’s confidence in her right to be treated with respect. I laugh because she is in harmony with reality and I am not. I laugh because she has called me on my negativity and reminded me of the mother I want to be. I laugh because sometimes I am patient and respectful and consensual and gentle beyond the point of most adult humans’ comprehension, but sometimes I am totally, completely, very much mean. I laugh because it really does feel like the mean me elbows her way in ahead of the patient me more often than not, but evidently Aphra does not think so. I laugh because I feel absolved by my almost-3-year-old. I laugh because if Aphra thinks I can’t be talking to her because I’m being mean, maybe I’m doing something right after all.
We go into the store. It's really not that crowded.
Sometimes we go to a concert, a festival, a Christmas fair, because I forget. Because I hope that this time will be different. Because I want, despite the anxiety and sensitivity of our eldest child, to be able to do some things that most people in the world consider to be fun.
The music is too loud. There are too many people. Too many voices, too many bodies in quarters too close. Too much going on at once, sight and sound and smell conflicting and over-powering.
Immediately she is reaching for me, crying to be held, her forty-pound, almost five-year-old body climbing me like I am a fortress that will save her. Her anxiety is high-pitched. The children are frenetic. The carolers are grating. The people press too close. It's too loud, too hot, too cold, too much. She wants to leave. Sometimes, there is one point of stimulation that goes too far--a kindly stranger saying hello, a drumbeat too close--and she shrieks.
Sometimes I remember and understand. I prepare. I hold. I put in the time--sometimes it's all the time we have--and I hold and soothe and bestow my nurturing presence until, as though a switch has flipped, she acclimates and is at ease. I can identify this point; it is a night and day point, and if we're lucky, it comes.
Sometimes we leave the concert, the puppet show, the craft room--her younger sister pulled away from her dancing, her singing, her enjoyment--because she is in tears or, sometimes, hysterics.
Sometimes the operator has to stop the ride so I can claim my screaming, panicking child.
Sometimes I am fuming because I want, just once, to go out as a family and enjoy a thing that is supposed to be enjoyable.
And sometimes, she sees the carousel, and even though it moves quickly, and the horses go up and down while the carousel moves round and round, and there are a lot of people, she thinks that if she chooses the smallest horse, and I stand beside her, she can do it. She wants to do it.
And more than I would love any other supposed-to-be-fun thing with any other always-has-fun child, I love this carousel ride. I grin wildly through this carousel ride, tears in my eyes, because this carousel ride is a triumph, a milestone, a wonder. I love this carousel ride, because my beautiful sensitive child is holding on tight, and she is loving it too.