Dec 19, 2006

A is for Awful

If you didn’t know me and you saw me on the subway today--the A train from Canal to Hoyt Schemmerhorn, around 4:30, last car--you’d have thought I was one of those horrible moms.
I was furious with my two and a half year old daughter. To you, she probably looked sweet and innocent. Like a baby. To me she was an uncontrollable beast--a juvenile delinquent, unrestrainable, the kind Sally Jesse Raphael used to kidnap and send to bootcamp.

We’d had a lovely day in Manhattan. Me and Joe and the blonde team--our phrase for our oldest and youngest children. There’s the Big 2 (Amos who’s 8 and Etta’s who’s 6), the girls’ team (Etta and Piper, two and a half), and the blonde team--who could also be called the bookends. Things are usually pretty blissful when it’s just the blonde team. No sensitive middle child to put upon, offend, annoy. We’d dropped her off at a birthday party of the subway-to-Manhattan-to-high-tea-at-the-American-Girl-Place variety and wouldn’t be seeing her til dark. We had an amazing afternoon planned.
So it was with great despair that I pulled the car over by a fire hydrant on a slick cobblestone street in Soho to yank the screaming toddler from the midsection of the minivan. This wasn’t supposed to be happening.
She’d just had enough I guess. Her brother had birthday money to spend and we’d bounced from one funky east village shop to another one in Soho. She did well in the dusty cluttered place but the brightly lit shop was a bit much for her--all the figures lined up behind glass against a brightly lit white wall. It was exactly like being IN a website--linear, cool, and completely inhuman. So she and I went next door to get a tea and a cookie and sat at the base of the statue with all the rows of boobs.
We sat there enjoying the funky Soho vibe, albeit the increasingly crowded and touristy funky Soho vibe, and when the KidRobot crew wrapped things up by buying a creature with a British flag on its belly and a bullet hole in its hat, we made our way back to the car. Time to go from this exotic and wonderful afternoon to our loving and peaceful home.
And then? She refused to sit in her seat. We tried several things that ought to have worked but didn’t. It bores me to list them so I won’t.
Joe eventually got her strapped in well-enough and I started to drive but she was crying and crying and it’s hard to describe but it’s like my brain turned black.
In that moment I stopped being a happy mom with a great life who just happened to have a baby who didn’t want to be in a car seat for fifteen minutes (which is, seriously, what it takes to get to our Brooklyn neighborhood on a Saturday). This roaring and refusing child was all there was, and I needed for her to disappear.
I wanted Joe to offer to just take her out of the car but he wasn’t receiving the thoughts I was sending (or he was but he was pretending he wasn’t), and it’s not really in his nature to think of something like that anyway, because, really what I wanted didn’t make much sense.
I just needed her to NOT be crying in the car.
My black brain took over and I pulled the car over and announced that if she kept crying she’d have to take the subway home (she hates the subway, which makes me mad because if I’d had the chance to be a city-toddler I would have loved the subway).
She kept crying so that’s what we did.
Metrocard, stroller, crying baby (and the tea, I still had the tea). She and I got out of the car and stormed off, lurching lopsided (I was holding the tea) down the sidewalk for the train. I didn’t look back at the car but I know I would have seen Joe and Amos staring out the window in stunned silence. I found out later that Joe stayed there for a few minutes, wondering if I was faking.

So that’s why I was giving Piper the silent treatment on the train. And that’s why she looked sort of vacant and wiped out. And you probably thought I was one of those kinds of moms who doesn’t make eye contact with her own kid; who just stares off into the distance looking pissed and impatient.
There are such awful moms out there--I see them all the time. I can tell just by looking at them that their poor kid deserves better. And I know that you thought Iwas one of them today on the A train--but it was just a low moment. I got myself trapped in something that just didn’t make sense but it became something I needed to do.
And I softened as I stared at the back of her head--the part of her that makes her seem most vulnerable. And I softened a bit more as I watched her yawn and rub her eyes with her chubby baby hands. And by the time I got onto the G train with her things were back to normal.
So if you didn’t know me and you saw me on the G train today, around 4:45, Hoyt Schemmerhorn to Clinton Washington, first car, you saw the real thing; a mother and daughter all sparkley and engaged, and you’d know that little girl was lucky to have a mom like me.

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