Children and Public Places

Aug 17, 2009

My three-year-old has been banned from Costco. We were asked to never return to the store with him in tow.

Okay, that’s not quite true.

Alright, it’s not at all true.

They didn’t actually ban him.

But, they should have.

If an employee had come up to me during our most recent visit and said, “We’re sorry, but please don’t bring him here again. We just can’t handle it,” I would have said, “I completely understand” and walked out the door.

You think I’m kidding.

I’m not.

It couldn’t have been that bad.

Well, trust me. It was.

When I had my first child and she would throw a temper tantrum in a store, I was horrified. I didn’t know what to do or how to handle it. I’m sure that I looked as flustered on the outside as I felt within. I’d start to sweat and shake, worried not only about the disturbance she was causing at that very moment, but knowing all too well that this could be just the beginning. This could escalate rapidly. This could get very, very ugly.

And, on top of the panic I felt, not knowing how to calm her, I’d wonder about what other people in the store or parking lot or church or doctor’s office were thinking of me.

“Bad Mommy. BAD!”

I was certain that was what was going through all their heads.

And, sadly enough, I didn’t blame them. After all, who can’t control their own child? It shouldn’t be that difficult to do. I knew I had to be doing something wrong.

Well, let me tell you, three kids down the road, things have changed slightly.

Unfortunately, the changes haven’t involved a decrease of screaming fits in public places. Oh, no. Those have only increased, because now I have more children to take part in them.

The change has come from within me.

Whereas before, I would become nearly as hysterical as the child, my goal now is to be the epitome of calm. The louder they get, the more serene I try to appear.

For example, when the above-mentioned-three-year-old had a huge meltdown in front of my gym last week because his sister was pushing the baby’s stroller and he wanted to be the one to do it, I very calmly put him in “time out” in front of the building. Yes, that’s right. We all stood there, my 6-yr-old, the 1-yr-old and me, watching my other son throw his body into the stone building, screaming something about it being “his turn,” as I said over and over again, “You need to sit in time out. No, time out is not on that side of the door. It’s over there in the corner.”

Person after person after person walked by us and observed the scene. The more people that walked by, the more gentle and firm my voice became. In between insisting he sit down, as he screamed loudly enough for the people in the gym, with their headsets stuck in their ears, to hear, I would nicely smile, as if this was just another peaceful day and I was enjoying the weather outside.

I kept telling myself, over and over again, “They are impressed with how you are handling this. Those people can’t believe how calm you are remaining. You should be proud of yourself.” I said those words, repeatedly, to myself, until I almost believed them.

Were those people awed by how I handled my out-of –control toddler? Did they go home and say to their spouse over dinner, “You wouldn’t believe this mom I saw at the gym today. Her son was behaving so terribly, but she didn’t lose her cool! No, she handled it perfectly!”

Probably not.

Okay, definitely not.

If anything, they were so traumatized by my son’s ear-piercing wails that they never even noticed me.

But, I felt better knowing that I wasn’t reducing myself to his level. I had maintained some dignity. I hadn’t resorted to falling on the ground along with him, crying my heart out, which I would have very much liked to do.

Because, to be honest, my kids can really embarrass me. And, I think they know this and so they “save up” their worst behavior for the public realm. I am constantly apologizing to waitresses for the mess my kids leave under the table. I seem to always be asking forgiveness from restaurant patrons for the food that may occasionally be flung their way.

The thing I’ve learned, though, is that no matter how much I’d like to control all of my children’s actions – I can’t. I can do my best to raise them correctly, to teach them wrong from right, but when it comes down to it, they have free will. Unfortunately, they generally tend to exert that will in the most crowded places on the planet.

What I can control, though, is me and how I respond to those little instigators. Do I want to scream aloud when they misbehave? Yes. Do I want to throw them back in the car and never take them out into the world again until they are 21? Absolutely. But, I do my best to not let any of this show. Even when a child throws a sippy cup at my head and hits his target, I do my best to just take a deep breath and move on. I don’t always succeed, as I’m sure many of my friends (and strangers) can attest to, but I’m trying.

My theory is that, perhaps if I remain calm in the storm, those around me won’t despise us so much for the noise they are forced to endure in our presence or the mess that remains once we are gone.

I like to tell myself this, at least.

In actuality, though, I’m not sure how well my belief is working, because, after lunch yesterday, I am pretty sure that the baby is no longer welcome at Cracker Barrel.


Anonymous said...

LOL! I so feel your pain... even if I only have one child. The public tantrums have subsided b/c now he's embarassed to show such behaviours in public. His public tantrums never embarassed me. It's his bizarre comments that do -- for example: While standing in line at the library (the QUIET library) to check out our books, he loudly announced, "You know... I think I want to go to juvie one day."

Yep... that be my kid... the mild mannered one who wants to go to juvie one day. *shrug*

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