I was sitting on the curb of the student pick-up traffic circle, my head in my hands, my 3-year-old losing his mind in the car. I was getting the sympathy eyes from parents passing by who could hear the screaming and see the car rocking as my son’s tantrum hit DEFCON 5.
We had been playing on the school playground after I picked him up from daycare/preschool for a good hour and it was time to go.
Several “5 minute” warnings and a few “Mikey, if you don’t come with me right now, you’re going to be in trouble” threats later, I had him under my arm kicking and screaming as I did the walk of shame across the playground and toward the parking lot.
If you’ve never carried your 35-pound flailing toddler out of a crowded arena under your arm — “surfboard style,” I like to call it — you haven’t lived.
He was in full-on beast mode as we passed other, more well-behaved children, and their parents who avoided eye contact with me. All the while he was screaming, crying, bucking out of my arms, twisting and turning, even reaching back to swat me.
Let me just interject here that he had NEVER acted like that before. I was equal parts infuriated with him and concerned. What was happening? Where was my only slightly temperamental child?
I eventually had to abandon his backpack and lunch box, which I had been carrying with me, on the grass so I could drag him to the car. Once there, he turned into the Hulk, straightening his body so I couldn’t force him into the car seat.
Many moments passed. His screaming was relentless. And very, very loud. No amount of comforting, yelling through my teeth or empty threats could calm him, so eventually I shut the car door and left him screaming and thrashing inside, hoping he would tire out on his own.
I went back to retrieve his backpack, looking at my feet the whole time because I couldn’t face the other parents. Also, I was pretty sure I had some tears of my own. As I re-approached the car I could actually see it rocking, and hear him screaming.
I opened the door and again attempted to force him into the car seat. Nope. It was definitely still a no-go. So I closed the door again and this time sat on the curb, re-examining all the life decisions I had made up to this point.
I had contemplated just driving home with him loose in the back of the car, but I didn’t need to end up in jail.
I had been sitting on the curb for about 15 minutes when the mom of one of Mikey’s classmates approached. “Oh, Holly, if I had a bottle of wine I’d give it to you!” she said.
Embarrassed and trying not to cry in public, I didn’t look up when said, “I don’t know why he’s acting like this, and I can’t get him in the car seat.”
“There’s nothing you can do,” she said. And then she sat down next to me.
I’m not sure how long we sat in silence for. Well, it wasn’t actually silence — Mikey was still screaming inside the vehicle. Finally she had to go, and when she did I went around and sat in the driver’s seat of the car, which gave Mikey enough fuel for another round.
This whole event probably went on for a good 40 minutes until, finally, holy hallelujah there was silence in the back seat!
I turned around and Mikey was red-faced, panting, absolutely covered in snot, and looking completely exhausted.
“Can I buckle you in now?” I asked.
On the way home he fell asleep, which had also never happened before. When I looked at his daily activity sheet from daycare, it showed that he didn’t nap. And I also discovered that much of his lunch was left uneaten.
Was all this to blame for his psychotic break? I’ll never know.
Am I just the worst parent ever because I can’t control my child? The jury is still out.
This is just one of the many parenting moments I’ve been reflecting on lately, and have decided to include in a new column for the Putnam County Times/Press. In the coming weeks I plan to touch on the perils of potty training, child-rearing in the time of COVID, the 3-year-old diet, postpartum depression and more – and I welcome your feedback.
If you’re a parent (mom, dad, new, old, working or stay-at-home) and you’ve ever found yourself sitting on the edge – literally or figuratively – feel free to share your anecdotes with me at email@example.com.
It’s a judgement-free zone.
Holly Crocco is editor of the Putnam County Times/Press and mother of an almost 4-year-old.