Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Imperfect expert.

At the airport gift shop, I picked up a few magazines for our flight home. This used to be the perfect excuse for a guilty pleasure like People but a few years ago I realized I could get through an entire magazine without recognizing a single celebrity. So I had to switch it up. I've tried girly fashion mags (what to wear right now? um, seriously, whatever fits and is clean works for me), fitness magazines (THE best diet, THE best workout, THE quickest way to feel bad about myself), parenting magazines (top ten things to worry about this month!), news magazines (like reading People and not knowing anyone... with facts!), travel magazines (fun to look at but not really my fave to read), and interior design magazines (typically my very best bet).

Last time we traveled, I picked up Southern Living which I quickly decided is my very favorite magazine I've never subscribed to. Plus, I knew a few people in it and got to read nice things about Nashville which is always fun.

This time, I didn't see Southern Living but I did see Country Living which was super exciting because I knew there was an article on the Red Barn Round-Up which is easily one of my favorite things I've ever done in Nashville. I also picked up a couple magazines I judged solely by their covers: Scientific American Mind with a cover story about memory (because, hello, i just saw my mom), and The Atlantic with a cover story about the overprotected kid.

As soon as I launched into The Atlantic, I realized I had already read the article online (whoops). It had spurred one of my neighbors to email everyone on the block to see if we could just pretend like it was still the good old days and loosen up a bit with our kids. (YES!) I still read the article in its entirety and couldn't help but feeling somewhat smug about my own somewhat hands-off approach to parenting.

I spent the rest of the flight sitting across the aisle from my kids basking in what felt like parental success. I don't hover. I let my kids have their own experiences. I don't step in and solve their problems or claim their victories. I don't even check Liam's homework! All in, I felt like a pretty good mom.

In fact, I started thinking about my perspective as a parent and what I might have to offer as a writer. Maybe I could write something for The Atlantic? Or Huffington Post? I should definitely pursue submitting something to Home / School / Life magazine. And maybe Parents as well? It doesn't all have to be doom and gloom!

By the time we got off the flight, I practically felt like a parenting expert (I'd been daydreaming about all the things I could write about). I gotta say, I was feeling pretty good.

For about five minutes.

Then I tried to take Finn to the bathroom.

He immediately started to protest which was weird because we all just heard him say he had to go. While I usually try to figure out what's really bothering him before trudging ahead, this seemed completely irrational. He had to go, I had to go, let's go! But it's never quite that simple, is it?

He starting doing that thing where he stopped moving his feet so I was suddenly dragging him across the food court floor, so I picked him up. "I! Want! To go! By! My! Self!" he yelled, one very loud word at a time. I tried to laugh it off and kept walking. "Buddy, you can't go all alone in the airport!" (So much for free range parenting...) "But you can go in your own stall if you want to." He could sense he wasn't going to get exactly what he wanted and started to dig in his heels. Never a good sign with a strong willed child...

By the time we got in a stall, I could tell he was about 10 seconds from a full on tantrum. I went to the bathroom as quick as I could, hoping he wouldn't slam open the door and bolt (he didn't!). "Okay, Finny, your turn," I said as nonchalantly as I could. He wouldn't budge. I offered to leave the stall, find him a new stall, give him my second born child (ha), but nothing worked. Honestly, I could have offered him a chocolate covered rainbow and he would have thrown it in my face. So I picked him up and made a beeline for the door.

That's when he started to scream. If you've never heard Finn scream, boy, you are missing out. It's loud and shrill with a laser like focus on whatever (or whoever) it is he's upset with.

In this case, that would be me.

I'm not going to lie, it's been a while since I've even seen the kind of scene we were making. He was flailing and screaming while I did my best not to drop him. I tried setting him down to reason with him at one point but he swatted at me and made a run for it. There's nothing like chasing a three year old through an airport (in boots!) to make you realize once and for all you are not a runner.

I was mortified.

I'm usually the mom who has it all together at the airport. I have never, not once, been this mom. (I mean, not in the airport...) I had absolutely no idea what to do. There's no reasoning with Finn when he's like this. He's just...completely out of control. All I could think to do was take him to the closest, most secluded corner I could find and just let him work it out. LOUDLY. While I tried not to die of embarrassment.

After a few minutes, Bill came over to where we were (he just followed the blood curdling screams...) and that's when things went really bad. As soon as Bill picked Finn up, he completely stopped crying. It was like someone had flipped a switch. A switch that I, his mother, had no idea where to find.

Now I was the one who wanted to have a tantrum. I couldn't believe how angry I was at my own child. How dare he scream in my face and hit me like that in public! He made me look (and feel) like a complete failure. And to calm down for Bill but not for me? The nerve!

Finn bounced back immediately as if nothing had ever happened but I could hardly look at him. My ego had taken a major beating and I needed a moment to lick my wounds. He had surprised and embarrassed me and made me completely doubt myself as a mother. Not to mention completely knocked me off my high horse. How could I write about parenting? What a joke!

Although, now that I've had some time to cool down, I can see things a bit more clearly. I may not be a parenting expert (whatever the heck that is) but I am intimately familiar with the front lines of raising children. I can cite things that 'work' and things that 'don't work' but I also know there are times when all the expert advice in the world is no match for a headstrong three year old.

Besides, who wants to take advice from a perfect parent? Or worse? Someone who doesn't even have kids! Not me.

Maybe knowing (really knowing...) the ups and downs of parenting doesn't make me a failure so much as it makes me uniquely qualified. Our experience makes us experts.

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