When my son Roman was just shy of a year, we were at Target picking out thank you cards in anticipation of his upcoming birthday party. When I refused to let him toss the cards all over the aisle, he lost his mind. He threw himself onto the floor and pulled a move that I have since coined the “60’s Protester” where he would go completely limp forcing me to bend all the way down and scoop him off of the ground in order to not pull a joint out of socket. Mid-scoop, he quickly evolved from protester to feral cat and yet I somehow managed to wrangle his thrashing body into the cart. As I strapped him in, he let out the loudest, most guttural and primal scream that I had ever heard. At this point, people came running into the aisle to see if he was hurt or maybe even dying. Instead, they found me awkwardly bent over the cart trying to pry his little hands off of the clump of my hair that he was holding hostage with such a brute force that tears streamed down my face. Most people just stared, mouths agape. A few shuffled quickly past with their own kids, hoping it wouldn’t be contagious. I finally managed to escape, red-faced and sweating, and since he was already locked in, I wasn’t about to abandon ship. I came for thank you cards, and I wasn’t going to leave without them. I pushed my cart, screaming banshee and all, to the check out line, avoiding eye contact at all costs. One well-meaning grandma walked passed me and said, “I remember that age…it goes by so quickly.” I detected a hint of nostalgia in her voice, and I remember thinking, are you EFFING kidding me? THERE IS NOTHING I WILL MISS ABOUT THIS!
It would be years until I dared to step foot into another Target.
During the first weeks of my son’s life, when I had absolutely no idea what I had gotten myself into, I remember my husband, Akash, and I would take turns trying our own methods to soothe our crying baby. Akash would cradle him like a football and literally run through the house, reenacting routes from his high-school quarterback days. Of course it made me a little nervous, but I was too sleep deprived to intervene. Plus, it worked so I had no business to complain about safety. When Akash needed a break, I would hold Roman close to my chest and moved my legs in a constant figure-eight motion causing my torso to rock at just the right frequency. While he wailed and I swayed, I would just close my eyes and imagine a room. It was always the same room where everything, including a bed, was the most beautiful and fresh shade of white. One wall consisted of floor to ceiling windows through which a golden, peachy hue cast from a setting sun, came pouring in and filled every corner. One of the windows remained slightly ajar allowing the most subtle breeze to enter the room. I never could see the ocean, but the breeze was a salty one, so I knew it was there. The room was the perfect temperature – not to hot and not to cold, and I imagined that if I slipped between the crisp, white sheets that stretched tightly cross the bed, they would feel faintly cold against my skin. The only other piece of furniture in the room was a white table which held a clear vase with a single flower. Sometimes it was a peony, sometimes a dahlia, but it was always the most vibrant shade of purple. I would just stare at that purple flower as I rocked back and forth and after some combination of minutes or hours, my son would be fast-asleep in my arms.
I still visit this white room, although the reasons are different and my stays tend to be shorter. Now it’s when my kids go ballistic because they both want to take the cushions off of the couch together at the same time, but also want to do it by themselves at the same time. That doesn’t make sense? Welcome to parenthood. As they get older, I am sure I will mentally check into the room when I catch them trying to sneak out, or get that phone call from the Principle’s office, or they go on their first date.
I am constantly amazed by how much control you have as a parent, while you simultaneously have absolutely no control whatsoever. It’s both terrifying and freeing. I am always wondering what my kids actually will remember as we navigate these early years together. What am I doing as a mamma that is building them up and what I am doing that is potentially scarring them for life. I am aware of what my memories are from this season of life, but what are their recollections going to be of it?
I think of this every time I look at what has now been dubbed “the hole of shame” in the archway of the door to our dining room where, in a moment of feeling handy, we screwed in a Merry Muscles Jumparoo. After one gleeful bounce, Roman tumbled to the floor taking the entire contraption with him, because after all of our careful measuring, we completely missed the stud. It took a few days before Roman would trust that jumper again, and perhaps I was projecting my own guilt, but I felt like he was always just a little more tentative to try new things after that.
On a visit to my dad’s house, Roman slept on an air-mattress and the next morning my poor little guy came down with a urinary tract infection. To this day, he associates that pain with sleeping on an air-mattress and refuses to go near one. Will his fear of a blown-up mattress follow him forever? On the subject of urinary tracts and bodily fluids (what else do we talk about as parents) when we were pretty far along in the process of potty training, Roman had a random accident. I was so obsessed with the thought of regression that I kept asking him over and over again why he didn’t tell me he had to go. His response was, “But mamma, I DID go in the toilet three times today and LOTS of times before that. This was only ONE time.” Nothing like a pearl of three-year-old wisdom to make you feel like a total assh*le.
When Adele’s new album came out a couple of weeks ago, I saw a commercial that Target was selling an exclusive version that included THREE BONUS TRACKS. Damn you Adele and your voice of an angel (just kidding, I love you forever). My heart sank as I realized I had no choice but to return to the scene of the crime. The place where I had reached one of my lowest moments as a parent. I thought about just ordering the album online, where the potential tantrums would be confined to the walls of our home, but I now had an unshakeable image of myself blasting ‘Hello’ in the kitchen, lip synching into a wooden spoon microphone while I prepared our Thanksgiving meal. Even with express shipping, it wouldn’t have arrived in time.
So the next day, I reluctantly packed the kids in the car and headed directly towards that taunting red and white bullseye. As we walked by the thank you card aisle, it immediately triggered my heart to race and I swear I could feel a bead of sweat form at my brow. I stood there for a solid minute looking at Roman and his little sister happily playing and chatting together in the cart. And just like that, it was hard to picture life any other way. I could barely see that little, curly-headed baby who was tired, hungry and literally clinging to me for dear life. “Why did we stop, mamma?” Roman asked, realizing that our giant cart wasn’t moving anymore. I told him the story of the epic meltdown and he just looked at me, wide-eyed. “Why would I do that?” he asked sounding sincerely concerned. “I promise to NEVER EVER do that again.” Although, I appreciated the sentiment, that promise was tested sooner than even he could have imagined as five short minutes later he saw lightsabers right next to the giant wall of candy at checkout… I mean, c’mon Target, it’s as if you WANT me to fail. They both started to whine and wanted to hold the ‘swords’ AND buy some gum, AND get M&Ms, but sweet Ro took one look at my exasperated face and immediately stopped. “Not today, Rubina” he said as he turned towards his sister, putting his hand gently on her shoulder. “Maybe we can get them another time.” I then noticed the woman behind me who was probably about 8-months pregnant, lovingly rubbing her belly and purchasing items for her nursery. I suddenly had to resist the urge to say, “Enjoy this time, it goes by quickly…”
Everything ends. I don’t mean this in a doomsday way, but rather in a comforting way. I find that this mantra helps me to manage my nostalgia just a little bit and actually keeps me in the moment. Most days, I still don’t know what I have gotten myself into, but it’s true that it goes by fast and certain challenging phases are just that…phases…with a starting and a stopping point.
While I will never enjoy the meltdowns, I have to constantly remind myself that they are simply a part of the overall process of raising these beautiful, confusing, tiny humans and a sweet hug is always waiting just around the corner (even though sometimes it’s a wiiiiiide corner). In the meantime, I will always have the refuge of my white room and subtle ocean breeze. I’m thinking that it also may be time to introduce a bottle of wine to my little imaginary oasis. Maybe that is what the purple flower symbolized all along.
Marissa B. Niranjan had been avoiding Target like the plague but recently experienced a change of heart…now that her hair has grown back.