“Can I have applesauce?”
“How about now?”
“May I please have applesauce?”
“Mamma, are you listening to me? I want applesauce?”
“Can you get me some?”
The pain then creeps up my leg like a slow burning wildfire. With my hands balled into fists and my arms straight at my side, I squeeze my eyes tight and bellow out a primal roar, mixed with a scream, with a hint of a screech. I yell for so long that I start to shake a little until I eventually run out of air. Veins pop, skin reddens, and I realize that I may have just officially lost my mind. The full two pound jar of apple sauce that had slipped from my (now terrified) son’s grip, rolls off of my foot exposing a bruised knot that has already formed, and I limp off into the bathroom to hide. In retrospect, I should have been grateful that the jar didn’t shatter along with my spirit.
We all have these moments, the ones we would rather erase or redo. The ones that we will replay over and over. The moments we will feel guilty about for the next week and then feel twinges of guilt off and on for the rest of our lives whenever the memory resurfaces. Unfortunately, guilt is just part of the gig when you are on 24/7. I immediately envision my son on his first day of Kindergarten, which is now less than a week away, and imagine a friend accidentally dropping a book on his toe, causing him to scream at the top of his lungs. Nice example I have set. Really nice.
As I sit in my bathroom bunker, one of those memories bubbles to the surface. It is as if my scream unlocked the vault to all of the times I have been a less than stellar parent. As I fight back tears, I can almost see my then two-year-old daughter, covered in poop shouting at me from a few paces down the sidewalk.
“Rock! Rock! No. No rock. Poo poo. Mamma, POO POO!” Oh, shit (pun intended). I knew instantly that this was not going to be good. The “rock” that she had been playing with turned out instead to be a perfectly spherical dog turd that was crispy on the outside from baking in the sunshine, but as luck would have it, it was fairly fresh, leaving it nice and soft in the middle. Of course I didn’t bring any wipes and the best substitute I could find was a used tissue shoved in the bottom of the $30 cupholder accessory that I sprung for to use on the infamous BOB jogging stroller (as if the first $400 you spent on the stroller to begin with wasn’t enough to cover a damn cupholder). Much to my chagrin, when it came, I realized that I couldn’t use it as latte storage because it tipped forward when you put anything in it, so I’d risk scalding my sweet baby’s head. Since we registered for the stroller before having our baby, I didn’t yet know that the cups of hot coffee that I could enjoy would be few and far between, so I wouldn’t need a cupholder anyway. I guess, since it’s a jogging stroller, you are supposed to use it for water bottles to stay hydrated on your run, but hey, at least I now have a place to keep dirty tissues.
Just as I was done, mentally cursing the cupholder, everything started happening in slow motion. Of course, what is your first instinct, even as an adult, when you get something on your hands? You wipe. And as a frantic toddler, you wipe everywhere. On the ground, on your pants, shirt, face, and your hair. Oh my god, the hair. It’s one thing when it’s a juicy orange. It’s quite another when it’s two hour old dog poop. She immediately realized that she had made a very stinky mistake but couldn’t correct it. The more she wiped, the worse it got.
My wadded tissue wasn’t going to cut it, so I swept her up and tried to sprint with her on my hip while I pushed my 42 pound son in the stroller, giving the BOB the most running action that it had ever seen. My poor boy was feeling under the weather, suffering from a urinary tract infection, which was the only reason that boy was sitting in that stroller in the first place, watching this mess unfold. As we ran, my daughter grabbed onto my hair to brace herself, so now at least we were both officially sharing the same diseases.
The gallon of water that I made my son chug before we left the house caught up to him midway home and he started shouting that he had to pee. I frantically hit the button at the crosswalk, knowing full well that this was the longest light of all time. Finally, I saw the blessed blinking white light. At first I thought it might be an angel, but then I heard my daughter say, “It’s the walking man mamma, gooooo!” and we hustled across the street. I pushed the stroller into our front yard and barely got the keys in the door to toss my poop-covered little one into the bath when I heard my son SCREAMING that he REALLY had to to PEEEEEE. I left my daughter on the bathroom floor and ran out to get my son, who was a little too big for the stroller but refused to be anything but completely harnessed in for the journey, and now I couldn’t get the the damn buckle undone. “Mamma, I really, really REEEEEEEEALY need to GO NOOOOOOOOW!” And just as I finally shimmied that effing buckle out, I was two seconds too late and then had two kids (and one mamma) who desperately needed a bath. I was dripping in sweat from running ten blocks with 65 pounds worth of kiddo, ten pounds worth of stroller, and a pound worth of poo. Both kids were hollering, the dog was barking and nipping at my ankles because he wanted a treat for doing absolutely nothing, and our whole house smelled like an Honey Bucket. I knew that I was coming undone and would regret it later, but it didn’t stop me. I snapped as I brusquely plopped my son into the bath and (my heart breaks typing this) he looked up at me with those same big, chocolate brown, eyes that he gave me a few minutes ago with the applesauce incident, and sheepishly said, “Sorry, Mamma. I wish today was a different day.” I could tell he was trying to be brave and knew he was in a lot of pain but instead of comforting him and telling him that it was going to be okay, I curtly replied, “Well that’s something.” Well. That’s. Something. What does that even mean? I then stomped out of the bathroom, leaving him cold and confused in the tub.
I immediately came back and apologized for not being more understanding. I told him that I was just really frustrated as I dramatically acted out everything that had just happened including a pretty side-splitting rendition of his sister playing with her turd rock. I must have looked like a mime on crack, but it made him giggle even though I could tell his feelings were still hurt.
I felt like a monster. I STILL feel like a monster. But, I am not a monster. I am human and there is nothing like seeing yourself in not the best of light that is a better reminder of that. I am not perfect and this certainly won’t be the last time I say the wrong thing or react poorly. The throbbing pain in my foot and the sweat on my brow from screaming uncontrollably in the middle of the kitchen proves that. We all have days were “we wish it was a different day” and that’s okay.
For the rest of the afternoon in the wake of the turd aftermath, my son played with a dragon that he got for his birthday, running around the house and roaring with it. He came up to me multiple times and stuck that plastic winged creature square in my face and yelled, “Mamma, you’re fired!” I think he meant the dragon was breathing fire on me, or maybe he was truly handing me my pink slip in his own style. Either way, all I wanted to say was, “Oh yeah, well you can’t fire me, because I quit.” Instead, I just smiled.
My trip down guilty memory lane is interrupted with a knock on the door, and my son cautiously sticks his head around the corner. I tearfully wave him in to apologize for my reaction explaining that while it did really hurt, and sometimes I need him to practice patience, I could have reacted in an more effective manner. He responded with, “That’s okay, mamma. You were just on your last nerve, and I should have waited.” This summons another wave of guilt. Last nerve? How often has he heard me say that? But, I manage to suppress it and just try to feel proud that he is able to process things in such a way. We walk out of the bathroom together and cuddle up on the couch with his sister to read books.
Later that night, as I tuck the covers around him, I lay down by his side and nuzzle my face into his slightly sweaty hair, already damp from heavy sleep. I kiss the top of this head and inhale the innocence of childhood, hoping that the wrongs will be learned from, if not forgotten, leaving us both better prepared to begin another day.
Marissa B. Niranjan may breathe fire from time to time but also understands that just because shit happens, doesn’t mean you have to let it define you.