Friday, July 1, 2011

There We Were...

...sitting on the sidewalk of downtown's busiest street, while my two younger children screamed.  Passersby stared, and on two occasions people shook their heads or waggled their fingers at me while "tsking" with their mouths (you know that shaming sound??!).  I was being rebuked for failed parenting, I guess.  All I knew is that I felt like adding my own howls to those of the kids'.

Moments before, I had parked the van on the street opposite the Ethiopian restaurant that I wanted to take the kids to, for lunch.  It was the day before Seth's dental surgery, and I was hoping to ask the Amharic-speaking waitress to tell Seth what was going to happen to him the next morning when he went in for surgery.  Geoff had raised the suggestion earlier in the day, and I thought it was a good one.

Seth had been in a horrible mood all morning.  First, he hated the breakfast that I made...despite my best efforts.  I know that the kid loves dabo/bread more than life itself, so I put out two (not just one, but two) kinds of dabo for him: banana bread; and cinnamon toast with lots of butter on it (melted in so that he couldn't see it - 'cause if there's no butter, he won't eat it, and if he sees the butter, it's...well...toast.).  I also gave the kids some fresh fruit that I'd just cut up, and big glasses of their beloved milk.  I thought it sounded like a nice breakfast.  But Seth didn't:  He threw the previously-loved banana bread across the table at me; spit out the one bite of also-previously-loved cinnamon bread; and picked out only the oranges to eat from his bowl of fruit.  When he demanded more dabo and oranges, I said no, and pointed to the food I had prepared (I stopped being a short order cook sometime last week).  He threw himself down on the floor under the table and shed bitter, angry, and loud tears for almost an hour.  He never did eat breakfast, though I left it out for him for half of the morning.  He's a very resolute boy.  That was reason #1 for his being angry with me all morning.

Reason #2 was taking him to the doctor's office late morning for his pre-op physical.  I get that we've already been to a few such appointments, and I get, too, that no one likes being in a doctor's office.  But really, the appointment itself (once we got in) lasted only ten minutes and he didn't even have to take off his shirt.  It couldn't have been that bad.  But he whimpered his way through it, and I maintained a cool, calm and comforting exterior.  I got that it wasn't where he wanted to be.  His mood wasn't helped by the fact that he was undoubtedly hungry, but he steadfastly refused to accept from me any of the snacks that I'd brought along for the kids - he was still mad at me, four hours after the breakfast debacle.

We then left for the Ethiopian restaurant.  I told the kids where we were going and what we were going to eat, and Seth fully understood - we've gone there a few times in the past couple of weeks and his favourite thing in the world is injera (the sourdough, pancake-like flatbread that is the staple base in all Ethiopian meals).  Lizzie was smacking her lips in anticipation of the food throughout our drive to the restaurant, while Seth moaned rhythmically in his car seat, still not communicating with me.

Then came the ultimate travesty - the Reason #3 of Seth's anger towards me:  When we got to the restaurant and had to park across the street, Seth really wanted to be picked up; and I had to say no.  The street was a very busy one and I simply could not let my three-year-old toddle her way slowly through the traffic; I had no choice but to pick Lizzie up and hold hands with Seth while we made our way across the street.  I asked Matthew to take his other hand.  We had a one-minute walk to get to the restaurant and injera was awaiting him.  Seth was reluctant from the outset to take my hand, so I knew already that further trouble was brewing.  In hindsight I should have just called it a day and gone home right then and there; but I just kept thinking about how much he needed to hear what was going to happen to him the next morning, and I hoped, too, that having some traditional food would be a comfort to him.

So we launched half dragging Seth and barely hanging on to a squirming Lizzie.  My backpack strap slipped down the shoulder that was hunched over trying to maintain my grip on Seth's hand.  We waited at the intersection until we had the green light, and started to cross.  We made it half way across, at a snail's pace, and had to wait for whole another traffic light change to start the second half of the road.  Half way across those next four lanes of traffic is when my worst moment happened:  Seth dropped to the ground; face down; screaming.  Face buried in the pavement, still holding Matthew's hand, he lay there screaming.  The jolt of him pulling me downwards somewhat dislodged Lizzie in my other arm, who was shocked by the sudden movement and started to scream.  She took advantage of my temporarily loosened grip and shimmied down my leg and also landed on the street, face down in street grime, screaming.

For a long second, I looked over at Matthew, and he looked over at me.  I'm sure he was thinking the same thing as me:  let's just take off and make a run for it, just the two of us...maybe nobody will notice...well, other than the two or three dozen drivers suddenly watching us intently as their light turned green, and they were stale-mated because a crazy woman, a seven-year-old, and two prone and screaming children stood (or lay) in their path to freedom.

What do I do? I thought.  What do I do?  Could someone please help me?

I told Matthew to let go of Seth's hand and to hold onto the strap of my backpack behind me, so that I wouldn't lose track of him in the middle of the street. Then I bent down and grabbed Seth under the armpits and hoisted him into football hold, face down, under one arm; I did the same with the slightly lighter Lizzie, who I could just barely manage to lift with one arm.  I staggered across the remaining ten or fifteen feet of the street, made it up onto the curb, and then basically dropped the two kids onto the sidewalk, while passersby veered around us.  The restaurant was right there, two storefronts from where we were, but I couldn't make it.  I sat down on the curb beside the younger kids, and Matthew stood beside me, a little as if he were standing guard.

And there we stayed for the next almost-twenty minutes, while passersby stared and while, on those two occasions I mentioned, people shook their heads at me or waggled their finger and "tsked."  No one offered to help (I probably wouldn't have either) and I didn't know how to proceed:  Injera seemed only a remote possibility at this point; and the thought of trekking back across the street to climb back into the van was just too much for me.  So we sat.  And sat.  One can think a lot during a twenty minute period, but I could reach no conclusions.  And then something odd happened:  In the very moment that I felt, too, like lifting my head to howl at the heavens, I found my sense of humour.  I suddenly knew that things really couldn't have gone much worse and knew, too, that the day was bound to get better from this point on.  I looked at the kids screaming on the pavement, I looked at Matthew standing stoically beside me, and I started to laugh.  And when that second disapproving gentleman tried to make me feel badly with his silly rebuke, I looked him right in the eyes and laughed out loud.  It was great; it felt a little like I was giving him the finger...but in my own way, because of course I'd never actually do that.  It was a surprisingly good moment, under the circumstances.

When the decibel level went down by at least a fraction, I managed to get us all into the restaurant and we ended up having a comforting meal and a very helpful translation time between me, Seth, and the waitress.  (Though even that good lunchtime was punctuated by Seth's lying on the floor - quietly, thankfully, but resolutely - for the first forty minutes of our time there, and Lizzie deliberately spilling her untouched, large glass of water all over the table and floor while she stared me in the eye.  Oh well.  Whatever.)

In the end, we all felt considerably happier after we'd eaten, and Seth seemed to have forgotten his earlier struggles as he later walked peacefully beside me across the same street which will forever hold memories for me.  We made it home.  Mission accomplished.


  1. Oh boy... this takes me right back. We once had an entire day -- an entire day from morning to bedtime -- in a tantrum about not being allowed ketchup for breakfast. I don't mean that I wouldn't allow ketchup on their eggs. I mean, "No, you can't have that soup bowl full of ketchup for your breakfast." Annnnnd we were off and running! :)

    Good for you, finding your sense of humour in the middle of a bad day. There's just no choice but to laugh some days! :)

  2. Oh Ruth!
    That was a bad day. I am sorry you had to go through that!
    Thank you for sharing your experiences - good and bad! It makes me feel normal! It reminds me that my child is normal! LOL
    Yesterday John had to walk 10 mins with a screaming biting, scratching Mekuria! I am going to get him to read this post when he gets home! :)


  3. Oh my goodness, what a day! And a good reminder to help mums in need!

  4. Well done Ruth! I am going to remember the power of laughter and humour! It sure helped you out, and I am sure when my little one is home, I am going to find myself in several pickles where it will come in handy! You`re awesome!

  5. I'm not sure if I cried or laughed more as I read this... and relived my last year and 4 months... Ruth, as much as you feel like it at the moment- you aren't alone. Not even in peeling kids off the sidewalk and holding them under your arms in the football hold. (in fact, did that again yesterday at the carnival while talking to a distant friend about how well we are now doing compared to last year...). And the comments and tisking and all- well those people have never lived in this and nor have their children.
    Now when I start to laugh as a survival technique, my 5 year old starts to scream "not funny! no laugh at me!" and sometimes it snaps him out of the tantrum (and into a new shorter lived one).
    PS Meski just came by and saw S & L's photos and said she wants them for her friends.

  6. Wow, Ruth. I so love reading your posts. I don't love it that you're facing such extreme challenges right now. But I LOVE how you can find the humour in it as you keep working through this tough stage of attaching and trusting. Even though I can't relate in the same way many others can, I do admire you greatly and enjoy following along on your journey. Also, it makes me feel a bit better and a bit more normal that my child was the only one at church this morning who seemed to be throwing fits for no apparent reason. We are off and running in the toddler stage and it is very humbling. All the things I thought I would somehow be able to keep my child from doing, he does. I can't just make him behave nicely all the time. But after reading about the humour you find in much more challenging situations, with THREE children, I feel very inspired.

  7. Oh ruth, WHAT A DAY!!!! So sorry it's all so hard. I'm really glad you're using the writing about it as your therapy - you will be really glad to have this record in a year's time when you will be able to say 'look how far we have all come!' I know how relentless those first weeks can feel (and ours weren't talking,so that must DOUBLE the stress for you- at least - they can actually tell you why they are cranky. Eeek! I was glad not to know :) ) I've hardly been on my computer but wanted to log on so I could say hi and send you a virtual hug. Hope having your man home for hte weekend is helping. xxxxC
    (ps - I say buy everybody a cheap ukelele!)

  8. I so admire and love your sense of humour in a difficult situation, what a great example you are for your kids. I chuckled (in sympathy) at the image of you carrying your 2 youngest in a football hold. I'm sure most of us feel your pain as we've been there! I left the library a while back lugging a bag of heavy books with one child screaming and thrashing under each arm (I'm sure at least one was trying to claw and bite me to boot). I got the tisks of judgemental strangers as well! Some days, the only alternative to crying is to have a good laugh.
    Love your posts- you are awesome! :)