...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 forth...me 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.