He stands at just thirty three inches tall and yet he is a force to be reckoned with. After all, he is his mother’s child, fiercely independent and painfully stubborn. As the youngest of two children, in his experienced two years on the planet, he has learned how to defend himself from the ways of the world, including his spirited older brother. As his mother, I admire the way in which his resilience has guided him through his life so far, and yet, at this very moment, with his tiny body writhing like a snake on the floor of a crowded Target grocery aisle, I want to curse this independent streak.
My goal for the morning, when I bravely attempted to venture to Target with two children and without the extra hands of my husband, was to pick up a few grocery items, quickly navigate to the nearest cashier, and check out, all before my children realized they were in the store and began the probing questions of “Can I have a cookie?” and, “Can I please get this toy?”, even though the six year old had been advised before shoes and socks were even put on that today was a short, also known as, not a toy, visit.
The first few minutes of our visit were off to a successful start. One hand gripped the basket handle, navigating the aisles with as much ease as could possibly be attempted, while holding the hand of a first grader and keeping the two year old occupied with bites of a chocolate chip cookie that we had secured from the bakery. After six years as a mother, and two years specifically to this particular toddler, I had learned that all shopping trips were most likely to be successful if the children were fed before, during, and immediately after the shopping trip. As the mother of boys, I was constantly feeding them, and that was the sole reason why we were here today. Food exited the house almost as soon as it entered. Gallons of milk were placed in to the cart, followed by toilet paper, snacks for the children and breakfast items. The essentials. I began to go over my mental list again in my head, and that’s when I noticed that my cookie filled hand was suddenly empty..and we were on the opposite side of the store from the bakery. My toddler, seeming to sense my desperation, like a rabid animal, began to whimper and demand he be put down. No longer would the safety of the cart do. I immediately obliged, removing the buckle from his mid- section, and gently placing him on the tiled floor next to his older brother. We began to walk to the final section of items I would need to purchase before leaving, my two children peacefully and politely holding hands.
And then it happened. Drawn like moths to a flame, my two boys had discovered the cookie aisle. Shelves were lined with various packages advertising bizarre flavor combinations. Bear shapes and fish crackers called out to my children, all begging to be placed in to small sets of hands and instantly devoured. The toddler eagerly broke from his brother’s grasp, waddling like a determined penguin to the Oreo section, his favorite cookie. He grabbed a package and made a bee-line for our cart, dropping the package forcefully inside, likely breaking each sandwich cookie as it fell to it’s demise. As my six year old chattered beside me, I grabbed the package from the cart, and placed it back on to the shelf nearest my arm. “No sweetie, that’s not how we treat cookies. You have to place them in gently.”
It was a standoff. He did not care that I was trying to teach him a valuable life lesson. In his eyes, the prize for which he had worked so hard and successfully had secured without any help from his mother or brother was dismissively being removed from the cart, and he was not interested in explanations. He wanted cookies. He glared with hazel eyes directly at me, and then screamed, a shout so forceful that I wanted to wince. I moved my six year old inward, out of the way of oncoming carts, asked him to hold on to the handle, and immediately dove toward my ball of fury, trying to calm him while grabbing a new package of cookies. “Here, see, a new package?” I pleaded. “We can put these in and you can eat one when we get home.” He writhed and cried, throwing his head back repeatedly and striking my chin with his fist as anger coursed through his being, a scene comparable to a clip from the Exorcist. I scooped him up in my arms, the cookie package trapped between us and all of the cookies at this point likely broken, my six year old and other patrons watching in horrified awe. My eyes began to burn as I felt the warmth of tears well in each corner. Surely it wouldn’t be helpful for mom to have a breakdown in addition to her children in the middle of the Target grocery section.
I moved us, cart, older child, cookie package, writhing toddler and all, to a more secure location, out of the way of foot traffic, and set my child down. His flushed face was streaked with the dried remnants of tear trails, the only evidence of his meltdown several small spots of moisture on the front of his Disney character adorned shirt. Away from the source of his frustration, I held him tightly, and his warm breaths brushed my neck until he had finally calmed. We pulled away from one another, staring in to each others eyes, and smiled. As his brother came to stand next to us, we, a dysfunctional pair of three gazed at one another, and burst in to laughter. The moment had passed.
Life with two children can at times certainly be difficult, and can feel like navigating the cookie aisle every day. We have to choose which battles should be fought, and which we should forgive. In this case, my children and I walked toward the bakery to retrieve two new treats and then headed for the check out line..and in case you were wondering, those crushed Oreos still tasted just like fully intact cookies.