When I started blogging (lo’, those many weeks ago) I had two goals in mind. The first was to work towards a state of catharsis and reduced stress by working out the typical frustration and anxiety that every parent experiences through the typed word. The other was to hopefully do my small part to help my fellow parents with the same by setting an example that would illustrate to them precisely what NOT to do when attempting to balance work, marriage, and the domestication of small wild animals. This would allow them to feel like they truly have their act together in comparison.
Case in point:
We decided a while ago that our best option for daytime care for the children was Mama Angel herself. Not only was it a better option for Footloose considering his unique needs, but it would also help us out financially. Even going from full-time to part-time, we still come out ahead without the cost of Toddler Day Prison. Unfortunately the drawback is that it also means that we hardly ever have any time where the whole family unit is able to be together in the same place at the same time. When I’m working, she’s at home with the boys. I have weekends off, but she ends up working the full weekend. Basically our time together is a quick status report, prayer for whoever’s on child duty, and high-five as we pass each other in the hall. We realize this is temporary until both the lords are full-time school age, but it still quite frankly sucks. Which is what lead me to probably the single dumbest decision I have ever made in my life, which is really saying something.
“Hey, honey”, I said, not realizing that I was about to sign myself up for the most horrific, anxiety-filled two hours and forty-five minutes of my life, “why don’t the boys and I drop you off at work? We’ll walk you into the store, say “hi” to everyone who’s been asking the boys, and then I’ll take them to the food court for some dinner and down to the play area until it’s time to come pick you back up”.
Naturally, she loved the idea. So did Footloose and Roundbottom. When we informed them we were going to the mall, Footloose promptly engaged in celebratory dance, and Roundbottom ran to get his crocks, bringing them back to me and shouting, “Olaf shoes!” (Translation: “Here is the footwear you provided depicting the charming animated character from that movie we make you watch ten times a day. Strap them on me so we can get this party started”).
I’m feeling pretty good about myself at this point. We get a little extra time together as a family, the stir-crazy children are getting out of the house, and I get the opportunity to educate them on proper behavior when going out, which is especially important for Footloose, being autistic. I took a moment to pride myself on my event planning skills.
You know what comes before a fall, right?
So, I load up the ol’ manly diaper bag (the black one that with the over the shoulder chest strap that doesn’t look like a purse an old lady hangs off her arm at church), get the children in the car, and we’re off. “Let It Go” (Roundbottom’s jam, btw) is on repeat, the children are excited, and Mama Angel is smiling and holding my hand as we drive, delighted for the time together. We get to the mall, unload the kids who actually listen to us when we tell them to not run out into the parking lot traffic once their feet hit the ground, and make our way inside without incident. It was glorious.
And then the troubles began.
You see, there were a couple important things I had neglected to factor in when concocting my grand plan for the evening. The first is that Footloose had not been having the best day. There are days where he will burst out into frustration and tears for no immediately discernible cause. Turns out, he had been having that kind of day while Daddy Dumbass was completely oblivious, working at the office. Another important consideration I hadn’t made is that the boys don’t react too well when we are out together and one of us makes an exit. Just as at home they expect their wants and needs to be met in a timely and efficient matter, which actually requires all hands on deck when making an excursion. So, taking that into account, what do you think happened when I took them by the hand and lead them out of the store so Mommy could start working?
Toddler meltdown, that’s what.
Footloose immediately broke into a wail that attracted the attention of everyone between Sears and Macy’s. As I tried to get him to pick himself up off the ground and make the twenty-mile trek to the food court, his wailing only intensified. “Buddy”, I whispered to him, trying to maintain my calm while my heart was pumping like a Lars Ulrich drum solo, “it’s okay. We’re gonna come back to get Mommy in a little bit. We’re just gonna go have some chicken (nuggets) and fries and go play until it’s time. What can Daddy do to calm you down?”
This is when the child sniffled and reached both arms up, the Footloose way of saying, “Lift me upon your shoulders and carry me through my torment”. Kind of like this:
Knowing this was the only hope to comfort him and end my public humiliation, I threw him on top of my shoulders. I held onto him by throwing my right arm across his right leg while holding onto his left ankle by hand. I then took Roundbottom’s hand with my left. He cooperated. He understood that there was a promise of food.
Finally, we make our way to the Food Court. My luck held, because there were only five people ahead of us in line at what had to be the slowest moving “restaurant known as “M”” in the free world. The wailing had stopped, but once again I had miscalculated. You see, when you put a child on your shoulders, and all you’re doing is standing in line, that child quickly becomes bored. It is at that time that the child will start to entertain himself by using your head as a bongo. Which he did. When that lost its appeal he then resorted to sticking his finger so far in my ear that he must have been searching for the brain that so obviously wasn’t there. To my credit, I ignored the searing pain and did not throw him from my shoulders like an enraged bull at the rodeo. All this while I was trying to corral Roundbottom, who had decided that he should be anywhere but next to me as instructed. Just as I was about to go Regulator on their little butts, our food was ready. There was no vodka in my sweet tea as requested.
After the arduous task of getting them to sit still and eat the food that they had actually requested, we made our way down to the first floor, where the Mall Choo-Choo lives. You’ve probably seen these. Their adorable little kid-sized trains that adults have to shell out three bucks a pop to ride in for the joy of trying to contort themselves to fit into something that was never meant to accommodate their size. Knowing that it would eat up precious time and keep them entertained, I paid for two trips. “Thank you, Jesus” I thought to myself, “this should keep them contained for at least 20 or 25 minutes”.
The ride lasted 10 minutes. Footloose had another meltdown 2 minutes in.
At this point, I felt as if I were on the verge of utter defeat. My last hope was the little mall play area, that delightful little closed-in germ factory that desperate parents rush their children to so they can then spend the next 45 minutes to an hour escaping into their smartphones. Fun fact – I don’t have a smart phone. I also tend to circle the two of them like a vulture to insure that they don’t pounce on some unsuspecting child in a burst of good-natured yet potentially terrifying or harmful friend-making. To his credit, Footloose did not pounce on a child in an effort to make friends.
He went for the blonde lady sitting a foot down from me.
He went right up to her, greeted her with his customary dance (kind of like a peacock strutting), and then latched on to her leg in a manner that would get a grown man thrown into jail for assault. Fortunately, this was a very kind woman who smiled and assured me that he was precious and that she wouldn’t be pressing charges. Still, I’m a firm believer in personal space, so I took him aside and directed him to a tic-tac-toe flipboard on the wall in an effort to divert him from jumping on anyone else.
This is when I noticed Roundbottom face-down, laying flat on the bench on the opposite side of the play area, apparently being harassed by two little girls he dwarfed in size. Apparently, they had been playing “Monster Lion” and chasing each other all over the place until he decided to resort to his favorite defensive posture aka “The Ostrich Position”. Keeping an eye on Footloose, I moved toward them when I noticed the mother of one of the girls admonishing her for frightening him. I smiled and assured her that such was not the case, as this was his typical reaction when he was the chased instead of the chaser, informing her, “he is totally fine. Trust me, we don’t call him the Master Thespian for nothing”.
This is when the mother of the other little girl stared at me and said, “what was that word you used??”
Now I don’t want to jump to conclusions, but there’s only one word I can think of that rhymes with “thespian” and would potentially offend a woman, especially with the din of the play area making the word almost impossible to actually hear. If you haven’t figured out the word, it starts with “L” and ends with “I prefer the company of other women”.
Trying not to panic, I replied, “thespian. It’s another word for actor”. “Oh”, she responded, giving me a look that seemed to signify that I had just barely avoided an extremely explosive reprimand. At this point, I pulled my phone out. It HAD to be time to go get Mama Angel by now.
From the time we dropped her off to almost offending the woman sitting across from me, it had only been an hour and a half. We had another hour and 15 minutes to go.
Einstein and his Theory of Relativity can kiss my pasty-yet-shapely @$$.
Turning my attention back to Footloose, it was obvious that he had had enough by now. In a moment that still haunts me and serves to make me feel like the lowest form of scum on the planet, he looked at me and said, “go home?” (Translation: “Enough is enough. All I’ve ever done is love you. Why the hell have you decided to put me through this hell?”).
I had the best intentions. I honestly thought it would be good for him, and that he’d enjoy it. This is why no one ever asks me to plan things. Still, we couldn’t leave yet. We had the car which means we had to stay and wait for Mommy. Plus, I had no idea how to extricate Roundbottom. Contrarily to his brother, he was having a ball being chased by those girls (the sight of which worries me about how he’ll be when he hits puberty).
Then an idea flew into my funnel. I noticed something, something that would potentially be my salvation in all its red-colored, Dalmatian stickered glory: a double-seated fire truck mall stroller, one big enough to accommodate the both of them. There is nothing in this world that Roundbottom responds to like varying modes of transportation, and Footloose loves to be wheeled around a place, taking in the sights. Perfection! All I had to do was get one!
Unfortunately, that meant going to the other side of the mall, where I noticed the stroller corral at one of the entrances. “Okay”, I thought to myself, “you are a warrior. You can do this!”. With the promise of a ride in the “awesome fire-truck” Roundbottom quickly ditched the ladies and grabbed his shoes. Footloose again insisted on a shoulder ride which was quickly granted. With that we, crossed the 10 mile distance to the stroller corral.
Only to find that it only had the single-seated strollers. The kindly mall-cop informed me that the double-seated strollers were on the top floor.
In the Food Court. Where we started this nightmare.
Gritting my teeth, we began our long journey. Footloose had decided that since he had no luck finding anything when he stuck his finger in my left ear, it was time to move on to the right. Ignoring the pain, I slowly trudged on. The guy at the Verizon Kiosk stepped out to make his pitch. I gave him a look that assured him he was about to meet his ancestors. He quickly got the hint and stepped back. We trudged on. Roundbottom slipped my hand and went straight for the stuffed Pikachu on display outside the Build-A-Bear, deepening my hatred for the Pokémon property and all those who support it. I managed to grab his hand back just in time and pull him away while he strongly voiced his objections. We trudged on.
Step by agonizing step, inch by excruciating inch, we final managed to make our way to the second floor and the double-seater corral. At this point I didn’t even give a damn that the mall was going to fleece me seven bucks to rent a glorified stroller for half-an-hour. I paid the fee, plopped them in the seats, and continued on. Finally, finally we appeared to be in the home stretch.
That’s when Footloosegave me the look and asked “go home” (Translation: “You will take me out of this four-wheeled prison and care for me in the manner appropriate for someone who has decided it’s okay to torture the first-born child who just this morning gave him a hug without even asking”):
So, back on the shoulders he went, and there I was, doing laps around the mall with one child on my shoulders, the other in the “awesome fire-truck”, and a deep need to explore the decisions in my life that brought me to that moment. Finally, after 500 laps, we got Mama Angel, got in the car, went home, and put the kids to bed. I then collapsed on the bed and shredded my man-card by gently weeping myself to sleep.
The lesson here, friends, is that no matter how much you plan, or how well you think you can predict your children, you can’t. All you can do is your best to provide your children with opportunities to enjoy themselves doing those things they don’t normally get to do at home, and learn how to get along with people outside of the family. It will be hard. It will be painful. It is also necessary so that they develop the social skills and consideration they need to be valued and respected member of society.
That said, it is also crucial to understand and respect your limitations. Outings with toddlers generally require a man-on-man approach as opposed to a zone defense. I’ll never again be so foolish. I would rather walk into a Hell’s Angels meeting dressed in drag with a sign reading “Motorcycle Boyz Rev Me UP” then EVER go through that experience again.
Learn from my mistakes people. I promise, if you’re wise enough to bear witness to my mistakes and act to do the opposite, not only will you and your children be able to rest much easier, you will also make all of the self-inflicted torment I have endured worthwhile. Bless you.