When we have conflicts with our children (“conflict”…who am I kidding…more like screaming hysterical confusion), it is rarely over the thing we are railing about. The car seat battle of ours this morning? Not about the car seat.
It’s about both of you — your three year old and your ridiculous, 46-year-old-should-know-better self — reverting to your primitive, “reptile” brains, where higher brain functions like rational thought and empathy simply don’t exist.
That’s why your basic, big-toothed reptile (think alligator) will mindlessly chomp your leg off without giving it a second thought. Chomp. Chew. Swallow. Stare mindlessly into space. How easy to be an alligator. No guilt. No sympathy. Just straightforward, undiluted, cold-blooded gut instinct.
How hard to be people, with our species confusion. Part reptile. Part mammal. Sure, we’ve evolved, abandoned the swamp and learned to cuddle and suckle and use napkins and drive cars.
But it’s not that long ago, evolutionarily, we were swamp bound. And it’s been hardly the blink of a crocodile’s eye that every one of us had lizard-like derrieres and somersaulted in our private amniotic swamp.
This morning, I woke Sam and Molly at 8:00. Sam needed to get to school on time (8:30…a 12 minute ride from our house). But I let him sleep so ridiculously late because he has standardized testing today, and I wanted him to get as much sleep as possible. (What about breakfast? Unless it’s chocolate chip pancakes, which I hadn’t had the foresight to make, he refuses to eat it anyway.) Molly hadn’t napped yesterday, or the day before, and needed every minute of rest she could get. But waking them at 8:00 when we have to leave at 8:15?
Stupid, yes. But wait. More Motherly stupidity follows. Molly, who didn’t nap yesterday because our new loud phone woke her just as she was falling asleep, was such a good girl, though, and helped me get her dressed in minutes after waking so late.
We were almost out the door by 8:10 (I thought: I’ll get her breakfast after I get Sam and Lucy, his carpool schoolmate, to school), until she announced she wanted to make her lunch. Uh-oh.
She always wants to make her lunch. I love this about her. She’s independent and capable and only three. But in order to save time this morning I packed it myself. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Why didn’t I wake her 15 minutes earlier so she could make lunch with me?
When she learned what I had done, Molly became hysterical. When Molly becomes hysterical, she shrieks so loudly glass trembles and dogs wail. I tried being logical, which is the dumbest possible thing when you have a wailing three-year-old. “We can’t make your lunch now. We’ll come home and do it after we take Sam and Lucy to school !”
Didn’t work. So I tried being authoritarian, which works almost as well as being logical.
Then I became the brute, and picked her up and carried her to the car. Incredibly, she transformed herself into a wet trout, and no man or woman could have strapped such a writhing creature into a five-point car seat.
“Stop. It. You HAVE to get in your car seat!” I say, as I (gently, but firmly), press my head into her abdomen in an attempt to bend her into the seat.
“No!!!!!!!” wails Molly. “I want to pack my lunch NOW!” She will not be bended. She will not be folded. Or strapped. Or forced.
Sam, my eleven year old, begins yelling, “Mom, mom, you’re being too mean. Don’t do that.” And even though by that point it’s 8:22 and we’re going to be late, I stop and walk away and sit on the front steps and cry alligator tears. Time out for me.
By the time I get back to the car, Sam has strapped Molly into her car seat and nobody is crying. Sam patiently explains to me that in times like these, yelling and brute force and lecturing don’t work. You have to tell a “white lie” to convince her to get going.
He had told her a complicated and unlikely story about needing to get our house key at his school so we could get back into our house to repack her lunch. So I followed Sam’s lead and when we got to his school, late of course, we mimed him running into the front school door and back out to hand me the magical key.
I drove Molly home, we unpacked her lunch and then repacked it, ate a quick breakfast, and got to her school 20 minutes late, and I got to my meeting 35 minutes late.
And now that it’s 1:10 and everyone is where they need to be, none of our lateness seems to matter at all.
All that matters is that hours later, the fact that I was a raging brute, with nothing to show for it (nobody was on time, nothing was accomplished), hangs heavy as I get ready to collect my children at school.