It was that day. The day I managed to piss off all four kids. It started with Layla’s snarky slamming of the front door in a huff on her way to school and it ended with Liv’s matched slamming of the bedroom door on her way to bed. It was one of those days, the one I realized that I had two full-blown toddlers, and two full-blown teenagers on my hand, and the one where I ended up inadvertently turning on my windshield wipers hoping to clear my face from the sobbing tears that occur when I am just past my threshold.
It started with Layla slamming the door and my internal questioning gears spinning. Don’t be mad! I yell out to the empty doorway. When do I trust her to start making her own decisions, or would it be better if I just made them all for her? I asked the living room air, still lingering from her departure. I could blame it on the morning or her pending high school application essay that we (of course) waited until the last-minute to fill out. Her phone isn’t charged and her day’s fate a mystery, and I am too tired to care right now. It is early and I need coffee.
Do you want to go to the library? I hear myself say, unsure if it is actually a good idea. They were a little extra-toddlery this week, but maybe getting out of the house would be a good thing. Their toddler cycles (remember TMS?) must have synced in a perfect anti-parent storm that they have become lately. I should have known by the way he had to wear his rain boots, or the way I had to chase him around the car, only to have him scream at me for buckling him into his seat. Jackson do it! Ahhh. I said, Jackson. Do. It! But I took them, against my screaming inner voice, “stay home!” I took them. They ran into the library, toward the toy room, to something that stood out: a new toy, and they both wanted it. It was some sort of Lego food truck. My food!! Jackson screams and grabs some makeshift pizza out of Cece’s hand. No. Buddy. Mine. Mine mine. She grabs it from him. He screams and grabs it from her and she screams, a sound so shrill it almost broke all the library’s windows. She flops onto her belly in Exorcist rage, and starts head butting the ground getting more and more angry about the pain. Buddy no! She jumps up and smacks him in the face. Now he is screaming. A few mothers look up from their phones. I pat my back pocket phone in envy. I just wanted to answer a few emails, now I am the subject of all their “dear mom of loud toddlers “observations on Facebook. At that moment I realized I had no control: tantrum prone toddlers now outnumbered me. Cece was an asshole mimic to Jackson. Every tantrum occurred in stereo: shrill screaming stereo.
I tried to contain them. Jackson would play on the Ipads while Cece colored, or put together puzzles, or colored on puzzle pieces. She would stand on chairs, pull books out and throw them, throw crayons, color one line on each coloring sheet, walk up and pull the Minnie mouse puppet from another toddler- like she was going down the list of things not to do at the library and deliberately doing them. Look mom! I hear Jackson yell. I make a 6! He is on the ipad on the other side of the room, headphone oblivious to his volume turned up extra loud and he has kicked off his rain boots to a barely reachable corner of under the table. As I near him, he puts on his “you can’t catch me smile”, and runs across the room, weaving through stacks of books. When I get close to one, he runs the opposite way. He is really fucking fast. He runs past the kid area, into the teen area, then into the main desk area. He turns a corner too fast and glides across the lobby floor. I can finally grab him. I don’t reveal my exit plans to him- I don’t have to, it is written on my tightly clenched face. Where are your shoes? A woman asks him, he responds with more screaming. I apologize, citing abnormal behavior or teeth or hunger or demon possession, anything to indicate this is not at all a reflection on my parenting.
Back in the child area, Cece is playing with the pizza toy. I try to sneak up on her so she won’t read my plan too. Jackson wiggles out of my arms and grabs a box of wooden train tracks. He dumps them on the ground. I play with trains! He demands. Time to go home. He responds by throwing the tracks. Far. I am picking them up and trying to gather all our stuff. Where are those damn rain boots? Cece figured out the plan and mimics Jackson’s toy throwing resistance. I grab the boots, scoop up our coats, my bag and both toddlers in my arms, adjusting to accommodate possible dropping of items or toddlers. They resist by wiggling making this the hardest obstacle known to parenthood. Jackson adds to the scene by smacking me in the face, taking full advantage of my overworked hands. I drop the stuff in the lobby. It is just cold enough and I am parked just far enough that I need to stop and get us into coats. I put on the rain boots. He kicks them off. They slide off easily and go far. I tuck him sideways under my arm and get Cece’s coat on. Fucking buttons, I curse as I manage one. Good enough. I wipe the sweat from my forehead and put Cece down just long enough to get one arm in. Then I switch Jackson to the coated arm, taking a few punches along the way. I see darker shades of red with each punch. I press my face into his. STOP it now! I say to him, he screams and punches me again. I am trying to get my other hand into the coat. It is stuck on my watch. I can’t get my coat on. I take it out on Jackson by saying he was going to sit in time-out when we get home. He kicks me, realizing he has no shoes on. My boots, my boots, my boots, my boots! Both arms are punching me now. I give up on the other arm just in time to realize Cece is running toward the door, the parking lot door. A man, or better yet an Angel sent straight from heaven, holds the door closed and ushers her back to me. I smile and realize how close to tears I am. I scoop Cece up and carry them, both struggling to get free, to the car. Jackson is still yelling about his boots. I am grateful for my mother instinct to clip my keys to my belt loop and open Jackson’s door. I shove Cece in first, then Jackson. The tears are starting as I buckle him and she climbs to the front and starts honking the horn. I click the last buckle in her seat, and I can hear the library sigh in relief that I am leaving. I sit in my car. I cry in my car. I yell at them in my car, using obscenities that even I am not honest enough to admit. I continue to cry in my car the entire trip home. My hands are shaking to grip the wheel. I look in the mirror. They are both asleep.
I am still shaky when Josh gets home. I invent a mission: writing, Target run, workout-anything to help me find my lost sanity. Where are you going? Liv asks. She is sitting on the couch opposite Layla and they were spitting bicker at each other. Somewhere alone (with a beer and a pile of mozzarella sticks) I think. Headed to the grocery store. I say. She makes a face, the big sad eye face. Layla rolls her eyes and says Liv has a headache. Liv jumps up and stomps upstairs, slamming the door behind her. I stood there, shoes on, coat on, keys in hand, jaw open, trying to shake off this day: the one where all four kids turned on me.