Saturday, March 6, 2010

Parental Theatre

Parental Theatre

I realized something March 4th at the Panera Breads on Church Street in Evanston at approximately 12:30p. If you were there at that time then I ask you to take a good long look at yourself. I was with my dear two and a half year old Audra in yet another attempt to convince myself that it’s possible to take her to lunch right before her naptime.

Whenever I lunch with Audra I’m aware that our time is limited. Whatever she is eating is the only thing that keeps her still for an extended period of time. I’m like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz when she’s locked in the Wicked Witch’s castle and she stares hopelessly at the sand in the hour glass knowing as soon as it is empty her fate is sealed. While I eat my food I keep one eye on whatever she is eating with a lower grade version of Dorothy’s desperation. If she finishes before I do I’ll either 1) be forced to eat much faster than I’d like or 2) be forced to get a to-go box for the rest of my meal.

Unless I am with someone who is able to keep Audra interested while I eat there is just no point in trying to fight the pending battle. Audra likes to move and wiggle, wander and climb. On an average day she risks her life at least four times. In a restaurant the potential for danger is high so once she is out of her seat it is pretty much time to go. Plus, I don’t want her behavior to interrupt other patrons. I’m not one of those parents convinced that everyone wants to be around my child. I try to anticipate the point where she is no longer a cute distraction to other adults and leave them with their peace.

That being said, I’d appreciate a little consideration on the part of the adults I am trying to protect. In public I am currently a sight to behold. I am approximately nineteen months pregnant and although I like to think that the signature scarves I wear around my neck camouflage my stomach I am quite huge. There is no mistaking that I am a big ole pregnant lady already blessed with a very active child. One might think I would be spared from nasty sideway glances as Audra starts to get agitated. One might look with empathy and give a woman a break or some aid. Apparently, not.

Here is what I realized. People like to watch the theatre of parenting when they are not parents or if they are parents on leave from their own charges. It so easy to sit in the balcony, look down and judge that fat lady wrestling with a little girl who is practicing her right to civil disobedience by going limp and falling to the floor like a sixties protester while whining or screaming or both. Somehow the notion of helping said fat lady doesn’t occur to any of these folks as they drink their drinks and slurp their soups.

When in the throes of battle, it is intrinsic to a two-and-half-soon-to- be-big-sister’s knowledge base to make it impossible for her Mother to lift her. When she dissolves to the ground in a fit, my bending over to lift her would likely result in a face plant where I’d sprawl across her, crushing her with my girth while smooshing my unborn child. Nobody needs to see that, do they?

I admit I might be taken aback if a stranger walked up to us in one of those moments and tried to help. Their approach would determine how I would respond (I’m not asking for unsolicited advice here) but I’ve never had the chance to gage what I’d do because nobody every offers as much as a sympathetic glance. At least nobody at the Panera Breads on Church Street in Evanston on March 4, 2010 at approximately 12:30p lifted a bagel in my direction.

Here’s a question:

“People of The Evanston Panera on Church Street! Why didn’t anyone offer to help me get her to her feet? I know there were Mother’s disguised in business clothes who at least once in their lives were in the exact same predicament as me. Why did you look around and over us sneaking glances but never look directly into the eye of our storm!? I know! Because even though a child throwing a tantrum in a restaurant interrupts your plans for lunch, there is another part of you who secretly enjoys the entertainment value of watching somebody else’s torture. In this case a defenseless pregnant Mother. It’s the same reason we get stalled in traffic by a gaper’s block and shows like 48 hours and Dateline are so popular! Why else would those “To Catch a Predator” exposes have been so highly rate? We love an ugly scene as long as it isn’t ours! Shame on you! Shame! Shame!” Boy it was good to get that off my chest!

Now I realize people aren’t all bad. We wouldn’t have the type of money raised for Haiti or a strong volunteer force in this country or any other feel good stories about stranger’s lending a hand that are featured at the end of the local news if people weren’t inherently good. The problem is that as parents we haven’t given people (outside family or paid employees) the permission to help us even though we desperately need it.

Giving permission would involve telling the truth about how difficult parenting can be and how almost nobody gets it right on a regular basis. I know there were people in that Panera whose inner dialogue included, “My God, can’t she control her own child?” If they’d asked me directly my answer would have been, ”No, I can’t control my own child! Isn’t that obvious? You have way more of a chance of getting her to do what I want her to do. Try! Go ahead and see!”

Giving permission would mean that I wouldn’t play a part in the Parental Theatre by performing the role of the “Patient Mother” who speaks in low calm tones and gets down to her daughter’s level (when I can manage) in order to gently hold her face and look her right in the eyes. In life, I do try to be that Mother but in certain instances it is nearly impossible to keep all those components together. Instead of indicating to anyone around me that I’m about to lose it, I project a serene demeanor and a sweet smile for anyone who catches my eye. Maybe they think I’ve got it under control due to my bravura performance. Well, I don’t.

One of the things that works the best when it comes to getting Audra to step in line is when I warn her with, “Aunt Gina wouldn’t like that ,” or “Ann and Del won’t allow your Princess slippers in class so you need to leave them at home.” Any time I warn her with another authority figure’s opinion of her there is an immediate change in her behavior. Do you think she’d give a hooey if I say I don’t want her to wear them? Heck no!

There are child experts who would say, “Good job, Mom. She ignores you because she feels safe and secure with you and knows you won’t abandon her, blah, blah, blah.” Great! In the meantime, I. Need. Help. The saying, “It takes a village,” is the right idea but the word village indicates people we know. I advocate that it takes a community: sometimes a community of people we don’t know.

So, if you see a black very pregnant woman with a light skinned, curly haired two and half year old girl having at it at PANERA in Evanston or a book store or grocery store I promise I won’t be offended. I’ll be grateful. Ask how you can help and I will tell you. “Get her to her feet, please.” “Find a way to make her laugh.” “Take her for a few hours and I’ll call you later.” What!?

Now, I feel exposed and hope others feel the same lest this is all proof that I am a bad Mother and everyone else can control their children and I’ll be hearing from child welfare soon. Truth begets vulnerability. I am exposed but maybe next time a pregnant Sister will get a hand.

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