My Child’s A Person (and last I checked, so am I.)

When you go to WalMart on a Sunday afternoon, you’re kind of asking for it.

When you go to WalMart on the Sunday of back-to-school week, you deserve everything that can and will befall you.

(And no, I’m not beyond going to WalMart on most days. I’m sorry to disappoint you. If ever you visit us, you are free to avoid any beverages or treats I may offer. You may also want to stay off all of our area rugs and not compliment our wall “art.”)Today, it took approximately 23 seconds for it to dawn on me that we- the sleep-deprived, toddler and myself- had unknowingly walked ourselves into suburban mayhem. I should have made a sharp turn at the produce/pizza stand and retraced my steps back to the car, but I didn’t, for reasons that I’m positive will make you shake your head, put away your laptop, and turn on Law and Order: SVU…

You see we just moved and we have a lot more space; some to stretch out and flop around in and some to fill.  The pantry is one of the “fill” stations. Never having a pantry before we put two and two together and figured we should “stock up.” For what? I don’t know.  And though I rolled my eyes when Marc exclaimed, “we can buy in bulk!!!” a piece of my heart began racing at the idea of bringing home a container of extra-virgin olive oil that weighs more than my daughter.

So off I went with an empty cart, a pretty sad dream, and a very tired toddler. We loaded up on toilet paper and paper towels, diapers and baby wipes. If we could get our grubby little hands on it, it went in the cart. We paced the meat and poultry section, as we usually do, trying to meal plan on the fly then getting so cold that we had to do a lap and return. And somewhere during that lap, the lack of sleep finally got to Zo and she became that wailing child in WalMart, which made me the mother of that wailing child in WalMart.

And there was really nothing I could do. I tried squeezable packets of food but that only fueled the fury that was let loose when we were “ahhh duh” (all done) and to be fair, I’d feel the same way about a meal that involved so little chewing .  I averted glances that had once fallen so kindly on my little angel and sped through the aisles in an attempt to lull her into sleep the way the car does. It was logic for a desperate time.

At one point I left Zo next to the bananas so that she could see them and smell them but not grab them while I walked to the sweet potatoes. Appropriately, she went totally ape and I almost did the same. During my getaway to the yams, a woman approached a beyond belligerent Zoey with a message for me, “Ohhhh Mommy better be careful! Someone might just steal you away!”, and without missing a beat I shot back, “My condolences to her kidnapper.”  Immediately flooded with guilt, I rushed back to Zo’s side where I covered her in kisses and reassured her of my undying love in every language I know.

By the time we reached the cereal aisle, I was trying to sell her to a woman with only three (visible) teeth.

These minutes where I feel like I’m on the edge between overwhelming love and just plain overwhelm bring me back to some of the more anxious periods of childhood or as my family fondly refers to it, “Katie’s childhood.” For several years I was convinced of a few things: 1) I had been adopted and no one was telling me. This was karmic, stemming from when I told my younger brother mom and dad had bought him off a boat as a baby. When he responded, “Then I bet they bought you too!” I laughed it off then fell into shock as the absurd possibility of this dawned on me. 2) My parents were going to get divorced. I knew at least two kids on our street whose parents had separated so it seemed inevitable and apparently contagious. Around their 25th wedding anniversary this fear started to cool its heels. 3) Our tiny New England town was due for a tornado and we were all just poking at the odds by not building more secure cellars and keeping provisions on hand. I’m also convinced that my constant need to process the likeliness of these fears drove my parents to buy a timeshare and start regularly taking “grown up vacations” that sometimes my brother was invited along on. This just gave the babysitter and me more time to get the basement prepared.

One Sunday night as I began winding up for the next morning’s full blown panic attack, I laid heavily into my mom about the possibility that I had been adopted. She must have spent at least an hour humoring me, reassuring me that she had been there when I was born and I could trust her memory. I think my eight-year-old self responded “yeah but you had an epidural so not really.” We have since filed that one under, “Things That Will Come Back to Bite You in the Ass Both Figuratively and Literally.” Not surprisingly, her next answer in my continued adoption investigation was and calm and serious, “No, you were not adopted but I’m definitely considering putting you up for it now.” And thus, my fear of being given away was born.

I can remember several times when these lines were crossed for and by both my mother and myself. Times when I was hurried along or when my mom made it very well known that I had hurt her feelings. And while I am sure she took ten and did some deep breathing most of the time, she also made it clear from an early age that she wasn’t just “mama” she was a person too. It was never my responsibility to validate her personhood or make her feel good. It was my job to recognize that she was human and imperfect and still worthy of being seen and heard even when I didn’t “get” her.

I have read and found and been told so much about how fragile a child’s psyche is. How I alone determine the make up of my daughter’s soul and its resiliency. The Huffington Post blows up my FaceBook timeline every day with articles about things I must never or always say to my daughter, things I have to give up this second to ensure her wholeness, and things I must rise above. I nod along with so much of this and “AMEN!” anything that encourages a slowing down and a getting out of the game. But I do not think the first year (or twenty) of parenthood is going to be what gets me beatified. I don’t think these are my most centered and true years. In fact I have never felt this uncharted before! So no, I’m not going to pretend through “always” and “never” promises that I have a clue as to what the moral of this story is.

When I’m an old woman (I will wear purple..) I will write from all the wisdom I was given through motherhood. Until then I’ll keep writing and letting Zo and others see how off course I might me. I’ll also make sure to remember and show that Zoey is really OK despite my imperfection. And at the end of the day I’ll throw whatever change I have into Zoey’s piggy bank, which we all know is her therapy fund.



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