by Meagan Francis
Last week, my niece, my four younger children (eldest is away at violin camp, where I hope he will either decide to dedicate himself to the instrument with renewed zest, or realize it’s not for him and save us the monthly rental fee) and I headed to the county fair.
I did the organized mommy thing and carefully planned the trip: rides first, then lunch, then animal exhibits, then commercial building.
I did the frugal mommy thing and packed PBJ sandwiches, fruit, a big bottle of water and some cups.
I did the protective mommy thing and slathered everyone with sunscreen (in spite of hearty protests).
And all the prep appeared to be paying off. A couple of hours into the fair trip, everything was going fantastically. Everyone had rationed out their ride tickets carefully and there was no whining when they were all gone. All children had happily eaten the home-packed meal and there was only one small whine for a corn dog, which was quickly squelched when I got us a few brownie-ice cream sundaes from the United Methodist food tent. (Those Methodists and their baked goods beat carny elephant ears—and that’s saying a lot).
On a whim, I decided that we should go to the free circus, starting at 4 PM. Was I tempting the fates? Perhaps. Nobody else seemed that into going to the circus. I, myself, do not really enjoy circuses. But it was free, it was there, it just seemed like something we should do. So at 3:30, we started heading over to the grandstand, by way of the bathrooms.
I’d taken Owen into the bathroom with me a half hour earlier and it had proven to be a hassle. The lines for the women’s room were out the door and wrapping around the side of the building. But he insisted he had to go again, and I know better than to ignore the pleas of tiny little boys and their tiny little bladders.
This posed a certain dilemma, however: Jacob, who’s almost 13, is usually my go-to men’s-room chaperone, but he wasn’t with us. Isaac is almost 11 and responsible, but he isn’t quite as take-charge as his older brother. Still, I decided a quick trip into the men’s room (where there was—as usual—no line at all) made sense. So Isaac, Owen, and Will, my six-year-old, headed in together, with strict instructions to stay together and help the littlest one.
And the minutes crawled by.
At first I was annoyed. Then, as five minutes became ten, I became worried. Finally I opened the door a crack and yelled in “Boys? Are you okay in there?”
“Yep!” Owen called back cheerfully. Too late I realized what he’d meant when he said he “had to go”—he was taking one of his famous record-length poops, in which he removes all his clothing and just kind of gets comfortable for the duration.
“Can one of you come out here and tell me what’s going on?”
A minute later, William appeared. “We’re just waiting for Owen, mom.” he said.
“What’s he doing?”
“I don’t know. Pooping I guess,” he said with a shrug. So helpful!
I was stuck. I couldn’t have Isaac come out to talk to me, since he was in charge of watching/helping his little brother. I asked a police officer going into the bathroom to please check on the boys. He did and told me they were fine, but offered up no other information. (Was this a poop emergency? Did it require expert wiping powers? The cop had not ascertained those details. Not that I blame him.)
All of my buttons were being pushed. I was feeling a little guilty over my decision to send the boys in together and second-guessing that decision. I was embarrassed, standing there by the men’s room door with a baby in a stroller, obviously having lost a good portion of my brood in the men’s room, much to the amusement of other families nearby.
I had made careful plans and had been careful to be punctual and organized, but had lost control of the day anyway. And even though I was pretty sure I knew exactly what needed to be done in there, I was helpless to do it. Oh, and I was hot and my feet hurt.
Guilt. Embarrassment. Loss of control. Helplessness. Discomfort. Pretty much a mom’s recipe for lashing out, huh?
You can see where this is going, I’m sure. By the time the boys finally emerged from the restroom (where it was confirmed that a Poop Emergency, the sort that requires half a roll of toilet paper, had taken place) the circus was about to start and the stands were so full they weren’t letting any more people in.
And, I’m ashamed to say, I snapped at the kids. “Just forget it. This is so ridiculous. Let’s go home!” The boys fell into line behind me, quiet and sheepish, and we walked toward the parking lot.
I took a deep breath while my brain did the math. I didn’t even care about going to the circus, and neither did any of the kids. Owen couldn’t help it that he had to poop. He also couldn’t help it that this was a particularly, umm, high-maintenance poop. It wasn’t Isaac’s fault, nor could he be expected to deal with a poop emergency the way Mom would. William was just the messenger. Why, exactly, was I angry?
Yes, it would have been better if I’d hashed this out before I lashed out, but what can I say: I’m human, I mess up. But now, I had a choice. I could either decide the day was ruined and sink into the irritation and anger. Or I could decide to override that small, momentary blip and end the outing on a good note.
So I took another deep breath, forced a cheery tone, and said “Who wants to check out the RV’s before we go?” The kids enthusiastically said ‘yes’, so we stopped and checked out no fewer than two dozen campers and motorhomes. It was the most fun we’d had all day, deciding who would sleep where, what we’d cook in the little kitchens, where we’d travel, how long it would take us to raise the $80,000 to get the decked-out beauty we loved the best.
If I’d decided to hunker down and stay mad, I’d have missed it. And so would my kids.
Sometimes it’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling like we’re stuck trudging along whatever path we’re on. Maybe you’ve committed yourself to being mad or grumpy and can’t stand the thought of apologizing, admitting you were wrong, or even just letting it go—afraid you might lose face or the appearance of authority. Or perhaps it just seems too late to salvage the afternoon, the trip to the zoo, the playdate, the dinner. But it’s never too late.
There was a lot I could have done differently that day, but no matter what mistakes I made, I’m so glad to know the whole of our lives, the whole of my mothering isn’t defined by the mistakes or the missteps.
No matter what path we’re on, no matter how long we’ve been on it, we can always choose another route.
We can always save the day.
Tell us: How have you saved the day?
As a mom of five and blogger, author and writer, Meagan Francis spends the bulk of her time trying to balance kissing boo-boos with meeting deadlines (sometimes doing both simultaneously). But while life with kids is often chaotic and frustrating, Meagan believes a mother’s life can be rewarding and fun—and that all moms deserve a little more happiness. Her book The Happiest Mom: Ten Secrets To Enjoying Motherhood, will be published in partnership with Parenting magazine in April of 2011.