So the other day my toddler and I went to Whole Foods. We were in good spirits and another momma, having just finished loading her car, kindly offered her empty cart with the cool red Police kid car attached to the front of the cart. I happily accepted and thought: “Great! My daughter will love riding in this and it’s saved us the trouble and time of finding a cart before going into the store.”
Unfortunately, despite having ridden in a car cart before for Daddy, this time, my 20 month old, stubbornly refused. She was happy to lazily play with the steering wheel(s), as if we had no where to go and nothing to do, but she was *NOT* going to get in the cart car.
At first I tried to entice her with the wheel and the buckles, I explained to her that she could easily do the buckles (she loves clicking buckles together) but she dug her heels in and refused to get in. When I tried to sit her in the seat she laid down on the parking lot pavement in full tantrum.
My ego began to swell. I realized that in the rear-view mirror the mama that had been so kind as to offer the car cart could see that I was not in control of the situation. Probably every soul in the parking lot could see I was not in control of the situation. Good mothers are supposed to be in control, right?
I was not in control.
My ego flushed about as beet red as I imagine my face might have been. I tried to breathe deeply, but it wasn’t easy. I thought the car cart was a great solution, obviously it was not according to my 20 month old…
Moments seemed unending as I tried to figure out how to best solve this problem. As I breathed I realized that momentarily I was not in control of the situation, but I could control me.
My daughter was not in control either. In fact she was even having such a hard time with her big emotions that she was not in control of her mental state. I realized she was physically safe where she was, safe next to our parked car so she wasn’t at risk for being hit by a car. I consciously let go of my ego and bent down to caress her back, I gently picked her up in my arms. I held her and kissed her tear streaked cheek as she cried.
I said: “I don’t know why you don’t want to get in the car cart. I don’t know what is wrong with it or even what you are thinking. I don’t understand, but it doesn’t really matter why, it matters that you don’t want it. I can respect your feelings even when I don’t understand why.”
My daughter prior to this had only been stringing two words at a time together, but for the first time she put together a full-force sentence in my ear, “I don’t want it!” The words were not full of venom like we think (or are taught) that a tantrum is full of, it was actually full of fear and frustration. She wasn’t trying to control me, she was scared and wanted to feel protected, she was trying to control her fear and her emotions and she was failing, so she was lashing out at me because she was struggling.
I held her and said, “It’s OK, you don’t want that cart, but we do have to find a cart that you will ride in because I don’t feel safe trying to juggle carrying you and all of our groceries. Let’s put this car cart away and pick another cart.”
She calmed down, we carried the car cart to the corral and she happily accepted riding in a traditional cart without the car attachment.
We went merrily on our way shopping until during the middle of our shopping trip we came across another family with two toddlers in a different, blue car cart.
My breath caught in my throat, waiting to see what her reaction would be to this sight. I somewhat expected her to get upset and have a reverse tantrum that they were in a car cart enjoying the car while she was not. I noticed her look at the car cart and the boys, she thoughtfully paused and then looked at me, she caught my glance, looked me in the eye and reached for me to hug me tightly. She held me very tightly and I felt a sigh of relief, normally our hugs are very brief and fleeting, but this one was a good minute or two minutes long. I couldn’t bring myself to pull away because it seemed like she really needed to hug me.
It’s one of the best hugs I’ve ever gotten.
She didn’t have enough words to tell me all the things she wanted to tell me, but her hug told me volumes. She was thanking me for letting go of the why (and of my ego) and holding on to what was really important: her.
I still had to uphold our safety boundaries and expectations despite her tantrum. She didn’t just simply get to not ride in no cart at all, because that wasn’t a solution I felt comfortable or safe with, but we did find a solution that respected both of us. Most importantly, consciously letting go of my ego allowed me to hold onto her in an even deeper way. Not a connection based on control, fear, or disrespect, but out of deep love and respect. Letting go of the why and my ego, I was left holding only her.
I hope I can always remember to do that. I hope she knows I’ll always try to let go of my ego, my burdens and really hold her. I hope she can do the same for her children, one day.