Highs and Lows

I could wait to get back from San Francisco. It’d been a long three days, and as the plane touched down in Portland, I started tapping my feet and upping the antsy-ness. At three days and two nights, it wasn’t the longest I’ve been away from Thomas, but it was close.

I jumped off the plane and bolted through the airport, swerving around meandering passengers. I love the new arrival area at PDX … you walk through glass doors into a bright, wide-open space filled with expectant parents, grandparents, friends and, if you’re lucky, your kiddo.

He didn’t see me at first. He was sipping on a pouch, and walking around the Starbucks tables. As he made a right turn, we locked eyes, and he went into what can best be described as a 20-month-old panic. “ALL DONE ALL DONE!” he yelled, trying to stuff the cap back on the pouch. “MAMA!”

I dropped my suitcase and walked quickly to him (running in airports always feels dangerous to me). Mere seconds later I had the sweetest reward for a week of hard work … a sweaty hug, a little drool, and a sticky hand patting my back as he said, “mama, mama, hug?” I was home, and literally nothing could be better.

Nothing, that is, until you fast forward 90 minutes. Everyone is hungry. Everyone is tired. And maybe, just maybe, we’ve spent a few too many hours at Joann’s buying stuff for the forthcoming merchandise in the shop. It is at these times that genius usually strikes, and tonight it did. My husband and I decided tonight was the night to take Thomas to his first round at Shari’s.

We snuggled into the booth with two menus and a kid’s drawing pack, and Thomas immediately set the coloring the paper. And then the menu. And then the table. It’s during these moments that the flashbacks occur, where you remember every time you’ve glared at another parent who should “just control their kid.” When the waitress took our drink order, I turned my head for two seconds. When I turned back, the window was colored in stripes of green.

“Don’t worry about it,” she said. “We have stuff that will take that right off.”

But I can’t help but worry about it. This is a learning moment, and a moment to control. I turned to Thomas, and gently said, “we don’t color on windows … if you don’t color on the paper, we are done with it for tonight,” and redirected him to the paper. Task complete, until mere seconds later, he picked up the crayon again and splashed more color across the window.

I picked him up swiftly, and swung him over my lap so he’d be on the other side of me and away from the offending window. In doing so, my child, who I swear grew at least three inches in the three days I was gone, sent my water glass flying with his kick. The entire restaurant went silent, except for Thomas who was yelling, “mine!” as he thrashed in the booth. Jake said, “do you want me to handle it?” My look could’ve killed.

In that moment, I truthfully hated myself. All I had done was pine for my kid for three days, and not two hours after we saw each other, I already wanted to go back to San Francisco, my quiet hotel room, and my newspaper before bedtime. My internal monologue was ugly. “I’m a failure. I’m impatient. I’m failing him. He’s a kid and I can’t keep my cool to make this a learning lesson. I’ve embarrassed everyone.” And so on and so forth.

It was MILES from what I expected my evening to be. Landing in Portland, I fantasized about this evening being full of sweet moments. I pictured us happily “frowing rocks,” hanging with the dog, and snuggling up to “be book.” That fantasy, however, was not to be.

My hormones, my anxiety, my depression, they all spin stories for me about what should and shouldn’t be for myself, for my life, for my family. I constantly have to recenter and remind myself that one transgression doesn’t set a whole day’s (or even a whole hour’s) path, and yes, we can bounce back. It feels impossible and scary in that moment to forgive myself, but taking a deep breath is often enough to help at least get me started.

That’s what I did tonight. I told Jake I needed a second to settle. I hugged my child. Within seconds, he was happily eating croutons and talking in garbled sentences. We ate dinner, watched our neighbor leaf blow his yard, read a few books, chased the dog … it was a good night after all.

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