Sometimes you work hard trying to do the right thing and you get kicked in the balls anyway. This weekend I was reminded that parenting is often about the ship of good intentions getting dragged over the reef of reality.
My almost-four-year-old daughter is a spirited child, a laughably euphemized description of someone who can be an absolute terror at times. Child Harbat had woken up on Sunday morning and already by breakfast was barking demands, throwing herself on the floor in fake teary drama, and stomping around like a teenager. Great, I get this ten years early. Does that mean she’ll work it out of her system now instead of later? Please notice I’m not holding my breath. Now fast-forward to later afternoon at the department store during what should be a quick task: return ill-fitting pants and get the heck out. But my wife and daughter were with me which meant several things:
- Browsing for items we didn’t know we needed.
- Chasing Child Harbat through the store.
As is our custom, my wife takes the first responsibility and I the second*. CH was very tired—dark circles under her eyes and a two-minute catnap in the car—which meant she decided to run flat-out through the store. Again, hooray for the “spirited child” who goes faster as their tank runs dry. First I ignored, then I discouraged, then I requested we find Mama so we could PLEASE GO HOME NOW BEFORE I LOSE IT. Then she ran again and I stomped off with a face that said, “You will now cease this activity.” I pointed my finger at CH and told her to stop right where she was, this wasn’t a drill. I was answered with laughter, screams, and acceleration towards the women’s department. She disappeared in a sea of clothes. A three-foot girl can hide quite well in five-foot tall clothes racks. I searched for one minute and thought, “Goddammit.” After two minutes I thought, “Good, now she’ll learn the fear and consequence of getting separated from her parents.” After three minutes I went into systematic search mode. After five minutes, the checklist of child abduction: what clothes was she wearing, what was the exact time she went missing, what were my last words to her, when had I last hugged her.
Then I turned a corner and saw her back with my wife and they were both laughing and carrying on like those catty women in the Virginia Slims ads. I almost expected one to have a drink with a mini umbrella. When I came and explained my state of mind, CH laughed and bolted again, disappearing into juvenile fashion. This is when I became the minotaur, crashing through the maze in a ruthless hunt after my panicked quarry. I cornered her behind a banner proclaiming, “Fall Fashions are IT!” and tucked her under my arm like a bundle of mail. We returned to the car with our screaming and wailing spawn as my eyes crackled with electricity and people stumbled to clear a path.
In the car ride home I tried to explain that the reason I was upset is that if we couldn’t see her, someone could take her away and she’d never see us or come home again. Putting it in words sobered up everyone and we rode home in sullen silence.
Sometimes parenting isn’t fun cuddle time, it’s boot camp where you get to be both the barking drill sergeant and the recruit crawling in the mud under razor wire. You are the punisher and the punished. Unfortunately, these are the moments that define you as a parent. It’s easy when you’re sitting on the couch and reading together, but steel isn’t formed in the palm of your hand, it’s forged in the furnace, and it’s only there you can prove your worth.
* I should be fair. My wife offered to chase around CH but I’m the faster runner and she was busy looking at blouses or some such thing anyway.