I heard him before I saw him.
As I rounded the corner into the dairy section of the grocery store, I saw a preschool-age boy really giving his mom a piece of his mind. He had gotten so worked up that he’d thrown his shirt. He was really hulking out.
It’s cold in the dairy section, but this little dude was alternating between throwing his shirtless body against the milk coolers and shaking the cart that held his baby sister. All the while, he was yelling, “I don’t want to be here. I want to go. Now!!”
He meant it. He was done. His mom, though, was unfazed. I’m not sure if she was just a naturally calm mom or if she had some special training in de-escalating conflict situations, but she was as cool as a cucumber.
At one point, as he was plastered against the glass door, wailing and shaking, she calmly said, “Please move. Mommy needs her coffee creamer.”
Truer words have never been spoken. Mommy was really going to need that coffee creamer, because she was doing important work that required stamina and diligence.
She was teaching a child how to live with disappointment. She was showing him that things won’t always go his way and that he will nonetheless survive. She was teaching him that the world doesn’t owe him indulgence of his every whim. She was shaping him into a reasonable human being.
As I walked by, I gave her a mom-solidarity smile. She smiled back, but she didn’t look embarrassed. She also didn’t apologize, which I loved. She didn’t have anything to apologize for—she’s just trying to not raise an entitled son.
In the past few weeks, when things haven’t gone my way, I’ve thought of this little boy hulking out. I’m not inclined to physical outbursts, though the image of me shirtless and wailing at the grocery store is both terrifying and hilarious. Instead, I have been crying in closets a good bit. When trying to explain to my patient and steady husband what precisely is wrong with me, I’ve ended up saying both mean things and things that I don’t mean. I’ve been raging against outcomes that have disappointed me.
It’s safe to say that I’ve been emotionally hulking out.
I think it’s hard to figure out when I’m supposed to accept the way things are and when I’m supposed to work towards change. This is truest for me when I am disappointed for the people that I love. When I see them hurting, I want to move mountains and topple kingdoms to ease their pain, whether they’ve asked for my assistance or not.
The good news is that I’m not new to being a mom or a wife or a sister or a friend. I know from experience that people usually survive when things don’t go their way. Not only do they survive, most people regroup and make a plan and change expectations and keep going. Most people get stronger.
One of my favorite quotes comes from Reynolds Price’s character, Kate Vaiden. She says, “Strength just comes in one brand. You stand up at sunrise, greet what they send you and keep your hair combed.”
Coffee creamer helps, too.