Last week started with a last minute trip to see a college pal and her kids, followed by a trip to the Florida Aquarium. By ‘last minute’ I mean there was limited time to think through this plan and realize I would be tasked with managing my two kiddos alone for the majority of the day… in a public place! Mind you, I am a mother and have been for over four years.
However, I am also a mother who strategically places other capable adults nearby to assist in the execution of managing my kids in public. It is my parenting plan! As a FTWM I rarely have to take them anywhere by necessity. I can run errands while they’re at school and if we do anything in the evenings or on the weekends it’s always with other (brave) adults/parents.
Now this is not to say my kids are completely unruly all of the time (but there are times) or that I can’t handle my kids on my own (no sweat when they’re strapped into the shopping cart), but two kids under the age of five is no walk in the park (they’re always running). I like to think that even with my limited experience managing them on my own, I’m not alone in my belief that managing toddlers outside the home can be extremely stressful and even require drugs… wine… hard liquor!!
I digress. So, when I realized what I’d set myself up for that day, I took a deep breath and reminded myself that I’m the parent, I’m capable and I need to control only what I can control (and secretly questioned if it was too late to get a script for Xanax). The anxiety was obviously already taking root.
Our lunch meet up at Chic-fil-A went pretty good considering I had my friend and her three older kids to provide some assistance, not to mention the indoor playground (pretty much an over-sized playpen) – always a big help!
Once we said our good-byes and left for the aquarium I was mentally preparing for the task at hand. Even as I write this it sounds ridiculous that a trip to the aquarium would have me acting like I’m preparing for mortal combat, but when you are so spoiled, it is easy to understand my mental state…. PANIC!
So, we get to the aquarium right at nap time. Awesome! I unload the stroller like a pro, pack the stroller with the necessities- diaper bag, sippy cups, sunscreen, towels, swimsuits – oh yeah, they have a water play area. Super! Then I put each kid in the stroller, give them a little “talk” about listening and being mindful during our visit, and in unison, like cute little bobble heads, they nod their understanding with earnest expressions and gleeful eyes. Just the little boost I needed to forge ahead.
Wouldn’t it be lovely if the kids could stay in the stroller and just view all the fish and other sea creatures from afar? You bet! But no, of course that is not how these experiences work. And so, as I unbuckle their harnesses and again remind them to be mindful, stay near mommy, and listen to instructions, I start to feel my anxiety rise ever so slightly. My kids aren’t even out of the stroller and I’m feeling overwhelmed. Fantastic!
As luck would have it, I had no reason to be concerned about my kids’ behavior. They were in awe of all the attractions and animals and delighted in sharing their excitement with me. I also noticed they stayed near me or kept an eye on me most times and even when I called to them, 90% of the time they obediently followed my request. And yet, the anxiety was still there and growing.
I believe for the first time I realized all the things that I, as a capable or even slightly impaired parent, could not control when it comes to outings with my kids. There are two kids but a sea of people at a venue of this size: they could get lost, trampled, snatched; there are things to touch and climb and none of them soft ; they could take a tumble, bust their heads open, fall in the water; how do I watch the stroller and our valuables while also watching two kids who don’t always dart in the same direction?
And let’s not forget the grand finale: the water play area. I understand now why it is surrounded by a bar for parents to sit and drink while watching their kids frolic in the water. Talk about stress! The area was huge with several open entrances and very limited “safe” areas.
Poor Hud wanted desperately to keep up with his sister, but after no nap his innate clumsiness was at Mach levels; he busted his knee a few times before I had to take him out of action. This was not well-received and I started immediately wishing someone would bring me a drink. Then while manhandling my son, I lost sight of Kae and terror raced through me – it was only 15 seconds of her being out of view and I already had her being thrown in the back of a car and driven out of our life.
When I finally spotted her she was safely nestled in the sandbox three feet away from where I stood. Kids are so quick! While I was relieved I was still anxious and ready to find a path to relief that would not cause a scene from The Exorcist.
Fortunately for me, I was able to find a spot to quickly change the kiddos while bribing them with snacks. No shame here, although snacks will likely lead to emotional eating issues later in life… but let’s save that for another post about my challenged parenting skills.
Once we were back at the car, I packed up the kids and our gear and then sat behind the wheel with a sense of relief and accomplishment. I’d survived! We were safe in the car and not headed to the ER or police station or a bar! And then I laughed; not in relief so much as in genuine humor. That entire adventure only lasted two hours! Really?!
As we drove home I kept reflecting on the day and instead of beating myself up, I was gently reminding myself that my experience was normal even for a more experienced mom. I’m quite certain even moms who have their kids daily still experience anxiety over all the things they can’t control aside from their children; and maybe they too need a little pill to help them cope. No. Shame. In. That!
Interestingly, I recognized I was not anxious as a result of my limited parenting skills, but my inability to control everything else. As a parent, I desperately want to protect my kids and yet, I realize the best I can do is guide and influence them to be mindful and hopefully avoid harm. I can’t control everything (Oh, but how I try!).
I am constantly learning on this parenting journey and while at times I feel like I’m failing miserably (and really do need some Xanax!), I have these moments of great clarity where I think, “Yes, that’s it! I get it!”It doesn’t matter if I do it like a pro or if I lack grace in my execution. Nope. It is enough that I am there with them as they explore this world and provide as much support and opportunity for them to grow and find their own way. They are such little fish in a big, big world… but aren’t we all?