It Takes A Village

close up of teenage girl
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Fit pitching seems to run in my family. If you’re not sure what that means, it refers to over the top defiant behavior by a child between the ages of two and five. My eldest daughter was quite adept at creating embarrassing scenes both at home and in public. One summer she wore fur lined reindeer slippers everywhere because she refused to put any other type of shoe on her feet. Not even two of us were able to hog tie her so that we might force a more appropriate type of footwear onto her tiny feet. I used to marvel at her strength and wonder if perhaps I had given birth to a superhero. I finally gave up deciding that once her little toes got sweaty enough she would surely eschew the footwear designed in Norway for harshly cold winters. With a mind of her own that is evident to this very day she persisted, and I endured shaming looks and unwanted advice wherever I went.

My niece was not to be outdone. She is the child of an Anglo father and an Asian mother, a beautiful girl who very much resembles my eldest, but has definite Asian features. My mother, my more grown up and matured daughter, this niece and I were once on a shopping adventure together. My niece was still a toddler, but with three of us to help keep her happy we were certain that there would be no problems. I don’t recall what set her off, but something did and she began carrying on like a demon possessed. Her cries and screams became exponentially more insistent with each passing second until my mom wisely decided that we had no recourse but to leave the shopping behind and get her home for a nap. My niece had other ideas and resisted our efforts to move from the spot where she was entertaining a crowd of critics with reproving faces. Picking her up was a bust because she wiggled from our grasp each time we tried that maneuver. When we attempted to get her to walk she lay down on the ground challenging us to drag her if we wished to move forward. Somehow we ultimately got her to the car but not without worrying that we were going to end up in jail for kidnapping as she yelled, “You’re not my Mama! You’re not my Mama! Go away!”

My eldest grandson was not to be outdone by the ladies in the family. On one particular outing he repeated his mother’s propensity for footwear after he saw a pair of very expensive tennis shoes that he wanted to take home. When we denied his request he went into an act of rebellion that outdid anything I had ever seen. It got so bad that I actually whispered to my daughter that I would spring for the shoes if she didn’t mind. Thankfully she stood firm because she was a good mother, insisting that he had to learn that we would not be moved by a tantrum. Having grown weak as a grandmother I wasn’t as sure of her reasoning in that moment, but I ultimately felt proud of her strength of character.

The good news is that all three of these children turned out to be quite remarkable. They did exceedingly well in school and were often complimented by their teachers and other adults for being exemplary young people. My daughter graduated from the University of Texas with a business degree and now balances an accounting job with caring for a household of four young men. My niece is a Pediatrician and works at Texas Children’s Hospital while mothering three boys of her own. My grandson was an honors graduate of his high school and is studying at Texas A&M University and serving as head coach of his neighborhood swim team. All three outgrew the behaviors that had once made them appear to strangers as spawn of the devil.

I have more often than not found that very inquisitive children sometimes become intractable, especially when they are tired. They want to freely explore the world and learn for themselves without barriers. Since we adults have to guide and protect them we sometimes have to inhibit their native curiosities and desires for their own good. We find ourselves locked in a battle of wills that is exhausting and might even make us look bad to passersby.

I feel great compassion for a parent who is attempting to deal with an angry child. Sometimes the struggle becomes so public because the little one does not care that he/she is creating a disturbance. It is apparent that the adult is doing everything possible to quell the situation all to no avail. I always want to help but know that my interference will undoubtedly make things worse. All I can do is quietly send signals of support to the harried adult.

There is a hilarious video circulating on Facebook in which a quite funny woman tackles the issue that mom’s everywhere have endured. She vividly describes the scene of a mother dealing with an uncooperative child in a public place. She wonders why there always seems to be someone in the crowd who signals unrelenting disapproval for the mama, even though we all know that sometimes these things happen. She notes that our inconvenience is temporary while the parent will continue dealing with the problem at home. She wonders why we can’t all be more supportive, especially given that this is supposed to be the era of solidarity with our sisters from all over the world.

In the age of Pantsuit Nation women are doing their utmost to break glass ceilings and join one another in #MeToo moments. Why can’t we also demonstrate a bit of understanding and compassion for anyone who is dealing with a difficult toddler moment? Why do we so often become judgmental rather than helpful, when anyone who has been a parent honestly knows that there are many times when we feel totally inept and defeated by the tiny creatures that we are working so hard to raise.

I always loved my mother-in-law because whenever either of my daughters behaved badly in front of her she would smile impishly and suggest that maybe they had taken after her. She would then recall multiple stories that her elegant mother had told her about her own childhood missteps. One involved a scene in front of a downtown department store which became so heated that her mother had to give her a little swat on the fanny to get her back in line. When my mother-in-law shouted that her mother was embarrassing her the reply from her mom was, “If you embarrass me, I will embarrass you.” My mother-in-law repeated this tale rather proudly as if it conveyed the strength and conviction of her mother that she believe inspired her to become a great woman in her own right.

Next time you see a parent dealing with a seemingly bratty child, try not to judge. Instead send a vibe that let’s the weary individual know that everything will one day be amazingly good if they just hang in there and do what is right. Show that we are all in this parenting thing together. Hillary was right. It takes a village.

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