We had spent the entire morning getting ready for the gym. It sounds pathetic to admit that out loud, but I’m seven months into this two-kid gig, and it still takes us all morning to get ready for anything. Three people need to eat, three people need to get dressed, one person needs coffee, one person needs a diaper change, one person can’t find his Lightning McQueen, one person needs to nap. By the time we’re finally ready, someone has to pee again and it starts all over.
We had two errands to run: the bank and the gym. I had given fair warning, everyone knew what to expect. I’m not sure who was more excited, myself or Everett. He loves the gym daycare just about as much as I love being alone for an hour.
The car was adequately packed. I was wearing my favorite Nike shorts and my bright pink running shoes. My water bottle was full; my iPad was charged.
We were ready.
Everyone fawned over the kids at the bank, as they always do, and I deposited my two checks quickly. I held Carson on one hip while Everett hung out next to my leg. Right as we were leaving, one of the branch managers ran up to us and informed me that a new account I had just opened a few weeks prior required one more signature.
“It will just take a minute!” she promised.
I walked over to her desk with Carson in my arms, while Everett trailed behind us. At this particular bank, there were stuffed bears on each of the six desks. Everett—taking full advantage of my full hands—took it upon himself to grab each bear, carefully assembling them in a pile in the middle of the floor.
I watched this happen out of the corner of my eye while the pretty bank teller with perfect hair asked nonchalantly, “So, how’s your ‘business’ going?”
I’m sure I imagined her condescending tone. I’m sure I imagined her air quotes around the word “business.” But I was surrounded by people in suits and suddenly painfully aware of my Nike shorts and pink running shoes, the baby drooling on my shoulder and the toddler creating a mess in their quiet workspace.
“Oh….business is fine. Just fine!” I replied, “EVERETT. STOP THAT. Put those bears back right now.”
He looked at me innocently, “Huh?”
“Don’t ‘huh’ me. Put those bears back right now, we’re leaving,” I demanded.
And then he looked right at my face and uttered one little brave word: “No.”
It is worth mentioning that I was the only customer in the bank and all eyes were on me. Everyone was waiting to see how I would handle this awkward situation. I marched over to Everett and the pile of bears, with Carson on my hip. I leaned down and grabbed his face and looked him straight in the eyes.
“Everett Hudson Gadd, you need to pick up those bears right now. We are leaving.”
He looked at me again, briefly paused, and defiantly said, “No.”
It might also be worth mentioning that I have encountered this scene probably five times since becoming a mom. Everett is generally very well behaved, especially in public. He is respectful and almost always follows instructions, so when things like this do happen, I am slightly dumbfounded. I was just as shocked as the gawking bank tellers, who were still waiting for me to make a move.
I could feel my face turning red as I moved Carson to my other hip and picked up the bears myself, furiously returning them to their desks. I calmly pulled Everett out of the bank by his arm while he cried and continued to make a scene. It was surely the most exciting thing the bank tellers saw that day.
The second we got settled in the car, I knew what I had to do.
“We’re NOT going to the gym,” I announced dramatically.
Everett wailed. And then he wailed louder. And then he screamed, “I WANNA GO TO THE GYM!!!!”
And then it was really settled.
The whole way home, we talked about The Incident. I explained over and over again that when we don’t listen to mommy, we don’t get to do fun things. He cried and cried and cried some more. I wanted to cry a little bit too.
We returned home barely twenty minutes after leaving it. Three people into the car, three people out of the car. Two car seats to buckle and unbuckle. All for seven miserable minutes and an embarrassing meltdown at the bank. We prepared all morning for that??!
He was still a mess. Three tantrums and three time-outs later, we landed in the backyard for some fresh air and a fresh perspective. It was over. Done. We all suffered the consequences, but I couldn’t help but feel like I had suffered the most. My hour of exercise, my hour to myself, was gone. Poof. This is motherhood, folks.
It would have been easy to go to the gym anyways. It would have been easy to stick the kids in childcare and take my much-desired break. It would have been easy to forget all about The Incident and stick to our original plan, ignoring what had happened.
But sometimes, we mothers have to do the hard thing, the thing that basically punishes all of us. He lost his reward, and as a result, I lost mine too. And while this was such a small thing (a moment of defiance! an hour at the gym!), I couldn’t help but foresee a future of discipline laid out in front of me.
I know I’m still new at this, but I believe there are going to be many, many times as a parent that I will be faced with an opportunity to choose the easy thing or the hard thing. Maybe the easy thing is staying at Disneyland, staying at the restaurant, breaking out a candy bribe and hoping for the best. Maybe it’s letting them watch TV anyways, use the computer anyways, drive the car anyways. The easy thing is usually the quick fix, the bandaid, the action that buys you more time and sanity, the thing that doesn’t punish the parent.
Sometimes you need to do things the easy way. We all have those days, myself included.
But I’m learning that when it comes to discipline and enforcing rules and gaining the respect of your children, sometimes you need to do things the hard way. The long way. Sometimes we have to skip the gym and leave the donut shop without eating our donuts. Sometimes we have to take the car keys away and drive our moody teenagers to school ourselves. And while it is unfortunate for the child who loses a reward or misses out on an opportunity, sometimes we, the parents, have to suffer as a result. I think we need to love our kids more than we love ourselves, and sometimes that looks like letting a teachable moment take precedent over our plans, our hobbies, our own precious time.
I’m trying to keep my eye on the prize. Someday this three year-old will be eight, and then eighteen. I pick my battles daily, and some days there are a lot of them. There is a time to let things go, and there is a time to stick to your guns. There is a time to settle and a time to follow through.
Because the thing is, all of these tiny moments add up. That one time we left the gym, that one time we left the donut shop, that one time I took the TV away, that one time I put Elmo on top of the refrigerator for 24 hours because someone threw him at the ceiling fan, again. These small actions add up to one big lesson: I am the mom and I love you enough to put forth the effort into raising you well. I mean what I say, and I say what I mean.
I can only hope and pray that five years from now, ten years from now, twenty years from now, doing the hard thing will pay off. I can only hope and pray that someday I will reap the harvest of all this work.
Come to think of it, maybe I already am.