I hadn’t seen it coming. We were on our way back from a weekend out of town, and the girls had slept almost the entirety of the 3½-hour drive home. It was about 6:30 when we got into the city, we were almost home, and after figuring that there was little to eat in the house, we decided to stop at a nearby noodle shack for dinner. The girls were cheering our decision in the backseat, happy after their cross-province naps. So we stopped.
Things started cheerfully enough. But then I decided to pour some of the mango shake we had ordered into a small glass for Cassidy, which I knew was a bad move even as I did it. Then I took the chopsticks away from her because she was using them as drumsticks on the plate. She thanked me for my actions, uh, loudly. Then the kind and patient waitress tried to distract her with a green crayon. Wrong move, lady! Then – and I don’t even really know what this was about at all – Cass decided that she wanted the bamboo skewers pictured on the menu, RIGHT NOW. There was no distracting her from the fact that she wanted, and could not have, a set of bamboo skewers artfully composed in a picture in a menu.
The decibel level rose quickly, but so did I, and I fumbled to get her out of the highchair, unable to get to the buckle as my daughter’s body bucked and contacted against me.
Meanwhile, three seniors next to us got up and left, telling the waitress that this was not the dinner experience they were hoping for. Me either Golden Girls, me either, I thought, but my anger was rising.
I got Cassidy out of her seat (which fell over with a crash as I lifted her out, in case my screaming banshee had not attracted the attention of every single person in the restaurant), and I made my way out, right behind the seniors.
Oh my, one of them clucked at me, shaking her head, what behaviour.
I’m taking her out, I snarled at her, adding, she’s TWO.
Well, we’re leaving, she stated.
Well, where are we going? I shouted, Because I’m tempted to follow you!
They walked into the noodle joint a few stores down, and I swear to god, I almost walked in after them, to ask for a table for two.
Instead, I sat on a nearby bench with my two year old, who was by now screaming, I WANT MY DADDY, even as she crumpled against me. My face reddened. I felt like a terrible, ineffective mother.
Everybody that walked by gave me a look. Some were sympathetic; most were just annoyed. I surveyed our situation quickly. Couldn’t go back in the restaurant – I knew that even when Cass calmed down, she would be teetering, with any little upset ready to set her off again – and honestly, I didn’t want to face the other diners.
I didn’t feel like I could sit on the bench for much longer either, as Cass would soon want to get down or go back or demand something that I would not be willing to acquiesce to. Plus she had lost her shoe in the fray, and was now wearing only one sandal, and no jacket, and it was getting cold.
I motioned to Chris through the window, and he came out. I asked for his keys, told him to enjoy dinner with Mischa, and get mine to go. We’d be in the car. Of course, as soon as Chris came out, Cassidy freaked again, more of the I WANT MY DADDY variety, so I tightened my football hold on her and hightailed it to the car.
Halfway there, she seemed to snap out of her rage blackout and clue in to what was happening. Calm as anything, she sniffed and looked at me. I feel better, she chirped. This, I know, is her way of saying sorry, I’m ready to be a human again.
Too late! I answered, quickening my stride.
The screaming started again.
We sat in the front seat of the car together for the next 40 minutes, and once she was calm, I told her why we were there, why we couldn’t go back to the restaurant, and why that behaviour was unacceptable.
But even as I was doing it, I just wanted to cuddle her. I wasn’t angry with her, had never been angry with her, and wasn’t particularly bothered by the fact that I was missing dinner. What really bothered me was that I had been judged, openly, by the old ladies. That their impression of me, and my child, was a terrible one. I shouldn’t have cared, but I did.
Cassidy cried, a very vulnerable, soft cry, and told me again that she feels better. All of a sudden, I had a bolt of insight. This wasn’t about a two year old, having a two-year-old tantrum because she was overtired/overstimulated/overtaxed. Ok, it was, but it was something else as well.
This was Cassidy. This is Cassidy. She gets overwhelmed, loses her impulse control, the situation escalates, and then she regrets it, wondering how she got to that escalated place, and wishing the situation would just go away. But it doesn’t, because there are consequences, so she has to deal with that uncomfortable, regretful place until things cool off, and it sucks.
She’s always going to be like this, I realized.
She’s me, I realized.
I gave her that cuddle, and we sat like that for a while, until I saw Mischa come skipping happily into my rearview mirror. Chris was behind her, holding the dinner I hadn’t eaten.