This past weekend we took a trip to the local zoo. Two parents, five kids, two strollers, one bag...we've done this enough times to have it down to a science. Band-Aids: check! Extra clothes for the littles (just in case): check! Hand sanitizer: check! Snacks and water: check!
We cruised through the zoo in about 3 1/2 hours. Baby Abby slept once for about half an hour. Andrew, at almost 22 months, is at the prime age to think the zoo is the coolest place on earth. He would point at the animals and watch in wonder as they walked around. As we left each exhibit, he would call out good-bye to that animal.
The older kids had fun, too. Katy tells me we need to just drop her of at the zoo someday with some money for lunch and her sketch pad and just let her stay all day on her own. She's 15 now, so that idea is not too outrageous.
We stopped awhile at the playground to let Andrew run and play a bit while I sat and fed Abby. We ducked into shady spots whenever we could to keep the littles (OK, and us old people, too) from getting too hot.
We saw every single animal there, had a picnic lunch when we left, and had two sleeping little ones by the time we got home.
So, our day was lovely and pleasant. We had no tantrums, no meltdowns, no drama of any kind.
Some other people at the zoo were not so lucky. I would say in the 3+ hours we were there, we passed at least half a dozen families with kids between the ages of one and five having meltdowns of their own. I saw exasperated parents, worn out, stressed out, just trying to do something fun with their kids but the kids weren't cooperating.
Two currents of thought kept running through my mind: one, that I was so glad it was NOT one of my kids having that fit. I looked around at my nice little (er...big) family, at my happy kids, my toddler who got in the stroller when you told him to and paid attention to the animals and at my 6 month old just "talking" away in her stroller. At my big kids helping out and everyone drinking water without once complaining that they wanted anything else. I was very, very thankful that my kids were all well behaved.
But...the second thought...I have been there. I have been the mom with the kid throwing a tantrum because he wants to stay and look at the bears. I have been the mom with the big kids whining and the toddler running away from you and the baby screaming the whole time you're out somewhere. Even the best of parents with kids who are normally easy-going experience the dreaded meltdown-in-public at some point in time. So I wanted to tell those moms, it's OK. I don't think you're a horrible parent because your child is crying or yelling or trying to climb the fence into the lion exhibit while you pull him off trying to bribe him with promises of ice cream. Seriously. We've all been there. If anything, I applaud you for being brave enough to leave the house with small kids at all. It's a scary thing to do, especially if you've got a high maintenance kid on your hands.
So...Dear Mom at the Zoo,
Yes, you...the one with the screaming three year old, the kid who didn't make it to the bathroom in time, the baby who cries every time you put her in the stroller, the kid who turns up his nose at your granola bars and water and demands ice cream and soda instead...yeah, YOU.
It's OK. Take a deep breath. Figure out the best way to handle things. Keep your cool as best you can. You might have to pack it in and go home. Try again another day. Or maybe you can salvage this one. Whatever, just don't give up. Even though it may feel like it, the whole world isn't making nasty comments about you behind your back. Hang in there, one day you;ll be that family walking through the zoo with a bunch of well behaved kids. Seriously. And in the meantime, know that the rest of us moms in the world, well...we've all been there. Done that. Cried tears of frustration over that kid who just pushes us to our limits and beyond. We're like a giant sisterhood. We've all got similar battle scars to show for our years in the trenches of motherhood. We all deserve a medal just for surviving.
Hang in there, Mom at the Zoo. Mom at the Park. Mom in the Grocery Store. Someday...someday, I promise...things will be calmer, smoother, easier. Just hang in there.