Starbucks. Nora is home with the babysitter. I’ve just picked up Mia from school. We park in the first space in front of the door. Inside, most of the tables are filled.
In line, she sees the blue snowflake cookie and says she wants it. I say, no you can have a bagel or one of these cookies. I want her to have something whole grain. She starts to scream. We go back and forth a bit, I tell the man in back of us to go ahead. “Stop screaming,” I say. She doesn’t. Twice in two days?
“Okay,” I say and pick her up to leave. “NO!” she cries with panic in her voice. At the glass front door, she holds on to the doorframe. I unpeel her hands and I'm trembling. I try to put her down, I need to put my magazine in the car, she collapses, crying, on the icy sidewalk. I pick her up, say, “Breathe through your nose. Let it out through your mouth.” “I can’t! I’m sick!”
I’m beeping the car door open with my remote and Mia tries to open the Starbucks door again. I turn and grab her, try the car door handle and it’s locked. The handle refuses to give, slips out of my hand with a sickening plastic thump. “F*************K!!!” I scream in desperation.
I get the door open, throw in the magazine, take Mia around to her side. I’m crying by this time. I can hear myself futilely pleading, “Stop it!” She’s crying and kicking as I fasten her in the carseat. I don’t know what to do with her right now. I’m just strapping her down to buy some time. I put my face next to hers and tell her to breathe. I’m telling myself to breathe.
“The search for contentment is, therefore, not merely a self-preserving and self-benefiting act, but also a generous gift to the world. Clearing out all your misery gets you out of the way. You cease being an obstacle, not only to yourself but to anyone else.” Elizabeth Gilbert
I don’t care what people think. I don’t want to cause distress or anxiety in other people, but I have to work this out and I may be working this out in some not pretty ways.
I lean close to Mia and I consider my options. I could do without the coffee. I could drive somewhere else, hell, we could go through the drive-through right here. But I’m not feeling embarrassed. I don’t have the energy for embarrassment right now.
“I want the cookie with the white stripes,” sniffs Mia, calmer. It’s one of the options I gave her. “Okay,” I say. “But no crying and no screaming in the store. Do you understand?” “Yes.”
Will you believe that we ordered and ate without further incident? The counterman was completely professional. I help her take off her boots, the snow pants, then reboot. I tell her she is like the bunny in the Bing Bunny book: “Dungarees! You can’t put your shoes on before your dungarees!” Her convulsive biting of the cookie bar has a slightly disturbing recklessness. I tell her to slow down a little and she does. She drinks half her milk and shivers. “I’m cold.” “Do you want to sit in my lap?” I ask, feeling sure that she does. She does. I hold her, rub her back and her arms.
She gets up to go to the bathroom and is able to open the door by herself, pull down her pants and get started before I catch up with her, praise her with “Good job, big girl!” Growing independence, yes, but her walking away from the table and my sitting there for a couple of moments before I get up to follow her felt like a slightly premature step in the gradual process of innocence loss.
Would you believe we then drove to the park and pulled our blue plastic sled up the little bumps of hills, up the big mountain of a hill and slid down together, calling, “Weeee!” and laughing? The clear sky was so bright, the white snow was so bright, everything silhouetted against the brightness wore a dark halo.