When you make an excursion to the zoo on a saturday and the weather is gorgeous and it’s the San Diego Zoo so in addition to locals you are in the company of a gazzilion off-season tourists taking advantage of cheap off-season vacation packages—when you are all (tourists, locals, families, random human herds) packed together in a zoo that won’t allow you to walk your kids or strollers on the wide streetways because of the double-decker tour buses constantly motoring by—when you’re forced to walk on narrow sidewalks past the animal exhibits, each exhibit creating instant gridlock, the sun increasingly hotter than the weatherpeople predicted and then there are those gnarly hills, there, at the SD Zoo, red-cheek-creating hills—let’s face it: there are going to be scenes.
My husband and I witnessed many variations on the parenting of uber-hyped-out, tantrum-throwing children of all ages. We paid most attention to toddlers acting out, many by toddling deliberately away from their parents, goofy, gleeful smiles on their faces. Some parents controlled toddler-wanderlust by attaching them to leashes resembling tails of monkeys or elephants. Others had cleverly brought along extended family assigned to race after escapees. The biggest fear at the zoo for parents with small children was not the pacing lion and whether its cage bars were sturdy enough, not the elephant lolling its massive, child-attracting weight against fencing, not whether the foamy-mouthed camels lurched within spitting distance of babies, but whether a toddler was going to dart under the wheels of one of those on-coming tour buses, or vanish forever into the hot-tempered crowds. Many times we heard the following:
GET BACK HERE!
GET BACK HERE NOW!
WE’RE NOT GOING THERE! WE’RE GOING HERE! HERE! HERE!
or the more frustrated version,
NO! NO! NO! NO!
And, eventually, as the heat bore down, as the hills grew steeper, we heard:
GET BACK HERE OR (plus a threat)
GET THE HELL BACK HERE OR (plus a threat)
ONE, TWO, THREE—(with the threat of counting to 5—and then what?)
IF YOU DON’T LISTEN TO ME, I’LL (plus a threat or stuttered gibberish as the parent melted down inconsolably, irrevocably, before God and Man)
The most disturbing meltdown occurred in the Lost Forest, a shady pathway winding past the slumbering hippos in their fantastic 3D pool, up to the tigers (though we couldn’t see them because of the gridlock) in their shady-rocky abode, past the turtles in their glassed-in-pond—hundreds of thousands of swimming turtles—past amazing, colorful birds you’d never see in my backyard (despite the two popular feeders). A woman approached us as we threaded through the crowds. A child was vice-gripped in her arms, a boy (3 years old?) curled to fetal, who knew he was in the vice, had ceased struggling because he recognized struggle was pointless. His mother’s face was bent over his. She was going downhill, we up and somehow this created an eerie time-slow effect so that I heard, clearly, every single word she imparted to her son. As the mother passed me with her large, slow-motion steps, my head turned in slow-motion, my mouth dropped in slow-motion and I watched her land on a bench and keeeeep ooooooon taaaaaalking to that boy as my brain screamed nooooooooooooo in deep, scary, slowed-down-speak. Nooooooooooooooooo.
If you don’t f***ing shut the f*** up you’re gonna f***ing make me f***ing crazy and do you know what the f*** that means?
Like at Granny’s? (responded the offending son)
Oh, you remember Granny’s, huh? YEAH like at F***ING Granny’s, that’s EXACTLY what the f*** I’m F***ING TALKING ABOUT—
And there was more, but I couldn’t listen. I fell back into real-time and sped after my husband and son.
What’s up? asked my husband when, after I made sure T was rapt before the gazzillion turtles, I turned and hugged him—hard. Did you hear that? I stage-whispered into his neck. Did you hear that woman? Hear what? my husband asked and I let it go, told him later, at the hotel, when T was into his pasta and DVD. Oh wow, my husband said and we were quiet, munching our dinner in a shared moment of sadness—and self-reflection.
Because no matter what you witness in other parents, or what horrifying stories you read concerning other parents, stories centered around some type of baby-neglect (like the guy who left his 3 month old in its carrier beside the treadmill in his gym when he was done with his workout and drove on home like he was a single guy and had never been a parent, la dee da, until a phone call from the gym had him screeching the car into a U-turn)—being a parent and therefore experiencing challenges you couldn’t possibly have dreamt of prior to having children precisely because you didn’t have children and couldn’t know, but now that you do know, you totally “get” how a breaking point such as the one I witnessed in Cursing Mama can been reached. You know what it’s like to approach the precipice of a mental-break, to teeter on the complicated cliff’s edge of your sanity, and then scrabble for an alternative—because that’s what you do—you scrabble for the alternative, find it, use it even if it is VERY, VERY HARD to do so, even if it means you CUSS AT A SLOTH instead of your child. I admit that at that awful zoo-moment I wanted Cursing Mama fenced, fenced in, securely, with electrified bars, away from her child—I wanted the zoo’s on-call Parent Meltdown Psychotherapist to whoosh in with her bag of sanity-restoring tips and a zoo margarita sold throughout the grounds. At that moment, I hoped Cursing Mama’s child would make it to 18 yrs. unscarred, because the power struggle occurring between mother and child was too intense and apparently a close second to Granny’s house and whatever the heck went on there. O Cursing Mama! How you scared me, angered me, left me feeling wasted and shaky and grateful for my parenting books—and desperate for a zoo margarita…
We headed for the exit and miniature train ride instead.
And now——this bit more:
Connection Parenting, by Pam Leo
Playful Parenting, by Lawrence Cohen
Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm And Connected, by Susan Stiffelman
Books. They don’t hurt. They can’t help but help, MOST LIKELY.
Tattling Mama over-and-out.