Someone flipped the Obstinate switch on in Ruthie’s brain today. From the moment she woke up (do you want cereal for breakfast? NO!), to the minute she went to bed (would you like to take a book with you? NO!) she expressed not a word of voluntary cooperation. Every question, even every request, met with her resolute NO! answer.
By dinner time I was losing my mind.
This morning my sister, my mom, and I took the kids to Como Park Zoo. Shortly after walking through our first indoor exhibit – the primates – Ruthie ran ahead of us to a wrought iron fence that separated the zoo from the amusement park, which was currently not in operation. I didn’t think much of it. The curve of the fence cupped her in and there wasn’t anywhere she could go.
Or so I thought.
I caught a glimpse of my mother shouting at and running toward Ruthie. I panicked as I saw the upper half of her body wedged through a gap between the fence and a gate. Her cap fell off, and she grabbed it in her hand as she tried to shimmy the rest of the way through the gate. I raced toward her and yelled, “Ruthie! Stop!” like I have so. many. times. It never seems to work. It didn’t work today, either.
In a split second, as I raced faster than I thought my flab could take me, a montage of images flickered in my mind: My screaming at Ruthie to come back. Ruthie’s blatant disregard for my authority. Calling for help as my three-year-old wanders alone through an empty amusement park. Wondering if I’ll ever see her again. Furious that the little bitch was ignoring me again. It was a mixture of fear and rage.
The scene played out like the climax of a movie. The more I yelled at her to stop, the faster she shimmied. I reached the fence just as her last leg disappeared, and I reached through the bars and caught a handful of shirt at the nape of her neck.
Ruthie turned and saw the look on my face and instantly began to cry. I had scared her. I’m not sure if the look itself (murder, death, dismemberment) scared her, or if she finally realized the scariness of her situation, but it was obvious she was suddenly scared.
Later, in an unrelated spurt of self-expression, she took her cap off and tossed it over the fence into the lion’s yard. I closed my eyes and gripped the fence to avert my will from tossing her in after it. This behavior went on all day, and it exhausted me.
Now, as I lay in bed, I am tense and wound up. Today I didn’t lost my temper, I didn’t speak disrespectfully to her, I never grabbed her or spanked her inappropriately, and I still managed to have moments of fun and affection with her. I am a different mother today than I was a few months ago. Yet, without the expression of my rage I feel anxious and full of nervous energy.
It was a taxing day, but I’m trying to see life through the victories. Today I was a good mother, despite having a bad, bad daughter.