These are the days of tantrums and meltdowns, this is the terrible twos.
It's time to leave the park, but she doesn't want to go. It's nearly lunchtime and I still need to pick up some groceries before we settle in at home for the afternoon nap. There was an issue with an older girl who was grabby with the toys in the sandbox which led to a struggle over a shovel.
"Okay, it's time to go," I pick my daughter up and she screams. I carry her over to the stroller and explain that we have to go to the grocery store (a trip she usually likes) and then go eat lunch.
"No! I don't want to!"
We fuss with the stroller, but she twists and writhes. I throw her over my shoulder and push the stroller awkwardly with one hand. I abandon the shopping without a second thought and starttoward the northeast corner of the park, toward our place. She continues to flail and scream. Every few yards she wrestles free enough to start sliding down, so I have to stop, set her down, chase her, throw her back over my shoulder. It's awkward enough in front of the other kids and parents. But we have to go past the congregation of smokehounds and boozers who've claimed the corner of the park nearest our street.
For the most part, these people keep their distance from the playground. We've probably been to the park hundreds of times, and I can count the altercationsbetween the two solitudes that I've seen or been part of on one hand. Three of those have been me asking them to burn their reefer a bit further from the sandbox, and they've always been accommodating. When my daughter was smaller, she used to blow kisses to the people sharing a bottle on the east side benches (she blew kisses to everyone for a few weeks the spring she was 1). People are people, it's a public park, and I don't begrudge them their mostly out-of-the-way spot to spend the day.
I see a couple of dudes hanging at the bench along the path, smoking, yakking on their phones. Whatever. I hold on tight and try to get past them as quickly as possible. My daughter is still screaming, still thrashing.
Beyond pushing forward, I don't react. There's no point. She's lost in her fit and won't hear me anyway. It's embarrassing in front of the other parents and humiliating in front of people without kids. I know what they're thinking, I used to think it too. My face is hot and throbbing. I'm tired and cranky too, I whisper in her ear. Let's just get home and it will be okay.
We get to the edge of the park. I set her down for a second to get my bearings before we approach the crosswalk. It's a busy enough street and sometimes we have to wait a while for any cars to let us pass. I'm having a hard time negotiating the stroller and the howler. She howls and slaps at me. "Enough!"
She stops to catch her breath before launching into another howl and in the eerie, eye-of-the-storm calm I hear: "Why don't you get your brat out of here!"
I throw my daughter over one shoulder and turn my head over the other, finally given an outlet for the burning shame and frustration. "Why don't you go fuck yourself!"
I'm immediately aware of what I've just done. I had been embarrassed by my daughter's behaviour, but now I'm ashamed of myself. A woman on the other side of the crosswalk is looking at me. As we cross, she smiles sympathetically. I carry my daughter up the hill to finish her tantrum behind closed doors.
A day later, I'm picking at the florist on my way home from work. My daughter's not the only one in our family who can be unreasonable and awful to be around at times. I don't even know what I get, African Violets, maybe. A small, colourful arrangement. I take them to the counter to pay for them, and there's the woman from the crosswalk.
It's a big city, but a small neighbourhood. Especially when you spend most of your time in the company of young children. She must recognize me. I don't know, maybe she doesn't. Maybe when people see me out with my daughter, they remember her more than me. I'm like that with my neighbour. He's introduced himself at least twice, but I have no idea what his name is. His dog, on the hand, I know her name and I know her age. He seems like a really nice guy and I'm too sheepish to ask his name again, even though remembering his dog's name but not his is a totally sympathetic and possibly endearing thing. I've had that conversation in my head every single time he says "Hi, Emmet" when I pass him on the street.
The florist must know, as all florists can't help but know, that men don't buy flowers in August because they're proud of themselves. She must know that I've said something shitty to my wife and that I'm putting in some, however token, however clichéd, effort to say, "hey, I'm not completely self-centered." She must think I'm a horrible person.
Maybe it's time to move.