The True Zen Master

This is me stopped at a red light earlier this week. Aspen is screaming for ice cream in the background. My son (not pictured) is behind me, hunched to the side, covering his ears.

A few minutes earlier, Mel dropped Aspen (3) and Tristan (10) off at my work so I could take them home, and she could take Norah (8) to her gymnastics lesson. On the way to my work Mel stopped for ice cream. Aspen was still finishing hers as we walked to the van. It was half melted, and almost gone. As we went down the stairs, she spilled it, making a spectacular mess that really only a 3-year-old is capable of with what was easily two tablespoons of liquid in a cup.

I cleaned it up with wet wipes, the Swiss Army knife of parenting. But I ended up having to throw the ice cream away, which made sense to me, but Aspen acted like I’d thrown away everything she ever loved.

She screamed, and wiggled, and fought, and kicked, the whole way to the van. Hauling her out of my work felt like the videos I’ve seen of Target security guards handling shoplifters. I told her that the ice cream was ruined. I offered her snacks from the diaper bag. I gave her toys. I offered her everything I had, but nothing worked.

I thought about buying her another ice cream, but it just seemed ridiculous. She was almost done with the first one, and Mel and I were trying to get the kids to eat better. I was frustrated and tired from work. Eventually I said, “To hell with it,” and started driving, assuming she’d calm down.

But nope.

She cried almost the whole ride home. And as we drove, I was a zen master. I think all parents who have driven on the freeway with a screaming child find a new power inside themselves. A focus and concentration that they never knew they were capable of.

I had a friend who used to work as a prison guard, and he told me that his job was mostly long stretches of boredom, with brief moments of fearing for your life. Sometimes I think parenting is like that. There are plenty of uneventful moments, and then bam, your child is pinching a fit. It’s intense for a short time, and then it’s all over, and you are home, laughing and watching Peppa Pig.

About five minutes before we pulled in the driveway, she did, in fact, get over it. She calmed down, and it was almost like a Jekyll and Hyde sort of thing. She went silent at first, and then started laughing at a cat she saw on the side of the road.

We pulled into the garage, and as I unbuckled Aspen, she smiled up at me. She laughed. And I said, “You are going to grow out of this fit thing, right?”

She nodded enthusiastically. I almost believed her.

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