The "thick of it" apparently means complete and utter meltdowns without warning or provocation. The other day, we were doing a family errand run and my husband took her to the car after about five minutes in the first store because it was clear that she wasn't going to be able to handle it. She locked her knees when I tried to set her in the cart, whined when I told her I couldn't carry her around and shop at the same time, and refused to hold my hand when I put her on the floor. As I explained to her that she was going to have to pick one of these apparently dreadful options, she turned into a puddle of curls and flailing limbs in the middle of the busy produce section. We were done.
I finished the shopping, but we had one more store to go to: Trader Joe's. This is the highlight of my daughter's outings. She has dubbed it the "Elephant Store" because if you find a stuffed elephant hidden on the shelves, you get a sticker. Also, when we go on weekdays, they have little carts.
Now, I don't know how far removed you are from two, so in case you don't quite understand, this is a big f'n deal. Like, this is what we live for. The fact that they only have the carts on weekdays and my daughter doesn't quite understand how the days of the week work makes it an even more miraculous occurrence. It's like sometimes the gods have chosen to bestow their blessings upon her, and in those moments, I imagine she sees the clouds part, the angels sing, and a tiny row of red carts beckoning to her with all the pull of the Sirens song.
On this night, as we pulled into the parking lot, she turned off the pouting she'd been doing since being removed from the first store and lit up. "The Elephant Store!" she screamed.
"Yes. I have to get groceries, but you weren't using your listening ears, remember? So you have to stay in the car with daddy."
Perhaps it is having a rhetorician for a mother and a lawyer for a father, but bargaining skills hit my daughter early and forcefully. "But I'll be good! But they have little carts! But I want a sticker! But . . . but I'll. Be. Good!"
What can I say? I can't argue with this face.
"You have to use your listening ears," I warned. "Uh-huh," she said, already pulling at the car seat straps. "And you can't run with the cart," I noted. "Uh-huh." "And you can't run into anyone." "Uh-huh." "And you can't pick up things unless I say so." "Uh-huh. I be good."
So we go into the store, and there are little carts, and her whole life is filled with a meaning so pure and simple that I have to admit I'm envious. Then, it begins. She takes about four steps per minute. People are trying to shuffle around us in the middle of the aisle. I am frustrated as I try to rush forward to get the last bunch of bananas that aren't as green as a tennis ball. "Hurry up!" I start to say, but then I look down.
She is so carefully choosing her steps, so cautiously moving her little cart forward, so firmly holding onto the handles. She is staring straight ahead with a look of determination and will. She is going to be good.
My heart broke. Here's this little girl who drives me absolutely crazy on pretty much a daily basis. She seems to have no rhyme or reason to her meltdowns, no logic to her fits, no understanding of just how hard she can make the simplest task. But here, watching her struggle against her inner urge to go on a rampage among the strawberries and lemons, I realized something.
She's two. She's learning to navigate a world that is big, scary, and unpredictable. For God's sake! We don't even know if there are going to be little carts from one day to the next!
What was I supposed to do? Rush her through the store? Further complicate her world as she was trying so very, very hard to just be good as she had promised? No. We walked, slowly (oh so very slowly) through the aisles, and she waited patiently by my side as I picked up each item on the list. As we went to the cashier, she was careful not to bump into anyone else in line, and she handed each and every item to the woman behind the counter.
When we got to the car, she took off the stickers that had eyes on them and put them on her own eyes. Smiling at me from the back seat, I thanked her for being so good.