A Mother Loses Her Cool
By: Meika Rouda
I always hated that saying, that what you dislike in others is what you see in yourself. But while I was on vacation last week I was confronted with exactly that.
I was at a pool in Lake Tahoe with my kids and my dad. It is the pool my dad was a life guard at sixty years ago (when he was in high school) and we return every summer so he can take a swim and reminiscence. There is a kiddie pool and my kids jumped in as soon as we got there, wading in the two-foot deep water and playing with a girl who was already swimming in the pool. The girl was named Olive and she was the same age as my son but was more interested in playing with my toddler daughter. Olive gave Asha a swim floaty and was happily chatting and showing us her floppy dog paddle. Her mother came by to tell her she had five minutes left before they had to go. The mother was my age, stylish and pretty and looked like someone I would know. Olive was delightful and my kids and I were enjoying her company. She was outgoing, funny, and friendly. A great kid. Her mother finished packing up and came over again to warn Olive that there were “two minutes left.” Olive protested, she didn’t want to leave, but her mother ignored her and put her baby brother in the stroller along with their bag. Olive continued to swim so I said calmly, “Olive, I think your mom is ready to go, maybe you should get out of the pool. We are going to leave soon too.” She just looked at me and kept swimming. Olive’s mom started to walk toward us and lost her patience along the way from the chaise lounge to the kiddie pool. Her gait became quick and agitated, her face puckered with annoyance. I recognized that face immediately, it was the face of someone on the verge. “OLIVE” she yelled “NOW”. “No Mom, I don’t want to go.” Olive kept swimming. And that is when her mom lost it .
“OLIVE GET OUT OF THE POOL NOW!” she screamed. It made me uncomfortable, like I was witnessing a private moment in a very public space. My kids stopped swimming and stared at Olive’s mom.
“I MEAN IT! I WILL NEVER TAKE YOU TO THE POOL AGAIN-EVER!” Her voice was getting louder, I felt embarrassed for her. This was definitely not her best moment. I wondered if she would look back on the day and feel some sadness at her behavior. Now everyone at the pool was looking at her but she didn’t seem to notice or if she did, she didn’t care. Her hands were on her hips, she was in a stand-off with Olive.
She then bent down and got into the pool fully clothed, walking toward Olive, her black terry cloth dress skimming the water. She grabbed Olive’s arm and yanked her out of the pool as she continued to scream “YOU WILL NEVER GO TO THE POOL AGAIN!” Olive was crying hysterically. She smacked Olive on the butt and Olive wailed. It was a scene. I felt bad for Olive and I felt bad for her mom.
I know what it is like to try and wrangle two kids to leave somewhere when they don’t want to. Often I am the mom at the park thinking up ways to make leaving fun. “I’ll race you to the car!” or up the ante with incentive to make it easier -”We can make cookies when we get home!” But it can be frustrating, especially when you get into a power struggle. I have learned, by being the mom who has yelled and screamed and been utterly furious that my child(ren) won’t listen, LISTEN! that once I get into the power struggle realm, it is over, I always lose, even if I get my way, I still lose because I have gotten to an ugly place where I don’t like myself as a parent. Where I am yelling at a four-year-old who really doesn’t understand why I am so mad and just wants to continue playing. Most of the time, my yelling is confined to the house; I have yet to have a huge public outburst (thankfully) but when I watched Olive’s mom, I did see myself and I didn’t like it. Olive didn’t deserve that much anger just for wanting to swim and have fun, just as my kids don’t deserve it when I lose it on them for not brushing their teeth, when I asked them five time- FIVE TIMES!!
But seeing that interaction did give me a chance to reflect. I never feel good after I yell at my kids, no one does. But now when I get that feeling, of complete frustration, when I am on the verge, I am going to take a breath and remember Olive and her mom and what losing it on a four-year-old looks like.