Back in 2010, when I was swanning around without a child in tow (anyone remember what that felt like?), I walked through the doors of Paperchase to choose a birthday card.
The noise hit me as I walked through the doors. As walking around this small shop was a mother with a toddler in a pram. And that toddler was having a tantrum louder than I had ever heard before.
But whilst he fought the straps of his buggy, his face an angry shade of tomato and hair clammy as he screamed at the top of his lungs, his mother walked incredibly slowly and calmly around the shop. She didn’t hurry; in fact, she didn’t even acknowledge the screaming child below her. She slowly moved between displays of cards and read each one, placing it back before selecting another.
I was thinking two things.
Firstly, “Wow, I hope I never have a child like that!” And secondly, “That woman has totally blocked out the sound of his crying!”
I was wrong on both levels.
At times, I do have a toddler just like that. And now I have him, I know that she was hearing that noise. And she was hearing it far louder than any of the rest of us in that shop that day.
I still admire that lady – but I have a new understanding now. I know she felt pushed to very limits of her patience. I know that despite her calm demeanor, she wasn’t feeling very calm at all. I know that the noise of her child screaming was deafening in her ears. I know that she was picking up cards, but she probably wasn’t even reading what they said. And I know that when her husband or friend asked her ‘how was your day?’, this tantrum in Paperchase would be the first thing that came to her mind.
Because a similar thing happened to me in a shopping mall in Dubai recently, when after treating my toddler to a lovely morning, he had a full-blown tantrum because he wanted a second cupcake. I walked through the mall, without a buggy, holding a kicking and screaming toddler and wondering what on earth I should do. I just kept going, as I didn’t see an alternative – and close to the carpark, my happy, well-behaved toddler slowly reappeared. But I wonder now how many people I passed that day that thought to themselves “Wow, I hope I never have a child like that!”
So what would I do if I could rewind the clock to that day in Paperchase?
I’d make eye contact, smile and mutter something along the lines of ‘Toddlers!’ so she knew I understood. And then I’d leave her to it, because no one likes people interfering when they are dealing with World War Three.
But I’d hope that simple gesture would make her realise that she isn’t the only one with a toddler that screams and shouts. Because she isn’t – and whilst it’s one of the hardest things about parenting a small human, we often feel we are the only ones dealing with it. Because no-one wants to brag about the last time they walked around with a screaming nutter, do they?
And I’d hope that gesture would show her that one day – even if not that day – people would understand exactly how she felt.