I took Mary to Wegman's this evening, which makes her deliriously happy. She loves riding in the shopping cart, eating her free cookie, and helping me unload the groceries onto the checkout belt. I take her to a lot of places for fun, but nothing beats "Buppy," as she calls it.
As we were leaving, there was a mom with a toddler walking out at the same time. He was screaming and kicking, and I felt sympathy for her. She was pushing her cart quickly, not giving in to him, and I admired her. She was ignoring other people's stares, and not trying to talk him out of his tantrum. Just as I was congratulating her in my mind, she slapped him across the face. This did nothing to diminish his wails. I cringed, but chickened out and didn't say anything.
I didn't want to scold her - I wanted to tell her that I've been there, that I get it. Kids are enormously frustrating. I'm not against spanking, in general. Mary gets a swat on the butt from time to time when she is deliberately disobedient. However, slapping a child in the face crosses the line. I've found that once you can talk with your child, spanking becomes useless. Taking away a privilege, or having an excruciatingly long talk about the misbehavior is a much more effective deterrent once they reach the age of reason.
I wanted to reach out to that mom because she made me remember a time that I lost control with Mary. She was five months old, and screaming her lungs out while I was rushing to pick Ben up from preschool. It was a trying day, and I had had it. As I was unbuckling her from her car seat, she screamed even louder, and I snapped. I slapped her, which stunned both of us for a moment. Horrified with myself, I picked her up and cuddled her. I was ashamed and bewildered - who does that? I needed help, but I'm terrible at accepting it, and even worse at asking for it.
I had postpartum depression and didn't know it. It wasn't like I was Brooke Shields - I didn't lay in bed for days at a time, and I didn't want to throw the baby out the window. I was tense, on edge. I would blow up at the smallest things, planning my days to the minute and freaking out when I ran behind. I hate the term "depression" for what I had - anxiety was more like it. I kept going and going until I dropped, to the point where I actually weighed less than I had before the pregnancy (and I am not a person who loses weight easily), and I looked haggard. Pictures of me form that time show a zombie, dead behind the eyes.
I'd like to say that I called the doctor that day, but in reality it took me a month. She gave me Lexapro, which I didn't want to take, but I felt like I had no choice. She promised that I wouldn't have to be on it forever, and proposed trying it for six months. It was a miracle. I was calmer, happier, and able to enjoy things again (including food, unfortunately). When the six months was up, Mary had just been diagnosed, so we agreed that it wasn't the best time to stop the medication. I ended up taking it for another year, and then stopped cold turkey. That's not the best way to do it, but it was fine for me. I was ok again - still type-A, but with self-control.
Parents need help, from family, friends, or even pharmaceuticals. I want to tell that mom to take time for herself, get a sitter, put the kid in front of his favorite show. This is advice that I never would have taken myself, I know. Admitting that you can't do everything by yourself is not a sign of weakness. I wish I had learned that sooner.