He heaved between sobs, opening the car door and vomiting right there in the car line. I prayed that no one had noticed.
“Okay, okay,” I soothed him, patting his back. “It’s okay. Put your seat belt back on, we’ll go home.”
He was so hysterical that my words didn’t … couldn’t … penetrate. He cried into his hands, rocking back and forth. “I can’t. I can’t. I can’t,” he cried.
I pulled out of the car line and into the parking lot.
“Mommy, I want breakfast,” a little voice peeped from backseat. “You said breakfast after Buddy go to school.”
“I know,” I said, getting out of the car and walking around to Buddy’s side. I opened the door to buckle him in and he kicked at me.
“NO!” he screamed. “No. No. No.” He thrashed in his seat trying to keep me from forcing him out of the car, his small fist making contact with my cheek.
“Buddy! Buddy! Buddy! Stop!” I yelled.
Sniffles and sobs started in the back seat. “Buddy in trouble,” Thing 2 cried. “I hungry,” Thing 1 whined. And the baby began crying in earnest, wailing her feelings, too.
I tried not to look around me. I tried not to care if anyone saw the chaos happening in my car. I tried. I tried.
I took a deep breath. “Buddy isn’t in trouble. Mommy is trying to help him,” I said as gently as I could muster. “It’s okay. We’re all okay. We’re going to get breakfast. Doesn’t that sound good, Buddy?”
Buddy continued to cry and protest, but he stopped physically fighting me.
“You don’t have to go, Buddy. Not right now,” I whispered. “Please, please let mommy put your seatbelt on?”
I pushed down on his shoulders. Sometimes the compression worked and helped him calm down.
“I’m going to count to five, Buddy, and then we’re going to put your seatbelt on. Okay? One … Two … Three …”
He reached up and yanked the seatbelt across his body. He was so quick, it clicked in place almost before I could process his compliance.
“Okay. We’re okay,” I said as I shut his door and ran around the van. The car line had all but dissipated, but the one remaining teacher outside letting kids out of cars was staring at me. Staring at us. Eyeing and judging all that was wrong with us, with me as a mother, with my unruly children.
“We’re okay,” I whispered as I got into the van and buckled my seatbelt. A tight, suffocating heat spread throughout my chest. Tears pricked at my eyes. “We’re okay. We’re okay.” I continued to whisper that mantra all the way to Burger King for the promised (though not necessary deserved) breakfast. Another thing to beat myself up about: rewarding my children for crying all morning.
One hour later, I walked Buddy into school like everything was fine. As if none of it had happened. On the sign-in sheet, I wrote “woke up late” as our excuse for his tardiness. I had no idea how to explain what had really happened. I didn’t know what had happened. Not that it hadn’t happened before, but I didn’t understand why some mornings my beautifully brilliant son who loved to learn turned into a sobbing Hulk in the car line. And I certainly didn’t understand why most days he didn’t.
I was a failure as a mother. And, on that day, I was also a liar, hiding our real struggles from the world. I left the office, cried all the way home, and hid behind a book the rest of the day, pretending we were all okay as my three littler little ones destroyed the house around me.
The thing is, I was positive that once he got to school he was fine. So what did it matter if he was late some days? What did it matter if he missed a day every other month? I saw no no reason to bring it up to his teachers. First, because it wasn’t solely a school issue; he’d had similar fits at other random times: going to church, visiting family, sometimes even at Walmart. This wasn’t a school issue. Secondly, it wasn’t like it was happening every day; it wasn’t interrupting his learning. My boy was brilliant and was mostly bored in kindergarten, already knowing most of what he was being taught. Missing a day of school here or there, or an hour or two occasionally in the mornings, wasn’t threatening his academic progress. It wasn’t a big deal. Really? I mean, what were his teachers going to do about it anyway? It’s not like they knew something about my child that I didn’t. If anyone was going to fix this, it was going to be me. I knew him best. It’s not like there was something necessarily wrong with him anyway. He just struggled on occasion. Don’t we all?
We’re okay. We’re okay. We’re okay.
“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.” … from “The Little Prince” by Antoine Saint-Exupéry