Saving the day when the day goes awry

Yesterday my four younger children and I headed to the county fair. I did the organized mommy thing and carefully planned the trip: rides first, then lunch, then animal exhibits, then commercial building.

A couple of hours into the fair trip, everything was going fantastically. So on a whim, I decided that we should go to the free circus, starting at 4 PM. Was I tempting the fates? Perhaps. Nobody else seemed to care about going to the circus. I, myself, do not really enjoy circuses. But it was free, it was there, it just seemed like something we should do. So at 3:30, we started heading over to the grandstand, by way of the bathrooms.

I’d taken Owen into the bathroom with me a half hour earlier and it had proven to be a hassle. The lines for the women’s room were out the door and wrapping around the side of the building. But he insisted he had to go again, and I know better than to ignore the pleas of tiny little boys and their tiny little bladders. Considering the long wait at the women’s room, I made the snap decision to let the three boys head into the men’s room together (where there was—as usual—no line at all.)

And the minutes crawled by.

At first I was annoyed. Then, as five minutes became ten, I became worried. Finally I opened the door a crack and yelled in “Boys? Are you okay in there?”

“Yep!” Owen called back cheerfully. Too late I realized what he’d meant when he said he “had to go”—he was taking one of his famous record-length poops, during which he removes all his clothing and just kind of gets comfortable for the duration.

“Can one of you come out here and tell me what’s going on?”

A minute later, William appeared. “We’re just waiting for Owen, mom.” he said.

“What’s he doing?”

“I don’t know. Pooping I guess,” he said with a shrug. So helpful!

I was stuck. I couldn’t have Isaac come out to talk to me, since he was in charge of watching/helping his little brother. I asked a police officer going into the bathroom to please check on the boys. He did and told me they were fine, but offered up no other information (was this a poop emergency? Did it require expert wiping powers? The cop had not ascertained those details. Not that I blame him.)

All of my buttons were being pushed. I was feeling a little guilty over my decision to send the boys in together and second-guessing that decision. I was embarrassed, standing there by the men’s room door with a baby in a stroller, obviously having lost a good portion of my brood, much to the amusement of other families nearby. I had made careful plans and had been punctual and organized, but had lost control of the day anyway. And even though I was pretty sure I knew exactly what needed to be done in there, I was unable to do it. Oh, and I was hot and my feet hurt.

Guilt. Embarrassment. Loss of control. Helplessness. Discomfort. Pretty much a mom’s recipe for lashing out, huh?

You can see where this is going, I’m sure. By the time the boys finally emerged from the restroom (where it was confirmed that a Poop Emergency, the sort that requires half a roll of toilet paper, had taken place) the circus was about to start and the stands were so full they weren’t letting any more people in. Hot-faced and angry, I snapped at the kids. “Just forget it. This is so ridiculous. Let’s go home!” The boys fell into line behind me, quiet and sheepish, as I marched toward the parking lot.

I took a deep breath while my brain did the math. I didn’t even care about going to the circus. Neither did any of the kids. Owen couldn’t help it that he had to poop. He also couldn’t help it that this was a particularly, umm, high-maintenance poop. It wasn’t Isaac’s fault, nor could he be expected to deal with a poop emergency the way Mom would. William was just the messenger. Why, exactly, was I angry?

Yes, it would have been better if I’d hashed this out before I lashed out, but what can I say: I’m human, I mess up. But now, I had a choice. I could either decide the day was ruined and sink into the irritation and anger. Or I could decide to override that small, momentary blip and end the outing on a good note.

So I took another deep breath, forced a cheery tone, and said “So, who wants to check out the RV’s before we go?” The kids enthusiastically said ‘yes’, so we stopped and checked out no fewer than two dozen campers and motorhomes. It was the most fun we’d had all day, deciding who would sleep where, what we’d cook in the little kitchens, where we’d travel, how long it would take us to raise the $80,000 to get the decked-out beauty we loved the best.

If I’d decided to hunker down and stay mad, I’d have missed the best part of the whole afternoon. And so would have my kids.

Sometimes it’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling like we’re stuck trudging along whatever path we’re on. Maybe you’ve committed yourself to being mad or grumpy and can’t stand the thought of apologizing, admitting you were wrong, or even just letting it go—afraid you might lose face or the appearance of authority. Or perhaps it just seems too late to salvage the afternoon, the trip to the zoo, the playdate, the dinner. But it’s never too late.

There was a lot I could have done differently yesterday; things that might have made our day go more smoothly (like quitting while I was ahead, perhaps). I could have taken the deep breath and thought things through before I blew up. Lessons learned for next time. But no matter what mistakes I made, I’m so glad to know the whole of our lives, the whole of my mothering isn’t defined by the mistakes or the missteps.

No matter what path we’re on, no matter how long we’ve been on it, we can always choose another route.

We can always save the day.

Have you ever taken a falling-apart outing and turned it around? How?

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