My kid is better than all kids.
This thought, stuffed full of ego and superiority and such, has kept me sane throughout my first year-and-then-some as a mother. I’ve secretly delighted in the whoop-ass shaming local toddlers cast upon their frazzled mamas in parking lots and sandwich shops, public restrooms and detergent aisles. From three carts back I’ll spot a Fire Wattle and rub my hands together in sinister pleasure. Let the wild rumpus start!
Fire Wattle: n. a mother sporting the hot, red patch of neck (similar to a turkey’s gobble throat) as her child displays its dark side. The scarlet letter of parental humiliation. ant. Unicorn Mom
ex: That Fire Wattle looks like her neck would punch that brat in the nose if it had hands.
You have surely seen some native form of Fire Wattle in a store near you. Amid the glass-shattering decibels of a toddler’s shrill and defiant yells, you will find a particularly frazzled woman. Beyond the flaming rash of fury boiling up her chest and neck, one can spot a genuine Fire Wattle by these tell-tale traits: right/left/both eyes twitching, glistening sweat upon the forehead, one or both eyebrows raised or angled in alert, audible grinding of teeth to dust, nearly inaudible, low-toned threats of spankings/timeout/ forced starvation inching through furiously grinding teeth, wildly flapping hands with makeshift distractions from the depths of her purse, frantic body language as walking in a straight line is hard to do when one’s clear thinking is impaled by child wails.
I eyed these mothers with sympathy, but for the sake of gloating, my sympathy stopped a hundred paces short of empathy. I feel for you, Mother Of Sticky Finger Satan. Pardon. I’ve just got to tuck into this here dressing room real quick to perform a victory dance. Oh, I rejoiced, cranked out a celebratory jig as my pleasant toddler giggled on with wide-open jazz hands. I was the lucky one, it seemed, to be blessed with a “good one”.
As fate would have it, seeming isn’t the same as being, and in the realm of two-year-olds and tantrums, no mom gets out alive. The reality, looking harsher by the day in the stale light of a Target restroom, is that my happy son is happy because he’s bossed me into making him so. One trip to the store sans bottle of apple juice and I was thrust into the Fire Wattle Hall of Shame. His giggle now mimicking the violent, mourning banshee call, I stood flabbergasted and scared. His eyes, the charming twinkle started to resemble that Hell Fire my Baptist friends are always warning of. It set my neck aflame. As I squirmed to cover up my hot rash, I looked up and locked eyes with a fellow shopper. Her daughter laughed and waved at stock boys. She shook her head for me, a trick I’d perfected in its precise mixture of sympathy and amusement. Simply not giving a boy his drug of choice was all it took, and – if that Lane 3 meltdown was any indication – the reality that this kid typically has nothing to thrash and fit over because I do as he wants always was a pill I’d have to learn to swallow quickly. It was the kind of pill I’d like to tuck under my lip, spit out, and slip into some other dumb mom’s Starbucks cup.
We drove home. I sang along to a ridiculous R&B tune as the baby beast’s DT’s from the sweet stuff manifested in shoe hurling and high-pitched shrieks. Blame it on the juice. Got mama lookin’ for a noose. Blame it on the a- aaa- a- apple juice. Blame it on the a- aaa- a- apple juice. Somewhere around the second verse, my normal squeak-and-drone singing voice unraveled into squeak-and-sobbing.
I’ve spent a lot of days since my initiation into the Fire Wattlers trying to get back to glory days.On the other side of winning, being that mom with that kid isn’t so fun. Just a drug lord mother getting her baby high on the good stuff, I missed the time when I paid attention to my child’s stellar demeanor and ignored the fact his happiness only lasted in thirty-minute spurts. What’s a two-gallon jug of juice going to hurt? Just one more hit. Just one more sip.
In efforts to quench his thirst for sugar and my thirst for not handing my son a half-full cup of Diabetes, I morphed into something of a fixer and enabler. I flashed pictures of Charlie Sheen, the Lohan clan, and Elvis in front of his little eyes. I warned that they were all avid juice drinkers. I told a horrific tale of the downward juice spiral to delirium, public intoxication, and reputations destroyed by apple juice addiction.He blew sloppy mouth farts onto his arm. Chuckled and yanked me by the shirt towards his go-to spot to score more juice: the fridge. I collected empty juice boxes, filled the cardboard containers full of water and presented them to the raging tot. He promptly spat at my efforts. I belted out “Blame it on the juice…” and performed the happiest choreography my weary toes could tap out, hoping to distract the boy as he chugged down ice-cold milk. He promptly slapped a toy drumstick across my kneecaps. Then he spat milk at my effort. I had let him be the boss too long. This exchange of power had come full circle to bite me in the nipple… the bottle nipple. One week and stained carpet later, I gave up pleasing him. Defeated, I dragged him to the store. I knew as we parked that I was actively staging a disaster. No bottle. No juice. An unfortunate amount of broad daylight so that no one would miss a moment of the dazzling display of fury. I’d skated by on the easy-glide wheels of Convenience Parenting, and it was time for mom to take the tumble.
Lights flickered. Cash registers buzzed as wires shorted out. His rage would burn this place to the ground. Maternal instincts flared. I clenched keys from my purse and got those turkey wings a flappin’. Bellowing, deep from his pocket-sized gut, rang out and shook dust from the rafters. Kick! Eye Gauge! Bitch Slap! I felt the sting of stumpy limbs pummeling to the death. I squinted to tame the twitch that crept into my eye. I rubbed a cold palm against my blistering hot neck. He wants juice. He just wants juice. He’s out for juice! He’s out for blood?
Mid way through the eternity in which that tantrum lasted, I stood erect. I unfurled my tension-hunched shoulders, rolled my neck, and popped my knuckles. My eyes swept the room, confidently staring down the lucky sympathizers. I stomped a left foot to the linoleum, a bull ready to charge…
…and I sang: Blame it on the juice. Got mama lookin’ for a noose. Blame it on the a- aaa- a- apple juice. Blame it on the a- aaa- a- apple juice. I was making a fool of myself. I was the boss of this foolishness, though.
My son eventually quieted down, a little look of terror and wonder stuck on his face. He was more embarrassed by my spastic wingspan, my half-broke vocal chords than I was of a baby showing the world his baby-ness. So it is that I learned a valuable lesson. While the flustered moms of wily kids appear to be slaves to pint-sized dictators, it is their proud, red necks who are in charge.Making the courageous decision to discipline, say no, and brace yourself for the storm of diapered dung about to hit the fan. Fighters of fussiness, conquerors of chaos, ringleader of a short-legged freak show, the women braving the wilderness with a bossy brood- these are not the girls to pity.