Enjoy yourself. It’s later than you think.

My son melted the frickety-fuck down at a Target check-out last weekend. But, that’s ok because it was the day after Halloween and the entire world was there to buy Goldfish crackers at a deep discount because there were bats on the packaging. I’m not going to lie, a lot of frugal shoppers witnessed our ceremonial dance.

Pre-meltdown: I offered popcorn. He whined about wanting vanilla milk. I said, “Ok, nothing then.” and he was displeased.

Hulk-level displeased.

He began screaming and proceeded to do a quick *wap-wap-wap* like a friendly knock on the door…except he was knocking on my stomach…with his head. The looks immediately started. I’m used to all of the looks. They are as consistent as the rising sun.

1) Pity
2) Disgust
3) “My child would NEVER.”

and my favorite

4) Amusement

In these moments – when I find myself firmly between a rock and hard place; I canvas the crowd, searching for just one amused face.

Because life is amusing. Even when your son is physically assaulting you in a sea of Halloween markdowns.

One amused face reminded me to loosen my death grip on my son’s wrist. I was dragging. He was pulling. We were getting nowhere.

One lady was smiling. It spoke to me and it said important stuff about wisdom and the passage of time. Someone else had survived something similar and something about watching us lock horns churned up some sort of happiness in her.

The woman in the far right check-out line looked right at me and smiled, lowered her head back toward her basket, chuckled and kept right on living.

Like it was no big deal.

I leaned down and did my best impression of a person with lockjaw. “Don’t you EVER hit me again. Ever.”

I was so damn angry. I could barely see straight. Still, that woman’s smile was as comforting as hot cocoa right after ice skating.

Life’s too short to be so damn worried about the lady at Target with the screaming kid and it’s definitely too short to scan the crowds for judgment and pity.

And, besides all of that, it’s much too lonely if you don’t search for the amused face in the crowd.

You can count on two things. Someone will be judging you and, someone will be laughing while you drag a toddler wearing one shoe from underneath a garment rack. Look for the smiling people.

My son better not ever hit me again. But, if he loses his shit in a Payless and clubs me with a shoe horn, somebody…throw a girl a chuckle.

Yours in good times and bad,


  1. my sistah,

    I hear you and feel you. I had a similar moment on Saturday, post-halloween candy coma moment with my 2 boys. Drink up, you deserve it.

    I love you, but I don’t like you very much right now | Yes, I Really Did Just Say That.

  2. Always look for the helpers! In other news, I didn’t get a chance to buy those batty Goldfish at a discount. Was in Target today and the XMas trees were up. Sigh…

  3. MJ Westbrook says:

    I love this and I love your writings. You are the real world. My kids are teens now, and I try to be the one who smiles at the meltdowns. Make a difference, in a still small way, with a smile, a nod, a “You’re a Good Mom”. Keep up the good work.

  4. This gives me great comfort. We have all been there. Just knowing someone else has been in my miserable (worn out, generic brand) shoes makes me feel better. It’s probably a shameful thing to admit, being comforted by someone else’s misery, but it’s a truth that more moms should admit to. I personally appreciate the realistic mom over the Pinterest mom. If one could somehow be both, she would be my hero.

  5. Tricia Nardi says:

    Love this. As a mother of three and a sister to an adult with autism, I can relate on so many levels. There are always those judgmental stares, but you’re right…we should look right past those folks to the ones looking back with empathy and understanding. Oh and by the way, my kids are now 21,17 and 13…so when i see a mom in a moment like this, I am surely the one smiling back as I’m thinking…”Whoa…Been there…glad its you, not me.” haha sorry…

  6. Kitty Pierce says:

    I have three and they would chain react like this. One with the biting, one with the screaming and one crying because the other two were being bad. I became queen of the potato sack over shoulder toss for two, third squeezed in the middle and rockrockrock and sing. Sometimes flat on my butt of the store floor was required. I was lucky that my boys shared common triggers, because I figured out how to program a common response for comfort. They all had problems with *any* change to routine. As soon as I reestablished a known variable (rock until the butt wriggle starts. I don’t know why the secret of a sedate kids is a wriggly butt). With my oldest at 17 now and still often non-verbal butt wriggling and singing Queen still works. And he has a mustache now.

  7. This post just made me feel much better about the fact that I am usually the smiling mom! I mean it in a way just like you describe – hey – we’ve all been there and it’s okay and kids will be kids and it’s all good. I’ve even chuckled a few times when it’s something I can relate to specifically 🙂

  8. My 3 y.o. did it through the check out at New Seasons with all the “holier organic hippy” people watching…. All the way through the checkout, the walk to the car, and into the car. Because I wouldn’t buy the more expensive strawberry banana smoothie. My saving grace was that, as I was wrestling said child into his car seat, a lady stopped and said “I applaud you. YOU are an amazing mom.”

  9. I’m not going to lie, pre-children I used to think my child will never behave like that anytime I would see a big scene in the store. Now as a mom of a one and two year old I just pray that we make it out of the store without a meltdown. I usually have a 50/50 shot. On the days where there will be a tantrum about buying a sparkly dog collar (when we don’t have or plan on getting a dog) and it quickly turns to full meltdown mode I want to pick up my screaming toddlers and dart out of the store faster than a lion chasing an antelope. I wish I could go back in time and say I am sorry to all of those moms I used to give a pity look to, because I get it all the time and it only adds to an already stressful situation.

  10. I have a friend who prints up cheap business cards that just say, “You’re doing a great job, Mama. You’ll get through this.” And walks up to strangers holding off tantrums and hands them one.

    I think I’d have to get the timing right, but t it sounds like a damned fine idea to me.

  11. I am always the smiling face. Because I have twin boys who will three next month, and I have been through more public meltdown shitstorms than I can count. Because I want the mom to know that I know. Because I want the mom to know that I empathize. Because when one of your children is kicking off while pulling on your shirt and exposing your ratty-ass bra and sad-looking breasts to your fellow shoppers, and the other is making his twenty-seventh escape attempt of the last half hour, and your back feels like it’s going to snap from the toddler wrestling, and you’ve only managed to buy two of the seven things that you really need because you had to leave the store early–well, because when that’s happening, the last thing you need are the judge-y stares.

  12. OMG!!!! Last thursday almost the EXACT same thing happened to me in target. we were DONE…. all we had to do was get to the checkout. I had my 4 month old in the car seat up top and a loaded cart with diapers, milk etc…My 3year old started running away from me so I scooped him up and put him on top of everything in the cart, attempted to make a mad dash to check out, and he stands up and starts shaking his little brothers car seat. I started bartering ( still convinced i could salvage the trip) ” sit down or you are going to lose your cap’n crunch”…no compliance so he lost it, then went cheez-its, then his spiderman dvd. Then he jumps out of cart. screaming bloody murder. I grabbed him and attempted to calm him down …everyone was loving the show. I finally just chocked it up to a wasted hour grabbed him under my arm and pushed the cart with the baby in it to the front of the store to transfer baby and three year old to empty cart. The ONLY help was when a cashier actually said ” don’t worry we will put all that back”… REALLY???? Bc I DONT GIVE A FLYING FUCK what you do at this point. you think I’m going to put all that back? I just wrestled a kid who is acting as if i am simultaneously beating him and abducting him, while navigating a FULL fucking cart with an infant in it. Fuck you very much. I left and don’t plan on going back , I am sure they will remember the mom with purple hair. it’s just too soon…

  13. This made me smile. I smiled at a mom whose 2 year old was freaking out. Of course, my smile was not only a been there, you will survive smile, but also a holy shit, my daughter will be doing this before I know it, smile. Xoxo

  14. As I got to amusement and thought you were going to hate it I thought, shit, I’m always amusement. I’m that asshole. And then I kept reading. YAY FOR ME!

    We also were at Target the day after Halloween when Anna decided that everything on clearance was too scary. We left with some orange lights and a pair of knee high socks.

  15. Girl you just made my day! I used to be one of the judgmental ones after my first two grew up! Funny how quickly we forget! The along came the last two and oh my….judgment vanished…poof!

  16. When I am shopping with all of my boys, there is so much chaos that I don’t have time for those disgusted looks. I try not to notice unless it’s someone I know, which is rare. I like your idea of searching for the amused. It puts it all into perspective.

  17. I’ve noticed lately that I look for smiles more than I look for glares. I think that means I’m growing up? Or caring less. Either way, it feels better!

  18. My boys are 19 and 21. All growed up now 🙂 I AM the woman you can count on to smile at you and chuckle when your child(ren) have a melt down in “insert location here”. I remember the days when I used to search for that smile in the crowd. Paying it forward.

  19. Crazy with a chance of rain says:

    I always smile when I see another family having a throw down at the store. Mostly because if I am able to actually look up and witness it, I must be on a solo trip and I am smiling because I am thinking “THANK GOD ITS YOU NOT ME THIS TIME!!!!” Because if my 4 and 23 month olds were with me, we’d be in the next aisle over participating in the same madness. Yesterday, as the almost 2yo and I were drying and dressing after swim lessons I could hear a throw down in the next stall over. The poor mama came out when they were done and actually apologized. I told her she need not apologize and gave her a cookie. She needed it more than me.

  20. Lockjaw conversations. They seemed to work the best when my kids were smaller. Clutch Clenchjaw, that was my nickname for a very longtime.

  21. Oh how I’ve been there! I do always try to give a sympathetic smile to other moms in these situations. Depending on her mood and outlook, I suppose my look could be taken for pity but I hope not judgement. Really, it’s a mix of Thank God It’s Not Me This Time, BTDT, This Too Shall Pass, Can I Help In Any Possible Way Other Than Acknowledge You?, and Sympathy.

  22. Preach! I remember being in the store shortly after my daughter was born and having that first instance of exchanging a knowing glance with another mom. I suddenly felt like I belonged to a new club, some kind of secret society of mothers. Two years later and I always look for those knowing smiles…I also give them whenever I see a mom having a tough time with her munchkins.

  23. Stephanie says:

    This was me on Wednesday morning with my youngest. In front of my oldest’s whole school for morning drop off. Then it continued alllll the way to my youngest’s preschool, lest they not get to enjoy as well. Fortunately, like you, several mothers also chuckled and followed up with emails of commiseration. We’ve all been there – no matter how hard it is to remember in the midst of the embarrassment.

  24. Yes I so feel this. I can laugh if I see one person smiling about the meltdown. I can laugh it off. Otherwise. Watchout you done pissed off mama

  25. Smiling’s my favorite. You are my favorite, too.

  26. I have been there so many times. Have left the mall with my child across the back of my neck like a log pinning her arms and legs with my arms cause it I threw her over my shoulder she hits me on the back and kicks me on the front. Carrying her like this got lots of reactions. We of course were parked at the opposite end of the mall from where this started. So much fun carying a screaming wriggling child in a death grip. I could only laugh and try to shrug at the questioning looks. the people were smiling at me as they could see I had control of the revolting screaming shithead.All the parents felt my pain.

  27. My Mum told me a very nice story from my childhood: I was around 3 and she went shopping with me when – surprise – I wanted some sweets and didn´t get them. I always throwed tantrums the right way: On the floor, screaming like hell, swearing, hitting everything and everybody close by. At this point she decided she had enough and scooped me up. But not in a motherly embrace: She held me around my waist very tight so I couldn´t move my arms and my legs were too far away to kick her. AND she continued shopping with my screaming like mad. She always laughed at this point and just said that she never was so quick out of the shop, everybody insisted in her being served first.
    I was always a very helpful daughter, eh?

  28. You know, this is so the entire “trick” to this life–“look for the smiling people. Sage, true and I think about the only thing that gets me through trips to Target–and all the stuff far less traumatic 😉

  29. My kids have melted down all over Los Angeles. It’s as though they’re trying to mark their territory with tantrums. I can never figure out why onlookers will do everything from judge, judge or judge, but they’ll never offer to help.


  30. I am thankful my son is out of the headbutting stage. He’ll still hit now and then but even that has considerably died down. He’ll also go several days between tantrums now, although when he throws one, it’s pretty intense, like all the frustration of the past few days just comes out at one time. He’s working on it though and gradually getting better. He’s pretty good overall, but boy does he have his moments!

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