“Where are the suitcases?”
Jeff’s voice wasn’t quiet, but he wasn’t yelling. There was an eerie calm where, moments ago, there had been chaos. Seth had been jumping around the living/dining kitchen space of our motor home. And while it’s a large motor home, there’s not a surplus of space for jumping around. Apart from being annoying, it’s dangerous.
He’d ignored my warnings not to jump. And now, he had a sucker in his mouth, the stick and its candy orb looking less like the diversion I’d just intended and more like an injury maker. I realized this in the same split-second his head came just millimeters away from striking the edge of the galley counter top.
“STOP!” I yelled.
And then, he crossed a line. No child should ever read his mom’s blog and be forced to relive a childhood transgression, so I’ll leave it at that.
And before I could respond (which I did, poorly, without a lot of pause and deliberation—any, really), Jeff was asking where the suitcases were.
It seemed like a stupid question to me, in that moment, even as I knelt on the floor next to Seth, trying to calm us both down while explaining the inherent danger in his previous activity, and explaining that disrespectful behavior wouldn’t fly…
I felt stupid, ineffectual and useless. Still, I pressed on, arguing my point to a 5 year-old judge. Not in an inside voice.
I brought the voice down a bit and told Jeff the suitcases were in the car. As I looked up, I had a view into the bedroom at the back of the rig, where my husband was swiftly emptying drawers of clothes I’d placed in them just that morning, .
We’d been at the campsite an hour. Jeff called an audible.
“We. Are. Leaving,” he said, clearly and firmly. “I’m not spending a week like this, and Seth is not going to act out in order to get his way.”
The fact is, the thing he’d been mad about was that I’d stopped his game, chasing a balloon, which I had (stupid me) blown up in an attempt to entertain him. (“What did you think he was going to do with the balloon? Cuddle it?!” I admonished myself, silently.)
“Um, I’ll get the bags. They’re in the car, I’ll be right back.”
He’s not faking, I thought. He’s serious.
I stomped out the door. I slammed it as best I could, which is to say, pushed hard against the self-regulating hydraulic hinges. I stalked across the grass to the car, popping the trunk with my key fob—the subtlety of the motion mocking me as I fumed. I heard the RV door open and shut. Footsteps. Jeff’s voice.
“Hey! Hey!” He called out to me—I thought his tone would be angrier. I hadn’t parented very thoughtfully back there. Instead, his tone was buddy-like, almost conspiratorial, vaguely apologetic. We’ve been married a long time, so I can tell how much emotion he packs into two syllables. I felt like I deserved some reproach. My overreaction had fueled the situation, I thought. He crossed the lawn and caught up to me. Touched my arm.
“I know you’re mad. I’m sorry. But I had to do it.”
“I’m not mad. At you,” I said. “I’m pissed as hell at Seth—and myself. But you did the exact right thing. I’m glad one of us had the presence of mind to do the right thing.” We’d been counting minutes until this motor home trip all summer. When we’re all in sync, being in the motor home is the way we operate best—close quarters, few distractions, intimate family time. Or, what I fondly refer to as “being pod people.”
The thought of trashing a whole, precious long weekend of pod-people existence, before we could even start—I wondered, on the periphery of my brain, if we’d actually do a better job parenting if we worked through the issues and showed them that we could come together after all. Then, I recalled how many times we’d tried that—and, importantly, he’d already gone out and said, “we’re leaving.” If we reversed the decision, we’d have zero authority to address consequences—on that trip, or in any other context. It’s not lost on me that we are only getting the hang of consequence-rendering now that our children are school-aged. Jeff, hearing my thoughts without benefit of speech, made it clear we were on the same page.
“I’m determined to show him consequences, you have to trust me,” he said. “If we do this, I can almost guarantee it won’t happen again. We’ll wait it out a week or two and we’ll go camping—a bunch. All summer. But it won’t be a war every time. I won’t let it.”
“You’re 100 percent right,” I said. “I’m proud of you, and grateful.”
Truthfully, I was mad—at myself. For both engaging in the fight with Seth, and for letting things escalate, and for not being smart enough in the moment to think of it myself. That feeling passed in a flash—all I felt was grateful and relieved, that one of us had the presence of mind to actually be the parent in the room, the person who could guide and teach, rather than react. Behold, partnership.