I’m standing outside the Museum of Fine Arts at 8:50 AM, not 100 yards from the spot where, yesterday morning, some guy called me out for yelling at Benjamin. I’m not yelling now, and Benjamin is happily running up the steps and down the ramp. Lilah is balancing on a stone curb.
Zachary is half a block behind us, now 36 minutes into a meltdown that started as we pulled out of the driveway, continued all the way past the mall and Dunkin’ Donuts, through upwards of twelve major intersections, and into the city. It continued after I parked the car and got the younger two children out. It persisted even after I coaxed him out of the car and halfway down the sidewalk, where I think he realized the potential shame of sobbing in front of his friends but could not stop the crying and so instead refused to come any closer to the museum entrance.
I kept walking, leaving him and his backpack in the middle of the sidewalk in hopes it would burn out without an audience. Now, an audience materializes in the form of one of his classmates with his grandmother, who is dropping him off for the morning. Arrested by the sight of a small child standing alone in a sidewalk in tears, she stops to ask if he was OK, which gives him an audience and also fuels his frustration. Damn it, I think as I watch her talk to him. That’s going to add a couple more minutes back on.
“Is he part of your family?” she asks when she reaches me.
“Yes,” I reply. “I’m watching him from here. He needs to be left alone when he’s like this. It’s unfortunate when it happens in public places.”
Somehow, the boy comes closer and I get him up the steps, but he still hasn’t calmed down. I’m not going to tell you why he is hysterical, because you wouldn’t believe it anyway, but suffice it to say he needs to be separated from his brother as soon as possible.
It is super-awesome when he starts refusing to go up to class. The grandmother is standing there, watching, while my kid cries and says, “I’m not going.”
“It’s not an option,” I tell him. “You are going up.”
“I’m not going.”
But, oh, yes he is. And he does. And by the time I’ve taken the younger two to the bathroom, the teacher reports that Zach is fine.
Now, at this point I’ve listened to his histrionics for three-quarters of an hour. I haven’t yelled. I haven’t threatened. I have been firm and clear but also sympathetic. I also have a huge goddamned headache and have completely depleted my stores of patience for the day.
I take the other two across to play in the grass until the museum opens. On our way back, we run into the grandmother.
“You know,” she says. “You were great with him.”
“Really. He’s not an easy kid. He’s stubborn. You’ve got your hands full.”
And right there, with that acknowledgement – perhaps 200 yards from where some asshole cut me down just one day ago – she completely refills all those stores of patience.
It’s a damned good thing she does, given that I’m about to spend six hours in an art museum with my children.