No one wants to be that angry parent in public. I see the occasional frazzled mom yelling at her kids as she pushes her cart up and down the grocery store aisles, and I feel smug in my belief that I am not that type of mom. Except I was last week. For about two seconds, I was that angry parent in public.
It happened during my 5-year-old’s preschool class zoo field trip. I wasn’t expecting it. We weren’t having a particularly “yelly” day. Maybe it was the combination of the drizzly cold weather, a busy morning wrangling children, and an alarm clock that went off earlier than usual. Oh, and that little problem my daughter has with listening, or not listening. I have to remind myself that most preschoolers have trouble listening, but some days are still rough.
It happened while we were on our way to use the bathroom after lunch. A handsome peacock unfurled his tail feathers and flaunted them boldly just outside the bathroom door. He created a fascinating distraction, and it took the class three times longer than usual to use the bathroom. I stood near the stroller where my 1-year-old was strapped in and snapped photos of my 5-year-old admiring the peacock with friends. They crept as close to him as they dared and cheesed for the camera.
I was in the middle of recording video footage when I noticed many children who were not part of our group were reaching out to touch the tips of the peacock’s tail feathers. Some of the adults quietly said, “Don’t touch the peacock.” Kids continued to touch him. More parents asked children not to touch the bird’s feathers. No one listened. I saw my daughter join the offending children and touch the peacock’s tail. I told her not to touch. She touched, and I temporarily lost my head.
I surprised myself by how loud and firm I sounded. The small group of children and adults around us got quiet and suddenly no one was touching the peacock. I sounded exactly like one of those moms yelling at her kids in the grocery store, except I’m not that type of mom. At least I try not to be. We are fans of Parenting with Love and Logic in our household, which helps us avoid most angry outbursts.
One little blonde girl, who I thought was one of my daughter’s classmates, casually asked, “Why can’t we touch the peacock?”
I don’t know whether peacocks are especially fragile or cranky. Not touching him seemed like the right thing to do.
“You shouldn’t touch him because you could hurt his feathers,” I said calmly.
Then I realized the girl was not from my daughter’s class. Her mother came up beside her and hurried her into the nearby bathroom. I’d want to get my child away from the crazy yelling lady, too. Megan was unfazed. She grabbed a chocolate chip cookie out of the stroller and followed me as we walked back toward our group, which was ready to move on to the sea lion exhibit.
Megan is accustomed to getting in trouble for not listening. Earlier this week, I scolded her for not holding the side of the cart and staying close while we crossed the grocery store parking lot, after I asked her twice to hold the cart. When I picked her up from preschool the other day, she emerged from her classroom clutching a little snack baggy full of puppy chow the class made. I repeatedly told her to put her puppy chow and her day’s worth of art projects in her backpack so we could go home for lunch. Megan, however, sees pickup time as extra free time to interact with friends. She chatted it up and set all her stuff down in random multiple places, and the puppy chow disappeared. There were tears. I refrained from saying, “I told you so.” I’m pretty sure her ears work and that this is just part of being 5 years old, but that doesn’t make it less frustrating for me. My outburst in front of the peacock was a cumulative thing.
Still, the scene replayed in my mind the rest of the day. My scolding was within reason, but I hated how angry I sounded. And in front of a crowd of happy parents and children. Later at home, we looked at our pictures from the day and watched several videos I recorded at the zoo. In the last video, Megan can be clearly seen touching the peacock’s feathers, just before I turned off the recording feature and yelled at her. “Is that when you yelled at me to not touch the peacock?” she asked.
We mostly enjoy a placid, pleasant family life. The pleasant days far outnumber the harried days. Still, we all have those days. My husband assured me it’s okay. He remarked that evening, “If your patience doesn’t get tested occasionally, you’re not human.” I’ll get over my embarrassment about being that angry mom in public, hug my daughter who has forgotten about it by now, and continue to help her with her listening lapses. Maybe we’ll just stay away from peacocks for a while, too.
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