It’s still dark when we set out to romp n’ run. I push Charlotte, bundled in the stroller, behind her brothers, bumbling down the snow covered dirt road, through yellow blots of streetlight. The wind is cold and in our faces, but we’re not far from the school. I can see the lights on and soon we’re inside. I get the kids out of their gear and together they cautiously enter the gym, where the playgroup facilitator, Sue, has set up the room for the preschoolers. On one side are balls large and small, Plasma cars and push toys for the toddlers. On the other side there are fabric tunnels and tents set up, big foam blocks for climbing and jumping, tumble mats and boxes of toys. We’re the first family to arrive.
I sit down next to Sue as the kids begin to play: they take advantage of the space and range around the entire room, touching a bit of everything. Sue and I chat about putting Aedan in kindergarten. I’m wary, because these playgroups often end with me near tears, dragging my rambunctious kids out early. So far, though, so good.
The first parents and their little ones begin to arrive. I try to be aware of the huge amount of space my oldest commands: he’s loud and boisterous and he throws the big balls after Colm, who pushes himself around the room on a plastic car. Repeatedly, I caution Aedan to stop trying to hit his brother. Roll the ball. Let’s play catch with a smaller ball. Stop. Please stop. Don’t do that. Over and over until I feel absolutely ridiculous. I’m acutely aware of the other parents and daycare workers in the room, who are likely not watching and judging my every move but it certainly feels like that anyway.
I’ve barely put out one fire before my boys have run to the other side of the room. They are ripping apart the plastic tunnel structure even as kids are trying to crawl through. A mom is trying to talk to me: it’s useless, I can’t hold down a conversation. She smiles apologetically and hurries away. The boys throw themselves on top of the tents set up: they collapse them. I feel frantic but I try to look calm, disinterested even, as I reassemble the tunnels and tents. And then again. And again one more time. I’m fraying. I issue a threat. We’ll leave if you can’t listen to me. I hate this particular threat because he’ll never learn to be with other kids if we leave every time it gets hard. And it punishes the other two. Aedan hardly looks at me as he tears off again.
He throws balls as hard as he can. He launches hula hoops like weapons. Maybe it’s the fluorescent lights that blare overhead, or the sounds of the kids voices that echo in the big room. Maybe it’s the other parents, sitting along the wall chatting and drinking coffee and tea out of travel mugs while their preschoolers placidly ride the cars or crawl through the tunnels I’ve reconstructed five times. Maybe it’s my own inner critic who never fucking shuts up, but I feel flayed wide open, on display. And even though other parents tell me: “Oh, they all go through this,” I don’t recall seeing another child quite like my oldest at any of these playgroups.
For the third time, Aedan takes a train track from one side of the room, dashes over to where the other kids are riding the little cars, and hurls it. Thankfully he doesn’t hit anyone. I take his hand and say as calmly as I can “We’re leaving now.” He doesn’t protest too much. Colm bursts into tears as I herd all three of them out. Sue calls a goodbye and I can barely get mine out.
Monster! I think, unkind both to my kid and myself. I try to replace it with something a little nicer, a little closer to the truth: High energy. Playful. I try not to diagnose. I feel totally defeated (it’s a common feeling for me, in parenting) as I get us all dressed again.
Out in the street, the sun is finally up, though it’s another grey day. The little boy who, minutes ago, couldn’t be contained, and seemed on a mission to hurt someone, looks up at me, his toque pulled low over his forehead, and says in his little boy voice: “I love you, Mama!”
My heart explodes for the millionth time this morning. I pick up the pieces, again, smile a tired smile down at him. “I love you, too, buddy.”
Image via Flickr user Kevin Dooley