Taming the Dragon
A short (but true) story by Jill McKeon
Last Thursday I went to the Ridgewood Library to write. I called Erica, my live-in nanny, second mommy to my children, my lifesaver, and asked her to meet me there with the kids by 4 pm. I go. I write. I am feeling good, relaxed, with a full reservoir of patience as I head down into the children's room. I spy Thomas and Mollie sitting on the floor near the adventure books. Erica is reading aloud a book about dragons. Their faces light up when they see me.
"How did you know where to find us?" Thomas asks with wonder.
"Well, I just listened for your voices and looked with my eyes and there you were!"
"Can we look for some videos on volcano blasts, and hot lava and stuff?" Thomas asks excitedly.
While Mollie remains in Erica's lap giggling over books about puppies riding bicycles, Thomas and I stride determinedly toward the books titled volcanoes and fire-blasts. I think to myself how interesting it is that my recently turned six-year-old son has been intermittently raging for almost a year and is fascinated by hot lava, volcanic eruptions and fire-breathing dragons. He spends hours drawing every day, and every creature he creates is inevitably spitting plumes of red-orange rage. He has been so calm, so chatty, so animated and seemingly happy for a day and a half - a good stretch for us.
"I can't walk, I can't stand up, I can't do anything," he wails.
As we are packing up to leave, the rumblings and little puffs of smoke begin to emerge. Our plan is to head to Whole Foods for dinner...an event we usually love. Thomas spies the Pokemon videos as we walk toward the checkout counter.
"Why can't we get a real video instead," he asks with a whine. He knows the answer, and without even hearing it he begins his mini eruptions.
"I hate that hot lava video, and besides, I have already seen it, and why can't we ever get any good videos anymore? I am going to get a Pokemon video and that is final."
I calmly tell him that he can get the Lava video or nothing. (We already have three DVDs from the video store at home.)
"Fine then, I am not going to get anything!" he yells while tossing the Lavablast video on the nearest table.
"OK Thomas," I reply and head toward the librarian's desk. He angrily runs back and grabs Lavablast. We straggle out of the children's room with Mollie, Erica and a spontaneously combusting Thomas, in tow. He purposefully drops his red fleece skiing jacket on the floor. As it falls it splays open and wide creating a big diversion for any and all that may follow toward the check out desk.
"I dropped my jacket," he says with doom.
Erica begins to respond and I nudge her and shake my head, "No." The jacket lays abandoned, an early casualty of a battle just begun.
I quietly hand our large pile of books to our friendly librarian and slide my card across the counter. Erica is squatting down zipping up Mollie's pink bulky winter jacket. Now normally she might whine a little about it being too tight, but not now. Now she is quiet and curious, watching me, watching Thomas. She knows the show has begun.
"Mom, didn't you hear me, I dropped my jacket and I am not picking it up! So, so, so what Mom, aren't you going to pick it up?" he questions in a loud demanding tone.
I reply, surprised by my own calm voice. "Okay Thomas, you dropped your jacket and you aren't going to pick it up."
"Mom," he says belligerently, "I am going to count to ten, no I am going to count to six, no, I am going to count to three and then you better go get my jacket and that is final." I quietly turn to Erica, hand her the keys and tell her to take Mollie to the car. I am trying hard to separate her from the raging. She is a sponge soaking up the toxic flames. Last week when I cut her banana on the wrong diagonal she called me a "stupid-shut-up mommy" (Thomas' latest and favorite mommy slur). She is two years old.
The librarians are silent and watching this whole scene. It is always fun to have an audience when trying new parenting techniques with a raging six-year-old.
"You are having a tough day," one of the librarians says to me with a look of sympathy.
"I am having a tough year," I reply, choosing a tight laugh versus an all out sob. Meanwhile Thomas continues with a litany of how many different things he is or is not going to do to me if I do not get his jacket. The latest being that if I do not get his jacket, then he will die from the cold and then he will tell Daddy and Daddy will call the police who will then put me in jail.
"For final-ever Mom," he warns me.
He is a creative little boy. The librarians follow my lead, remaining silent as if the rage spitting forth is washing over them also. As I place my library card back into my wallet, I turn to Thomas.
He rolls around writhing, moaning and crying. I sit at the cafe table and pretend to read a book as if this is exactly what I want to be doing.
"Tommy, I would like to go now. I would love for you to grab your jacket so we can leave for dinner."
He looks up at me with squinty, fire-red eyes. "I'm not gonna, and that's final." As I walk out of the library and into the foyer lined with cafe tables and chairs on top of big cream-colored square tiles, I feel Thomas pulling at my side.
"I can't walk, I can't stand up, I can't do anything," he wails.
He has turned into jelly man without muscle tone, flopping about in circles, threatening to crash into large display boards. He falls to the middle of the floor, splayed open as if mirroring his red jacket one room away. He rolls around writhing, moaning and crying. I sit at the cafe table and pretend to read a book, as if this is exactly what I want to be doing, while my six-year-old son lays his tantrum all over the entrance to the library for any and all to judge my parenting skills. (This is, after all, what Aviva, my parenting guru, says to do.)
To my left is a window into the concerned librarians' desk. They peer through at us every so often, checking on our progress. I sit, I read, Thomas moans, Thomas cries. A mom of two ambles out toward the parking lot, stepping around Thomas.
"I tried to pick up your son's jacket, but the librarian told me to leave it." I thank her and let her know that those librarians are supporting me. I peek through the window and see another mother who has just entered the library, side stepping my son while looking around for his mother, pointing in our general direction and reporting who knows what. Perhaps Thomas was right and I will be sent to jail tonight.
So after ten full minutes pass, or was it ten hours, I am hungry. It is five o'clock and I wonder what time the library closes. Erica and Mollie are in the car. My mind wanders. I wonder if Erica has figured out how to turn the car on, or if they are sitting out there blowing cold smoke rings. Erica is from Mexico. She is twenty-one. She came to NYC when she was sixteen with the goal of sending money to her family in Puebla. She has lived with us for five years. I tried to teach her how to drive last summer, but that is for another story.
Thomas' loud cries have simmered to quiet moans. He is just rolling a little with an occasional whimper.
"Thomas," I say, "I am really hungry. I am going to Whole Foods. I would really love you to come. Go get your jacket and we can go." He holds out his hand. I walk over to him and grasp it steadily in mine and pull him up. He releases my hand. His jelly legs are stable, steady and strong. He marches into the library, past the desk, past the observing librarians, picks up his jacket and tucks it under his arm. He takes hold of my hand and says animatedly, "Mom, I think I will get a California roll at Whole Foods."
"Okay, Thomas," I reply (sorely tempted to add "Is that final?").
I glance through the window and a librarian gives me the 'thumbs up' sign. I cannot see myself but I can feel my smile from ear to ear. There is hope. I may be able to tame this fire-breathing dragon after all.
Jill McKeon has been listening to the audio version of the STEP program.