For the Members of the Public – you’re welcome

2 Sep

Wednesday we went to Target.

I know, shocking.

The girls and I had gone out, done a couple things, and I needed things like eye drops, Keurig cleaner, and maybe new shoes for Maura. Target was chosen for its ability to give us all those things, plus maybe a Starbuck’s if we were all good.

Starbuck’s never happened. Instead, by the end of the trip, I was opening a bottle of Coke I grabbed while in line for the register, and said to Miriam “Momma’s gonna pour some rum in this Coke when we get home.”


Maura had a meltdown coupled with a battle of wills. Hers vs Mine. Damn fecking back to school section, the one that caused a serious meltdown the first time we saw it, but that we had overcome and were able to navigate, struck one last time in its death throes. To sum up – she wanted a backpack, I said no, cue 20 minute power struggle.

Several minutes into this, I called Josh for help because Maura was now hugging the backpack to her chest and I was determined to stick to my “I said we’re not getting the backpack.” Sure, I could have backpeddled, but I’m trying to teach her – like I taught all my other kids – that we can’t get every thing every time, especially if we have at least five of those things in our bedroom at home. So every time she put it in the cart, I’d take it out, put it on the shelf, and say “I said no.”

When Josh got there, we were actually right by the doors. Josh gave her the “I hear you’re not listening to Mom” speech, and told her she had to leave the store. We left Miriam with the cart, and I escorted Josh escorting Maura to the car. All the way, I would say things like “We have to leave because you’re not listening.” and “I said I wasn’t buying that for you, and I’m not.” and basically calmly narrating what we were doing and why in a tone that carried.

Not for me.

Not for Maura.

No, I was doing that for you, the public. You, the group of four adults catching up by the doors who paused to look at the scene we were creating. You, the single guy who paused to let us go ahead of him through the doors (btw, thanks). You, the couple walking in. You, the store associates who looked our way.

“We’re going to the car because you won’t listen to Mom. Mom said no.”

I walked with my husband not because he’s incapable of handling Maura, but to give him the presence of another female as he escorted his daughter, who was digging her heels in literally, to the car. A man escorting a teenage girl screaming to a car looks bad. A man and woman escorting a teenage girl screaming looks more parental. I wasn’t walking with him to help, I was walking with him to make sure someone didn’t call security on my husband and daughter.

Because you are all watching, you people in public. You all stop and turn and watch for a moment or two or three, and you watch us. Why? I don’t know, because we’re making a scene. Because the scene she’s making isn’t socially acceptable at her age and height? Because you’re curious or just plain nosy. Because it’s something to tell someone later. Because you want to make sure she’s okay?

I think mostly it’s because you’re nosy. So here’s some facts –

It’s a meltdown. A meltdown isn’t behaving badly, it’s losing control. My job with my daughter is to help her regain control. In this case, as in many, removing her from the situation is the most helpful – she doesn’t have the reminder of what caused the meltdown in front of her.

No, I can’t predict these things. That instance – just happened. She had been golden and responsive to my redirections just moments before. I think the feeding frenzy in the school section set her off. So really, public, this was your fault, not hers.

It’s part of Maura’s learning curve, so we roll with it. Yes, that means sometimes, it happens in public. No, that doesn’t mean I’ll stop taking her out because how the heck is she supposed to learn if she’s a recluse? Not to mention…

No one helped us.

Not one offer of help, or a kind word. There were a couple moms who told their kids to keep moving, nothing to see here, but there was also one mom who didn’t notice her child laughing and pointing at my daughter (she got a stern look and a head shake of “No” from me though.) There were a lot of you going around us, giving us a quick glance or three, and then you went into the backpack section to buy backpacks, thanks a fecking lot for that. Okay, you didn’t know, but inadvertently, you didn’t make it easier.

No one made it easier on us, so why do we have to make it easier on you?

I told my therapist about this incident. She asked how I felt during it all.

“Well, I had to remain calm.” I said.

“Yes, that’s a given. But how did you feel, knowing all those people around you were watching?”

“Honestly? I ignore them. I’ve learned to put on blinders.”

My therapist was impressed.

But I have. I’ve put on blinders to most of the looks, the stares, the whispers and glances. I’ve had to, because none of you matter in that moment. This time was harder because we were in a main aisle, and people had to walk around us. I caught more than I usually do.

Besides, I don’t need to see you there to know that you are there, watching, judging. Everything I do in public to help my daughter is tinted with the personae I put on for your sake. The loving mother not showing frustration – that’s for you, the public. The wife walking with her husband and daughter – for you all. The calm mother stating firmly but never ever angrily how we have to leave the store because we can’t scream in the store – all for you, Members of the Public.

If I had my way, I’d probably be more “OMG kid, really? Get up off that floor now, move!” But I’m not allowed to do that. I’m also not allowed to sit on the floor and cry with her. Just like I’m not allowed to open up a bottle of wine and drink it through the store, even though the store sells wine. I have to embrace the role of saint in public when my daughter’s having a meltdown because my daughter is disabled, and parents of disabled kids are either saints or monsters.

So I’m a friggen saint.

And most of you don’t even appreciate it.





15 Responses to “For the Members of the Public – you’re welcome”

  1. nanis September 2, 2017 at 11:53 am #

    I admire you more and more with every post. But more importantly, I learn. If I see such a scene now, I will offer a hand. Can I help? The answer may be no, but I will offer. Thank you.

  2. Lisa Stark September 2, 2017 at 11:59 am #

    I would have been looking at you with admiration and respect, thinking, “There’s some good parenting right there.” I would have given you a thumbs up, too. This is not because Maura is “too old” to have a meltdown, but because any parent who puts aside embarrassment in order to teach their child is to be admired.

    Now, my question: what could I have done to help you in that moment? I deescalate kids as part of my job, but that’s in a school setting. What would be helpful for me, or anyone to do to help a parent when their child is melting down in public?

    You are a wonderful mother and advocate. All your children are lucky to have you.

    All Best,

    Lisa Stark M.Ed. ‚ÄčResource Specialist Sandra Cisneros Learning Academy 1018 Mohawk St., Los Angeles, CA 90026 SCLA: 213/353-5300 Cell: 818/535-2248


  3. Wendy September 2, 2017 at 2:02 pm #

    Because I am a human and because I’ve worked with kids for 40 years, when I see what looks like a melt down between a parent and a child, my head turns in the direction of the noise. Yes! I do stop what I’m doing and look/stare. Yes, I do wonder if I should offer assistance but on one occasion I was told to mind my own business. So, there’s that. In my job, I was the one for 20 years who was called when.a child in school had a meltdown and had to be removed from class or quietly calmed down. It is not my business to interfere with what you describe was going on in the store with your daughter but when a scene such as you described, one wonders if there is child abuse or poor behavior management. Those are the usual thoughts of bystanders in your particular situation.
    I do admire the way you try to handle things and how you try to maintain the ‘proper’ composure when things are out of hand in public. I’m not so sure I’d be able to keep my feelings out of the situation…. IF the situation was mine.

    Please don’t take this as a criticism as you are very clear on how you try to handle a situation and describe how you feel inside and how hard it is to control yourself at the moment. I’m just taking the viewpoint of a person in public who might be in the area where you were when the eruption came out of nowhere. You are a brave women to even venture into the school supply section especially considering how your daughter always wants another back pack. I enjoy your posts as you always manage to put humor into every situation.

  4. bluerosegirl08 September 2, 2017 at 2:27 pm #

    As a physically disabled adult who needs help with EVERYTHING except talking, I have had many accidents while in a store. Hardly anybody helps. Even if I don’t have an accident people still stare because my guy is helping me in the bathroom. It’s mortifying and I want to scream at people. I am right there with you.

  5. Angel of Anthropology September 2, 2017 at 3:53 pm #

    Saint Phoebe, I was thinking as I was reading this of asking you what you would like us the undeserving public, to do for you that would help? Especially when you said no one helped. I believe a post was done about this, but forgive me if I can’t remember if it was you or another person who wrote it.
    I know kids can be difficult, I had two boys…I say had cause some species eat their young for a reason. Which of course I’m kidding. And I really hope everyone can understand that! Pretty sure my sense of humor is greatly twisted because of them. They’re both fine, one just graduated COLLEGE and the other is about to graduate high school. But they could still be a handful. I can clearly see how Saintly you are.
    I hate how people rubberneck with everything. You laugh too loud and every pair of eyes around are suddenly on you.
    So please, remind us of how we can make your life better, because it does not hurt any of us to give a few moments of our time to make sure the mother saints out there have a little easier time of things.

  6. She-Ra September 2, 2017 at 8:17 pm #

    How can we help?

  7. Josephine Cox September 3, 2017 at 10:28 pm #

    I wasn’t there, but from what you have written I wouldn’t just admire (and commend) you for how you “try” to handle things, but for how you do handle things.
    Keep up the good work. I hope everyone who reads this learns a little.
    People – gotta love ’em, gotta try not to hate ’em.

  8. koshka September 5, 2017 at 9:42 am #

    I turn and watch, usually to try to evaluate if 1- is this situation an emergency, is someone yelling for help; 2- does the scene look obviously abusive, and if so do I need to reach out to security; 3- is an adult/other responsible person handling the situation; 4- does said adult look like they have it under control (if yes- try to make eye contact and smile at them, let them indicate if they want something. and if no- assess if i have time/capability to help, and if so, offer help. if not, ask if there is someone i can call get for them)

    Usually in these situations it is a 2-6 year old child on the subway that doesn’t want to sit down, so then it’s just mostly a smile and small cuckle to myself.

    But I’m nosy/curious, so if there is a scene or anything out of the ordinary, I’m going to at least look that way. Hopefully the smile I give seems supportive rather than judgy, but my facial expressions are not always accurate to what I’m trying to convey.

  9. teacherturnedmommyblog September 5, 2017 at 11:21 am #

    like many of the other comments, I would have stopped because as a teacher we are trained to look at these situations and assess. As a mother who would most likely have my children with me, I would have moved on if I felt you had the situation under control. not because I was sheltering my children, but because I know that often times extra attention will escalate the situation. What would have been helpful for others to do?

  10. bostonterrio September 15, 2017 at 7:55 pm #

    Being that this took place in a public place people are bound to look. I don’t believe it really is about people being nosey. It is a natural tendency to look at a disturbance of any kind. I have been in similar situations when my children were young and back then the advice was to walk away from the tantrum but stay within sight of the child (talking about young children). I received more than my share of judgemental looks. Each child and each situation is different and clearly you know what works with your child. I am interested to hear how you feel anyone could help you in that situation. Personally if anyone approached and offered to help me my anxiety would have soared. I am always hesitant to offer any help for fear of making the situation worse.

    • Phoebe September 17, 2017 at 12:02 pm #

      Unless you have had security called on you because they “heard a woman screaming” and that woman was your 14 yr old daughter having a public meltdown (which is different than a tantrum btw) then no, you have not been in a similar situation.

      I too have had screaming preschoolers in public. That’s called normal, and everyone who has ever had a child has experienced that.

    • Phoebe September 17, 2017 at 1:47 pm #

      btw, here’s where someone explains meltdowns vs tantrums

  11. Grandpa September 17, 2017 at 2:58 pm #

    With you, there. I did sit on the floor. But, then, my granddaughter was only seven and I could hold her. My wife saw a couple of teenagers laughing and said, “Don’t laugh. She’s autistic.” (Actually, it’s Attachment Disorder, but who knows the difference.) The girls’ father was great. He turned to his girls and said, “See. I told you not to laugh. I’m glad to see you’re all ashamed of yourselves now.” Much appreciated support.

    And good support, too, from the people who wanted to look at the shelves in front of which we were sitting. “Am I in your way?” I asked. “No. It’s OK.” Again, much appreciated.

    Still, I agree with you. Sometimes we have to make a public show of what we are doing just to shut people up.


  1. What YOU can do | Herding Cats - September 17, 2017

    […] my last post hit a nerve with […]

  2. Ruffled feathers | Herding Cats - September 19, 2017

    […] blogged about a public meltdown that Maura had. Shared how I felt. I was honest, and maybe a bit too raw […]

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