My brother, Jon, and his family were in town for a visit last week, and on their last day here, we decided to stop by a little shop for some ice cream. All the kids waited in the car with my sister-in-law while Jon and I went inside to order everyone’s treats.
But when we got back to the car and started handing out the goodies, Jon’s 5-year-old daughter completely lost her mind when she learned what flavor of ice cream he had chosen for her. There were tears. Tantrum. Terror.
It only took a short timeout to get her back to her normal, sweet self, but by the time we got home, my sister-in-law was a little depressed. “I’m pretty sure I don’t know anything about disciplining children,” she moaned.
And that’s when I knew: It was time to share with the world one of my most epic parenting fails. If you have felt inadequate lately, or like you’re doing this whole parenting thing wrong, then this story is my gift to you. Rest assured that you are – at the very least – better parents than Logan and Julia Ditto.
Our epic fail took place almost exactly six years ago when we were picking up our kids from their annual campout with their grandparents. We’d loaded the exhausted campers into our minivan and were headed out on the drive home when overtired and habitually dramatic 7-year-old Jane had a colossal meltdown.
She was crying, yelling, sobbing, thrashing – it was otherworldly in its scope. Finally, we did what any good parents would do and kicked her out of the car on the side of the highway in Rathdrum. She stood there outside the car, and we sat inside and waited for her to calm down – which took about 1 minute – and then we continued on our merry way.
The rest of the ride was uneventful until the very end when – dun, dun, dun! – a police officer pulled us over. The highway incident had been long-forgotten at that point, so as the officer sauntered to the car, Logan and I turned to each other and wondered what we had done wrong. Speeding? Expired tabs?
Nope. Suspected kidnapping. The police officer explained that someone had seen our little family drama unfold on the highway, and when Jane hopped back into the car and Logan accelerated to get back up to speed, it looked like she was being kidnapped. The Good Samaritan had called the police.
Logan and I laughed. The cop was less amused. He started questioning us in earnest.
Cop: Did she need to get out of the car to go potty or something?
Us: Well, she did need to get out.
Cop: Was it to go to the bathroom, or …
Us: (Pause – feeling like the worst parents in the universe) She was flipping out. She needed to cool off a little bit.
What I really wanted to say was, “Honestly, we’re getting in trouble for taking her? Believe me, I would have much rather left her on the side of the road.” But I thought that might get me in actual trouble, so I kept quiet. The cop poked his head into the car so he could see all the kids.
“Everyone OK back there?” he asked. The kids were all dead silent, and Jane looked terrified – probably exactly the way an actual kidnapped child would look. But at that point, I think the cop realized that, with four other kids strapped into their car seats, there was no way we would snatch another one, so he talked to the kids one more time.
“Was there some fighting going on back here? Someone needed to cool off?” Finally, they all relaxed and started laughing, and he sent us on our way.
We all learned some valuable lessons from that experience: Jane learned that she could get the cops called on her parents at will, and Logan and I learned that, despite our best efforts, we were really going to mess up sometimes.
Hang in there, parents. You’re doing OK. And if you ever need a pep talk, I’ll see if I can give you a call next time I’m on parole.
Julia Ditto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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