I was so excited to enroll my 3-year-old daughter into gymnastics—she’s my always active, fearless, stubborn, and daring girl. The girl whose teachers had to ask me to remind her that swinging from arch to arch in the classroom was not OK, and who has nearly given me heart attacks flipping off the couch. The girl who has so much high energy, that I know getting it all out with sports would be so healthy for her. The girl who is fierce about doing everything “by herself . . . “
I just knew she would love gymnastics.
And she did. So much so that when it was time to leave her first lesson, she fiercely threw herself down on the floor, screaming “I don’t want to go!!” Yes, just as passionately as she had tumbled in our living room or in her classroom, she was aggressively making me question my own strength (both physical and emotional) as I picked her up off the ground, kicking and all, and began the trek back to my car.
Honestly, the meltdown that ensued was the biggest one she has ever thrown in public, and I couldn’t even bring myself to look around at other parents to gauge their reactions. Instead, I focused on trying to help her express her frustration without hurting herself or me, and also somehow keeping her little sister glued to my side, as we toddled across the busy parking lot. I could feel my own frustration increasing as my 3-year-old increased her thrashing about in my arms, and feeling rather overwhelmed, I ended up tucking her under my arm in a football carry as I firmly grabbed her sister’s hand.
There are all sorts of parenting methods out there as to how to deal with this situation, but I knew in that instant I was so exhausted from my work day, from the moment, and from the outside heat, that my focus needed to be to help regulate her emotions, while regulating mine. However, as the trek to my car felt longer than a cross-country trip, I didn’t think I was getting anywhere. And I felt entirely alone as a mom.
Until I accidentally made eye contact with another mom.
I fully expected an eye roll. Or a quick aversion of the eyes. Or just a stare. But no. Despite my blurred mind, I heard her say, “I’ve been there. You got this, mama.” I managed a weak smile. The moment was fast—the mom never stopped, she had indeed kept walking. But it was just enough to give me a bit of strength to get to my car without melting into tears myself.
As I wrestled my daughter into her car seat (not unlike getting a cat into a pet carrier), I heard another voice behind me. That of a dad with three young kids of his own saying, “Ya know, today is your day. Any other day, we have the same struggle. Do you need help?” I was awestruck. No judgment. No “I would never let my kid be like that.” Just raw, assuring fellow parenthood.
I really don’t remember how I got her secured in her car seat, but I remember letting the tears fall down my cheeks on the car ride home. Bath time and bedtime were a blur, but by then all three of us were too tired for any more smack-down fights, so after the “I uv u, Mama”s, messy kisses, and tight hugs, I collapsed on my bed, replaying the moments of the previous three hours, half regretting I had thought gymnastics was a good idea.
I deftly grabbed my phone, absentmindedly scrolling through pictures and videos I had taken of her first gymnastics lesson. I felt a smile come back to my face, as I saw the smile on my daughter’s face being in her zone. And as I created a Facebook post of this memory, I thought about the two parents who had reached out to me encouragingly to remind me that I was not alone. So instead of just captioning “Great first day of gymnastics,” I typed, “Not gonna lie, after this, she had the biggest public meltdown she’s ever had . . .” And after a bit of explanation, I ended it with, “I’m determined to help her fuel her hard-headedness for good!”
The comments that ensued from that raw post helped me see two things:
My worth as a mama isn’t directly tied to my kid’s tantrums or lack thereof.
And in the words of a sweet friend: “If you haven’t football-carried your child somewhere, are you even a mama?”
So to the mama with the extra fierce kiddo. To the mama football-carrying your kiddo across the parking lot. To the mama whose ears are still ringing from your kid’s screams. To the mama unsure of how gentle or firm to go in the rough moments. To the mama crying in self-doubt. To the mama softly petting your little one’s hair as they quietly sleep, just soaking up the cuteness before it all gets loud and crazy in the morning . . . you are not alone.
We are all doing our best. And because of two parents who weren’t afraid to keep it real, I now am the mama who’s calling out to another mama, “I get it. You got this, mama!”