Monday, last week, was abysmal. Something—a supplement, or an allergen, or another environmental factor, or . . . still trying to figure out—was causing Martin to be anxious and contrarian. He argued every statement, contradicted every request, had trouble holding himself together. Mondays I pick him up from school, we go to the natural-foods market, and I take him to personal training. Last Monday we had to break that routine and replace the natural-foods market with visiting the optician to fit Martin’s new glasses. That was bad enough. Then we spent too long at the optician and ended up late for personal training. Oh. My. Huge. Anxiety.
When we pulled into the gym parking lot, Martin was perseverating on our tardiness, demanding to go home, and trying not to cry. I knew I had work to do before we could enter the gym.
Monday also happened to be windy. Very windy. As I began to open my door, a gust blew it into the Volkswagen Beetle next to me. Just a tap—my door’s plastic rim hit the Beetle’s side panel. I withdrew the door and checked the other car for damage. The Beetle had enough nicks and scrapes that I needed a second to confirm where my door made contact. At that spot, I saw no damage.
Just my luck: A woman was sitting in the Beetle’s driver seat, texting or something. She thrust her head through her open sunroof and, glaring at me, contorted her face into a grimace.
I said, “Sorry The wind got hold of my door. Thank goodness it didn’t leave a mark.”
My mind, at that moment, was occupied about 2% with my car door, and about 98% with Martin’s potential meltdown, so I started to exit in order to deal with Martin.
The other woman’s mind, by contrast, seemed 100% occupied by the fact that my door had tapped her Volkswagen. She scowled, and yelled, “You’ve got to be more careful!”
“Yeah, sorry,” I repeated as I walked around my car to retrieve Martin. I helped him down from his seat and walked him to the back of my SUV, where I had enough space to kneel and take his hands in mine while reassuring him. This position, me kneeling in front of Martin, holding his hands and available for a hug if necessary, is our best defense to a meltdown. Martin was alternating among might-cry face, a few tears, and deep belly breaths to gather his composure. After 15 or 20 seconds, we were starting to get the potential meltdown under control. I was able to use one hand to wipe tears from Martin’s quivering cheek.
And then—VW Beetle chick decided she had found an appropriate time to address the non-existent injury to her jalopy. (Pardon my attitude. I believe it justifiable.) She exited the driver seat, walked around to the side panel my door had tapped, which was also close to me and Martin, and commenced a conspicuous inspection. The inspection involved leaning very close to her car, flashing me an angry expression, slurping diet soda, waiting for a response from me, and upon receiving no such response, repeating the entire process. At any other time, the situation would have been laughable. At this moment, as I sit here writing, the situation is laughable. Last Monday, on the other hand, in the midst of Martin’s anxiety, I felt my blood begin to rise. Seriously, lady? Seriously? I am—literally—on my knees in a gym parking lot, imploring my angst-ridden seven-year-old to hold his s*&t together, and you’ve found the perfect time to confront me for accidentally bumping the side panel of your car? I perceived a change inside me. Country-raised, uniformly polite suburban mom spirit was leaving my body. In her stead came chip-on-the-shoulder city girl. I started to stand. I was about to get up in this woman’s face, and not a little bit. I was about to be inches from VW chick’s nose.
And then—Martin’s chest heaved, and tears came. Instantly, I knew that Martin knew that I was on the verge of getting into it with another adult. I returned to my knees, reclaimed his trembling hands, and told him softly not to worry. I smiled. I reassured him that I had texted the personal trainer that we were coming late, so it was no big deal. I said how cool his new glasses looked, and that we were having his favorite lentils for dinner later, and that I might even make rice.
I would rather report that the VW driver realized her timing was off, that she said something like, “I can see you’re busy. Would you mind finding me in the gym after your son calms down?”, and then departed with only a glance at my license plate to ensure honesty.
She didn’t. She started the Beetle inspection routine anew. When she reached the part about slurping diet soda and waiting for a response from me, I raised my left hand to block her from my view. I actually gestured, “Tell it to the hand, because the mama ain’t listening,” and concentrated instead on Martin’s needs. I held my hand aloft, ignored the idiotic car inspection, and comforted my son.
Finally, VW chick aspirated a noise somewhere between grunt and sigh, as if she just couldn’t believe my nerve, and stormed into the gym. Our confrontation skipped climax and proceeded directly to denouement. Here’s the denouement: I was shaken. I was shaken because this woman had been so oblivious to Martin’s plight. I was shaken because I’d let her get to me. I was shaken because, if there is one thing I try to impart to Martin, it’s that his mom is in control, and he’d just witnessed me almost lose control.
When Martin and I were ready to head into the gym, I took another look at the Beatle and noticed fresh flowers in the dashboard vase.
That driver didn’t deserve fresh flowers.
There are two more posts coming in the Del Sur series. I interrupted, again, to report that someone will always kick you when you’re down.