I used to think that being stuck in traffic was awful. What could be worse, I thought, than the feeling of being completely trapped in a small metal box, surrounded by idiots, for absolutely no good reason? “There would be no traffic if you idiots would learn how to merge!” I would shriek. (Shrieking, by the way, was the only way to give myself a modicum of comfort.) “Yea verily,” I affirmed, “there is no circle of Hell deeper or closer to the icy tears of Satan than this.”
Then I had a child.
If you’ve never been stuck in traffic with a kid, you cannot know the precise and exquisite agony that entails. Imagine being stuck on an airplane with a screaming child, only you can’t even comfort yourself in my repeating soothing affirmations like “soon it will be over” or “only X more hours” or “the plane is moving; we’re making progress in getting to our final destination.” If, as Emily Dickinson said, “Hope is the thing with feathers,” then the uncertainty of how long you will be trapped in traffic with your child oozes over it like a fearful oil, preventing the feathery thing from flying and sentencing it to a slow, painful, sad death. Then there’s the burden you feel of thinking you have some control over the situation. You don’t, absolutely you don’t, but you cannot shake the feeling that you do, and that is what dances you to the brink of madness.
Before you tip over the edge, however, you must go through your paces and walk the path to Hell like so many parents before you, stopping at each station in its turn…
“Mommy, why aren’t the cars moving?”
Your heart beats faster and sweat prickles at your hairline, but you remain calm.
“It’s just a little traffic, sweetie, but I can see up ahead that the cars are moving.”
(You can’t. But you lie to yourself that you can.)
“We’ll be moving in another minute or so, we just have to be patient and wait our turn.”
You say these words and you mean them, but deep in your heart you know...
“Mommy, the cars still aren’t moving. We should move now.”
“I know, sweetheart, I’m sorry. There’s nothing I can do. Here, I think I have a granola bar in my bag. Would you like it?”
You figure this will buy you some time, and it does. But it only takes your child about three minutes to eat a granola bar, and then another two to whine that he’s still hungry. What then? So at this point, you move from bargaining with your child to bargaining with your god: the God of Sleep. You beseech Her blessings and beg Her to visit your child quickly. “Even if this screws up his schedule for tonight,” you whisper. “Even if it means he wakes up at 5 a.m. tomorrow. Please, just let him sleep through this.”
*Child emits a crying/whine*
*Your god has forsaken you*
Aww. Poor guy, you think. I mean, I’m annoyed in this traffic and I’m a rational adult. It must be awful for him. I just have to be patient and reassuring. You turn around in your seat and look him meaningfully in the eye:
“Baby, I know you’re irritated. Mommy is too. But we’ll move soon, okay?”
Oh my god, really? Stop. Just stop. We’re both annoyed, dude. I’m not crying. You don’t see me screaming and hitting the steering wheel even though that’s what I want to do. Knock it off.
“Almost, honey,” you say through clenched teeth, far more curtly than you’d intended.
*Whining and crying continues, at this point sounds like it’s coming from a wounded animal… but, like, an annoying wounded animal, not one you want to nurse back to health.*
“Mommy, move the car now!”
“Hey! First of all do not speak to me that way. Second, I told you I can’t move the car, okay? I can’t. So quiet down and stop screaming. If you do not stop, there will be consequences when we get home, do you understand? Serious consequences!Stop it! I’m sick of listening to you whine about something I have absolutely no control over. You are making this worse, now knock it off!”
*Child’s sobbing has now turned into sad whimpers because you yelled at them. You remember what you were thinking just moments ago about sympathy.*
“Oh my darling, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to yell at you. It’s just that I’m so frustrated, too. I know exactly how you feel.”
“You know what? I think I see that the other cars are moving a little bit! That means we can start moving again, too. We’re going to get home really soon, my love!”
*Child continues crying*
*Traffic continues unbroken and unmoved*
Indignation Over The Fact That Your Child Does Not Share Your Renewed Optimism Nor Do They Seem to Appreciate Your Apology
*Child’s sad sniveling has resumed full-fledged screaming*
*All the screaming. Forever. Now until the end of time. You cannot remember a time when there was no screaming.*
Soul Crushed In 3...
Pray For Death
When Death Doesn’t Come, Congratulations! You Have Officially Descended Into Madness!
And the cars still aren't moving, but mercifully, you can no longer feel the stress of the situation. You can't feel anything at all. You might never feel again.
Images: Bradley Gordon/Flickr; Giphy(14)