“The over usage of “pesticles” have lead to -“
“Wait, what?”
“”Pesticles” have lead to -“
“”Pesticides”, honey. The word is “pesticides”.”
“Ohhhh, ok!”

The librarian stared at us without any humor. I smiled, nodded, and responded, “How’s it going?”

So much of what we wish our children heard could fill an ocean and the fraction they do hear is that thimble of sheer miscommunicated, maddening hilarity that eternally reminds us that we all can be humbled by our offspring.

Such was the lesson I learned this past summer when attempting to take my children to a park where they promptly ran in separate directions. After said children were herded together I commenced with a stern reminder of staying in my sight and listening when I call. For good measure I threw in the guilt trip, “Mama, can’t keep up. I’m trusting you both to use listening ears, kind words, gentle hands, and please don’t hug the dogs!”

They cast their eyes down and shuffled their feet as I grumbled to myself and searched in my purse for a requested baby wipe, “Besides, mama is feeling menopausal and having frickin hot flashes in 90 degree weather so MAMA has zero patience…”

I took a deep breath, shot my eyebrows into my hairline, and smiled maniacally as I turned back towards them sounding frighteningly chipper, “Ok, you got one hour, frolic!”

They bolted headlong into one another and scrambled across the bark littered playground. We arrived so early, as usual, that there were only dogs on the playground and people sleeping on the benches.

Owen scampered up the climbing wall, across the bridge, and down the slide and back again at a pace most would only sustain on cocaine. On the 10th round he managed to run into the side of the slide and yard-saled himself across the bark.

I resisted the urge to run toward him when I saw the frustration on his face. He would want space instead. Give him space, he can do it, he knows you love him…

“You ok, Owen?”
He wouldn’t look at me. He brushed the bark from his pants and shouted, “Yeah! I p’fine!!”

His “f”s were still difficult for him. Especially when he was angry. They disappeared completely when he was melting down.

Leonora ran towards him to check on him but it was too late for me to stop her. She offended him by not listening to his words and received his anger in response.

“NO, Leo-nor-AAAA! NOOOOO! I PIIIIIINE!”

He pushed her with all his might and she landed flat on her back in thanks for her compassion. She stood back up with her eyes downcast and she walked towards me and stopped. I stepped towards her and she ran away towards the swings to cry in solitude except that meant she was heading to the other side of the park and Owen of course returned to dangling precariously off the side of the play structure. I shouted after her, knowing she wouldn’t respond but desperate for her to stop, and instead helped Owen while staring at her receding body as she ventured into a dimly lit area of the park in the early morning with no other person in sight.

Chills ran down my spine and I knew I needed to go after her.

“One more time down the slide Owen and then we’re going to the swings.”
“NOOO.”
“Ok, or we can go straight home.”
“NOOOO.”
“Ok, then come on.”

We marched over to Leonora and I attempted to load Owen into a swing as he kicked and squirmed throughout the process. My left knee subluxated and bent backward, my lower back screamed, and I bit down not to shout in pain. I gritted my teeth and strained to calmly say, “Please help mama, Owen. Stop kicking. Not yet.”

He showed no sign of sensing my pain or distress, simply began kicking even more once his bottom hit the seat, and I staggered back to give him room to fly. Leonora was swinging sullenly with her head drooped down and didn’t say a word. Merely glanced over at us then bolted out of the swing to run off yet again. My patience snapped.

“LEONORA!”

She froze and looked at me in surprise. Her eyes unbelievably larger than usual.
“If you run off again we’re going home. Is that understood?”

She nodded, returned her eyes to her feet, and stood still. I waited to see if she would come back to the swings but she cotinued to stand in place looking despondent.

Owen seemed oblivious to any distress or tension and announced as he jumped from the moving swing, “All done!”

He ran back to the structure and I simply sighed in defeat.

I walked up to Leonora and put my arm around her, “I’m sorry, it’s not fair, I know. It seems like he gets away with running off but he doesn’t and he isn’t. Let’s go remind him to stay together and we’ll head home in fifteen minutes, ok?”

She nodded, glanced furtively at my face, and ran towards the play structure. Owen had recommenced with his impression of a human gerbil wheel and was spinning his body down the firefighter pole. His feet hit the ground and his face jerked towards a sound as tempting as a shaker tin is to my ear. A dog’s squeaky toy.

That was it. It was hopeless. He broke into a dead run and head long towards the dog area to play with the squeaky toy, dog owner or not, be damned. I had no choice but to outrun him and I managed to catch him just as I tripped on a crack in the pathway and rolled my ankle, skinned my knee, and popped my elbow the wrong way. We tumbled into a heap and all eyes from the hipster contingent populated unfenced dog area stared at me in horror for tackling my son. Assuming the worst, I can only guess, since one of them started filming me with their phone.

Owen had not a mark on him and was crying in frustration, “Ball?!”

I could barely breath I was in so much pain and managed to say, “Yes, I know, honey. I’m sorry. You just wanted the ball but it’s – “
“BALL?!”
“I know, Owen, but it’s not – “

His face contorted in rage and he lunged at my face. I held him away from me as his jaw grimaced in aggression and his hands sunk into my arms as I thwarted off his attack. I knew he didn’t understand he was hurting me, I knew it would end, but for every parent you see going through a similar interaction – trust me, they’re in hell. It breaks your heart. It hurts your body. The comments, the stares, the well-intentioned yet hurtful or downright insulting attempts at intervention; none of those matter as much as the torment of your child struggling but, on a bad day, they make it that much worse.

I waited for him to calm down enough to go from aggressive back to disappointed and it took only seconds. Only a year before it would have taken over an hour. He was finding ways to calm himself and we had our own unspoken dance of working through this together. I said nothing throughout his meltdown and waited for the signs of him being ready for us to talk. He began to cry.

I picked him up and squeezed him, too tight for most kids, but he went limp in my arms. I wrapped his arms around my neck and he snuggled in to wipe his face on me. He sighed and I began chanting to him the same words he always needed to hear, “I hear you, Owen. It’s ok. I hear you, Owen. We’re ok…”

Leonora was standing by the play structure. I looked at her and thought about how unfair it must seem to her that she gets reprimanded so quickly for running off and Owen doesn’t at all but that wasn’t true. It just takes longer to catch up with him and by the time I do he’s off again never to hear my words.

I put Owen back on his feet and he walked towards the play structure. Leonora tried to pat his arm and I winced, knowing what it would elicit. She yelped in pain as he smacked her arm away. He ran off towards the ladder and I didn’t stop him. I consoled Leonora and checked on her, “I’m sorry, Leonora. He wants space but it’s not ok for him to hit. I’ll talk to him.”

“Owen? Come talk to me.”

He shook his head and I tilt mine in response in that mom way that messages “unless you want to go home right now” and follow it up with, “Ok, I guess we’re leaving…”

He becomes a human choo-choo train and chants “no” as he runs towards me.

“We don’t hit. Remember? Please come check on your sister and show her that you’re sorry.”

He walks up to Leonora and stands only an inch away from her face and asks mechanically like a bad high school actor, “Are you ok, sister? I’m sorry. Ok, ok, you ok.”

She shakes her head and smacks her forehead in scripted frustration with a smile, “Oh, Owen.”

They begin playing amiably and the shade disappears just as quickly as the forgotten wounds and hurt feelings of only minutes before. I check the time and realize we’ll be walking back in full sun and I test my ankle knowing that it will be throbbing throughout the journey. They play for another twenty minutes or so before other families and a preschool class begin joining us on the playground. I talk quickly to a few of the adults I recognize, knowing all the while that if Owen spots me looking away for a moment he’ll elope and bolt from the park. He glances towards me and I hold my hands to signal we’ll leave soon, he smiles, shakes his head and continues galloping around the structure. I give them another warning and point at my wrist to signal it’s time even though I don’t own or wear a watch.

“Ok, guys! Five more minutes and then we’re heading home!”

Owen screams “no” and runs towards the other end of the park. I sigh and pack up our things. Leonora looks at me and Owen as her eyes pinball back and forth in increasing alarm.

“It’s ok, honey, we’ll walk – “

She’s off. She’s running after him and I’m now having to run after both of them. I catch up to her holding onto him as he windmills his arms to loosen her grip. As I near them I hear her announcing in her big sister voice of wisdom, “Stop it, Owen! Mama is hurt and she has MEN-WITH-CLAWS!”
A polo-bicyclist tournament pauses in humor to watch our mele ensue in the midst of a dog walker and a mom with a stroller.

I’m at a loss and I notice her face turn bright red as people begin laughing at us, “Honey, who has claws?”

“You do…?” Her voice trailed away with a question mark hanging in her tone as she so often ended statements lately. Unsure of her beliefs even when she managed to find the words to express them.

My brain is scrambling to understand as I try to calm Owen down enough to get his backpack on him. He stops fighting me as I hand him a baby bottle of flax milk and a Hot Wheels car.

“Leonora, what are you talking about?”
“You know, you have “men-with-claws”…,” she looks down at her feet and a couple walking past burst into laughter. She glares at their backs as they continue down the path.

“Oh, sweetheart, I’m sorry. You mean “menopause” and I don’t have it just yet but – then again – I might after today. C’mon, let’s go home…”

We don our sun hats, bags and start the slow slog home with me limping at the rear. We’re a block from the park when we run into a neighbor as Owen is singing “men o’ claws” to the tune of “Jingle Bells”. I simply smile and say, “Hey.”