In the Parking Lot

The first spring and summer we spent in Richmond, we ate out frequently; usually at the big town center that was, conveniently, located just up the street from our new house. Millie wasn’t really mobile yet and therefore tolerated being confined to a restaurant high chair for the duration of a meal. So, we took full advantage of the small window we had before she knew how much more fun life was on the other side of walking upright. The town center has lots of restaurants with patio seating, plenty of open space for the bigger kids to roam and all of our favorite stores, so it was a fun destination for the whole family in those first few months.

One Saturday afternoon, as we were walking through the parking lot back to our car after grabbing a bite out at the mall, we heard a child screaming. Not the kind of screaming that comes from being hurt or injured but more the kind of persistent, perpetual shrieking that emanates from a massive temper tantrum. As we got closer and closer to our minivan, the hollering got louder and louder. It was definitely a temper tantrum but ramped up to, like, one hundred. When we arrived at the car, we realized we were parked just a couple of (empty) spaces away from the source of all of that distress: a mom trying to handle her very, very upset young child.

Now, as the parent of three kids, a total meltdown isn’t something I’m unaccustomed to. The tears, the dramatic fall to the floor, maybe a little flailing, even the occasional biting. I get it. Kids don’t have control over much and their outbursts are their way of saying, “this fact sucks.” However, this woman’s little girl was simply beside herself. She was sobbing and thrashing and uncontrollable. I watched the mom try unsuccessfully a couple of times to close the latch on her daughter’s carseat harness only to have her daughter do that thing that kids do where they buck their hips to pop out of the seat and avoid capture. It appeared they had been carrying on in this manner for awhile.

As the yelling continued several feet from us, Bob and I gave each other a knowing glance that wordlessly exclaimed, “SO glad that’s not our kid,” and went about the tedious process of securing three children, a large stroller and assorted bags of purchases and leftover food in our car. Since that process isn’t lightning quick, the scene in the SUV next door had a chance to unfold a bit further. By the time Bob had climbed into the driver’s seat of our car, things between the mom and her daughter had become impossible. By now, the woman was on her cell phone, in frustrated tears, explaining to the person on the other end of the line that she couldn’t get her daughter buckled into her carseat. From the one side of the conversation I could hear, I surmised that she was talking to her husband since she repeatedly requested that he leave the game he was at with their other child to come to the mall to help her.

At this point, seeing the distress between both of them, my internal eye-rolling at the girl’s behavior turned to genuine concern. You could tell that both of them were in a bad, bad place. There was so much crying and so much behavior past the point of being even remotely rational.

It felt wrong to drive away from that scene. So, in a distinct departure from my history of avoiding all awkward situations, I walked over and asked the mom if there was anything I could do to help. It took a few seconds for my presence to register so I repeated my question. She avoided eye contact but tearfully explained that she couldn’t get her daughter into her carseat. I remember reassuring her that it was all okay. Explaining and empathizing that I knew how difficult kids can be. Then, I told her to stay there, next to her daughter and her daughter’s carseat, while I walked around to the other side of her car and climbed in the rear passenger seat. As a complete stranger, I terrified the little girl when I introduced myself and explained that I was going to help her mom get her buckled in. But, we persevered through the tantrum and between the two of us, we were able to get the girl in place and the carseat straps secured.

I climbed back out and headed around towards our car, where Bob sat puzzled at the delay. The mom didn’t say a word. I could see she was taking deep breaths and trying to collect herself. Possibly a little embarrassed. By the time we backed out of our parking space, she was already driving away.

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I don’t know if I’ve ever shared the story of the mom in the parking lot with anyone before. Mostly, because it feels so personal and the situation itself was so dramatic. I wasn’t sure if I could properly convey how desperate it all seemed. But, if I’m being honest here, I probably haven’t shared it because it hits so close to home in a really uncomfortable way. That mom looked like me. Her daughter was acting just how my kids act. I could have easily been in that situation. Her behavior mirrored how I know I’ve reacted to problems in the past. It’s tough to witness what one must look like when all reasonableness gets pushed aside.

Because, as parents, we’ve all been there. At one time or another. That place of no return. Peppered with problems and barraged with issues and in-fighting, tears and tantrums and why won’t you stop talking and who peed on the floor and what is that smell and who broke this thing over here and did ANY of your food actually make it into your mouth and it just piles on and on and on until… BLAMMO! That final push over the edge, like a car in a cartoon suspended halfway over a cliff, a little girl that refuses to get into her carseat, and it’s all over. The train goes off the tracks. We just can’t deal anymore.

It’s been an interesting and trying few weeks around our house. My children are wonderful, delightful little people that demand all of my time, most of my energy and every last bit of my patience. Some days are amazing. Other days head in the wrong direction from the minute they wake up and emerge from their rooms. Every day is an opportunity to keep the train on the tracks.

This parenthood business is brutal but beautiful. Solidarity, sister in the parking lot. No judgement here.

Anatomy of a Toddler’s First Ice Cream Cone

Step 1. Pick an unmemorable, nondescript location, like a depressing Chick-fil-A in West Virginia, that serves non-organic, non-grass-fed, non-local ice cream that can barely be classified as ice cream since they suspiciously call it, “Icedream.”

Step 2. Surprise your spouse by giving him no warning that you’re purchasing an ice cream cone for your toddler that is roughly the same size as her head. Witness his initial dismay and subsequent weary look that conveys he believes this to be a Very Bad Idea. Also, make sure you’re not/not the parent positioned directly next to the toddler so as to avoid all Icedream contact or cleanup responsibilities.

Step 3. Hand ice cream cone to toddler. Appreciate toddler’s “I’ll try anything” attitude and white-knuckle grip.

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Step 4. Watch toddler experience confusion, uncertainty and self-doubt.

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Step 5. See a wave of slow acceptance and your toddler’s realization that whatever this Icedream is, it appears to be a promising addition to Chicken Nugget Nights.

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Step 6. Nom, nom, nom, nom.

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Step 7. Witness pure toddler joy unfold, coupled with increasing spousal anxiety about Icedream structural failure.

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Step 8. See spouse interrupt gleeful ice cream cone consumption to implore toddler to place unconsumed Icedream in leftover plastic container.

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Step 9. Assure toddler that ice cream cone will be transported responsibly back home in said plastic container and secured in the freezer.

Step 10. Watch spouse throw plastic container full of Icedream in garbage can on the way to the car. Agree that this was the best course of action. Cheer toddler’s lack of short-term memory.

Epilogue. Curse Chick-fil-A and whatever is in their “Icedream” when your toddler wakes up the next morning with explosive diarrhea. Suspect lactose intolerance issue but inconclusive if Icedream even has any dairy in it. Acknowledge that spouse was correct; this was a Very Bad Idea.

Adventures in Real Estate

During the dozen or so years that Bob and I have been together, we’ve sold three homes. So, on average, if I’m doing the math right, that’s one house every four years. Is that a lot? I’m not sure. We moved a few times while I was growing up so it doesn’t seem too unusual to me but Bob thinks I have ants in my pants. I think it just took us awhile to find the perfect place.

The first home we sold, Bob’s bachelor pad, was a cinch to sell, from what I remember. (We were wedding planning and new-house hunting all around the same time so things get a bit fuzzy.) I distinctly recall my parents helping us get the house ready by removing wallpaper and painting and aiding with general clean-up. We listed the property during the real estate frenzy of 2004 so buyers were circling in no time.

The sale of our second home, in Alexandria, was a bit more anxious. The bubble had burst and though our neighborhood was still in high demand, the pressure to perfectly prepare, market and time our listing was intense. We sidelined our move for a year when we found out we were expecting Millie. It didn’t make sense to move away from doctors we knew and helpful friends that were good with newborns. However, at that point, we had already been in touch with our neighbor, a real estate agent, about listing our house. She knew we would be putting it on the market after Millie’s October arrival. So, when she had a client looking to buy in our neighborhood that summer and they could not find the right property amongst the available inventory, she called asking if her buyers could preview our house even though it wasn’t technically for sale. Without thinking twice, I exclaimed, “Of course!” I thought it would be a great chance to get some feedback from actual purchasers prior to officially listing the house. I think I remember casually mentioning it to Bob on the phone but he was traveling heavily for work that year and the overall impression I held was that the showing was not really a big deal. I mean, what were the chances that they would like our house enough to want to buy it, right? Pretty slim.

The two things I hadn’t considered when I jumped at the chance to open our front door to prospective purchasers were 1.) deep cleaning my entire house while six months pregnant would be harder than I thought and, 2.) they might want to actually buy our house.

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When our realtor called to say that the buyers wanted to tour our home a second time with their parents, I panicked. Everyone knows that getting your parent’s opinion is, like, Step 3 in the official About-to-Buy-Anything-of-Significance process. I had never really imagined even once that they would take more than a quick glance at our place and then rattle off the things they liked and didn’t like. To know there was actual consideration and number crunching going on kind of spelled trouble. It meant I had to tell Bob, who had been at work during most of the preparation, staging and showing, that it might be time to come up with A Plan.

Bob was… not amused that my prior promise of this exercise being “just for feedback” had become something so much bigger. It was bad. So bad. A sale meant we’d be moving before the baby was born and Bob was adamant that that was a bad idea (he was right). We spent a frantic weekend driving around looking at any rental homes we could find in a commutable neighborhood with half-way decent elementary schools while I chanted, “everything is going to be FINE,” over and over again as I rubbed my belly. And, everything did end up being just fine. Those prospective buyers chose the other house they showed their parents that weekend and my marriage was saved. Millie arrived and we sold our house a few months later, when everyone (Bob) was ready.

However, ever since that close call, Bob has been a little leery of my trigger-happy willingness to sell our residence to the first interested party that wants to take a peek inside. So, when the process of selling our home in Richmond appeared to be headed down a similar path, I knew better than to greet him after he arrived home from work with boxes and packing tape.

The funny thing is, for all of my grumbling about Facebook, Facebook is exactly how I sold our third home. Our Richmond neighborhood had a pretty active Facebook group that kept neighbors apprised of happenings, offered suggestions for contractors and babysitters and, as it turns out, ended up putting me in touch with someone looking for a home in the community.

We happened to be house-hunting in Northern Virginia when I saw a new post on our neighborhood’s Facebook page from a resident looking for a property for a family member. Their relative was trying to get into the development and if anyone was selling soon, they were to get in touch. I read it aloud to Bob in the parking lot of the restaurant where we had stopped for a break and asked, “Should we call? Are we ready for this? Are you going to be mad if I sell our house?” He agreed that it looked promising and even though we had not planned on listing for a few months, the idea of selling without having to formally market our home was enticing. I mean, what were the chances that they would like our house enough to want to buy it, right? Pretty slim.

The two things I hadn’t considered when I jumped at the chance to open our front door to prospective purchasers were 1.) deep cleaning my entire house with three kids underfoot would be harder than I thought and, 2.) they might want to actually buy our house.

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We knew things were moving fast when they came back with their parents the same day.

Just like that, we had a buyer for our home. A fair amount of panic ensued which involved about ten hours of me Googling, “how to sell your house without a realtor.” It’s interesting because after going through the selling process without representation, I totally get why realtors are a thing. While it was really great to not have to live through open houses, short-notice showings and pay high commissions, there were times throughout our escrow that I wished longingly for a person to serve as a buffer between us and our buyers. It’s a lot different negotiating a purchase price directly with the purchaser than it is through two agents playing a version of the telephone game. It’s a lot of (sometimes very awkward) hard work.

In the end, it all paid off. We staged our home, successfully sold it and I learned the valuable lesson that you definitely are supposed to hire your own real estate attorney to prepare your side of the sales transaction. Even if you just assumed you were going to use the same settlement attorney that your buyers are using, you have to actually tell them that. Also, you should tell them you want to hire them more than four days before the closing date. Otherwise, they will think you are working with a different attorney and will call and ask where all of your paperwork is. And, then you will cry and wish you had just hired a realtor. See how much I learned?

Every time someone asks us if we can see ourselves living in our new home for a long time to come, I say, “Definitely!” just as Bob exclaims, “Nooooooo!” He thinks I’m going to want to move again. But, the joke’s on him because if we never move again, I never have to deep clean my house again. I’m pretty sure that’s how it works.