Every Mom Ruins Their Kid’s Day Once In A While

With each of my children On first birthdays, my dad takes them to a local roast beef restaurant for lunch. He borrows my car seat, packs her in his Jeep Wrangler, and takes her out for a sandwich and a milkshake. And while I’m not usually a person who overstates or leans towards a tradition, I really love this one. My oldest son happily traveled a few towns over in his Grumpy and successfully tore up a cheesy gravy covered sandwich. He came home happy and full, not worse. Three years later, when my second son – with whom my father clearly had a special connection – turned one year old, the enthusiasm for #birthdaybeefs increased. But this time things didn’t quite go as planned.

My son was waiting by the window wearing a brand new outfit that I had just put on him. After all, he was on his way to the local cool guy hangout for lunch, so I knew he had to play the part. Gray plaid shorts, a white t-shirt and, finally being an experienced hiker, his first pair of trainers – fire blue suede Pumas. He was ready for his beef-covered Instagram fame.

My dad arrived a few minutes early and was greeted by a slightly uncertain but excited birthday boy. I wrestled the car seat into place, buckled it, and off we went. I’d like to say that I felt cool and relaxed when I sent my one-year-old on this trip, but I was far from it. Even though it was my second attempt, my fear was still extraordinary. But this was important, so I took a few deep breaths to calm myself, and reassured myself that they could be back safe, happy, and fed soon enough.

I patiently waited for the first message—one that showed an unwrapped sandwich on the table and tiny hands curiously reaching for it. And when I got it, I was surprised. He was certainly fine, but he looked a little off. Don’t cry, but don’t smile – unsure maybe. That’s okay, I told myself. New place, new people, new meat. I get it.

“How is he?! Does he love it?!” I asked.

“He’s fine,” was the reply.

OK?! just okay?! My mind raced.

A few minutes later, a handful of photos came through. His fingers were covered in a mixture of cheese and gravy and his shirt was covered in ketchup. One photo showed him sipping his milkshake. But while I remember big smiling photos from my first in this scene, this wasn’t the vibe. He ate and was fine, but not happy.

I knew it, I thought. What kind of mom sends her one-year-old son to a local beef shop with his weird grandfather? My dad probably doesn’t know how to hold it. It probably scares him or makes him nervous. Hell, I should have trusted my gut – he’s only okay when he’s with his mom. No one else knows how to properly take care of him.

“Great pictures! Hurry home! Drive carefully!” I answered.

Half a milkshake and a long stretch of the freeway later, they made it through the front door again. My son was in tears and my poor father looked devastated. “I think he hates me. He was basically crying the whole time!”

Damn. Now I felt sorry for my father too! This was to be a special outing – a memoir and a highlight, and my child wasn’t stuck. I took him from my father and rubbed his back as he buried his head in my shoulder.

“I have no idea why he was so sad. Nothing bad happened!” my dad pleaded, knowing I was nervous. “Oh, it’s okay. I’m sure he really missed me. He’s used to being with me all the time . We’re just really connected. You’re not. Just stay a minute, he’ll calm down.”

We sat on the couch, my son on my lap, and within minutes the crying had stopped. “Maybe he doesn’t like being so messy,” I suggested—after all, he was covered in three kinds of lunch sauce. When my husband ran to get him new clothes, I took off his shoes.

Immediately he seemed relieved. Unable to articulate anything, he looked at me wide-eyed and stopped crying.

And as I looked down at my hand holding the brand new electric blue cool Puma sneakers, I saw it – the thick wad of crumpled brown paper still tucked into his tiny little shoe. Actually both. I gasped.

It wasn’t my father, or the strangers, or the freeway, or the roast beef that got my beautiful birthday girl so excited. It was me – his mother – who wedged his tiny feet into shoes still covered with plenty of wrapping paper, leaving them wrinkled and in pain for over an hour.

Luckily no permanent foot damage resulted but holy crap what a twist. I was in tears, my dad was so mad at me, and my husband has been using it as stand up comedy material at parties ever since.

So the next time you’re feeling like a shitty mom — like a hot mess who can’t get it together and can’t figure it out — just remember that you didn’t send your one-year-old down the freeway for a hot beef with a sneaker half full of paper. Or maybe it is, in this case solidarity.

Sam D is a former attorney and mother of four who swears a lot.

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