In Defense of a Mother’s Temporary Insanity

We were sitting in McDonalds, my daughter and I, while yet another Blizzard of 2014 howled outside the vast plate-glass windows.

We had set this time aside to talk about something serious, but serious only goes so far on a Saturday morning. Hopped up on varied vices of free-flowing caffeine, we both seemed ready to break out of this subject that we had talked to death. We had another hour to kill before Amber needed to report for her part-time job, so we watched the snow come down in beautiful yet treacherous tufts.

A young mother herself – a single mother now – Amber had spent considerable energy wrestling over thoughts of supporting her young ones financially while also seeing to their emotional and physical needs. She lamented over the cost of everything from diapers to gasoline. “And let’s not even get started on clothes,” she said.

I began to laugh. I couldn’t help it. “That reminds me of the time I got into a fight with the take-a-number dispenser. Do you remember that?”

Her eyes grew large and round as she scooted forward in her chair. She propped her elbows on the table, resting her knuckles on her chin, as she said, “How could I forget?!? I thought you had lost it for sure.”

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Let’s back up a little.

My reaction was perfectly reasonable. Perfectly sound. I’m sure many a mother would have reacted with the same level of insanity, given similar conditions.

My son was about five years of age at the time, which would have made Amber about nine. With all the costs of young children – all the realities my daughter now felt saddled with – I had a son who couldn’t seem to hold onto his coat. Literally.

“Where’s your coat, Jason?”

“I don’t know.”

“What do you mean, you ‘don’t know.’ I just handed it to you. It’s time to go.”

“I don’t know, Mom.” It was as if a coat-sucking hole lurked under his bed or in the back seat of the car or behind the refrigerator. The day of the take-a-number fight was the day that he had lost his third coat of the season.

We were in a department store; I don’t remember which one, but I remember that the floor was carpeted. I know this because I was searching the floor for any clue as to my son’s whereabouts. His dad was an “Army guy,” and so Jason was always pretending to be an Army guy, too – stuffing himself into impossibly small hiding places, crawling on his elbows while dragging his lower limbs behind him, doing rolls and somersaults instead of walking from place to place, and the like.

While I wasn’t terribly worried, a mother’s tensions can’t help but rise when her little tike could be who-knows-where, doing who-knows-what, to who-knows-who. After a couple of minutes searching, I sent Amber for her dad as he browsed the men’s section. I shuffled among the myriad of hanging things, my heart beating faster, my voice lowering into a fierce growl. “Jason,” I snarled. “Come…out…now…!”

A little sheepish but wearing his signature grin, he crept out from under the circular clothing rack that had been his lair. Relief flooded me, for the moment at least.

“Jason, where’s your coat?”

“I don’t know.”

I dropped my head, a huge sigh cleansing my lungs of the last remnants of breath. Here we go again.

We had looked for the coat – or at the very least for that hole that kept sucking up his possessions – for about five minutes. My husband had come on the scene and was searching my face more than he searched the floor. “Are you okay?”

“Am I okay?!? No, I’m not okay! We can…not…afford…this!” I could feel the heat rising, scorching my cheeks and causing my heart to beat nearly out of my chest. I’m sure I looked ridiculous, and I wish someone would have had the nerve to tell me that. But instead, three pair of eyes stared back at me as if watching whether my head was going to pop off my neck from the sheer pressure building there.

“I’m taking Jason to the car,” my husband said cautiously. “Maybe Amber can go with you to Customer Service…maybe they have a lost and found or something.”

I looked at my daughter, who looked ready to be anywhere than beside her half-crazed mother. “Come on,” I quipped, charging to the line about a dozen deep.

I stood there for a couple of minutes. The wait did nothing for my blood pressure.

As a couple of other people joined the line behind me, a little man from somewhere said, “Ma’am? Did you see the take-a-number machine?” No…I…did…not. I was so tempted to flee the store with my daughter in tow, but we truly couldn’t afford another jacket. I muttered a “thank you” and headed to the red dispenser. I was embarrassed, flustered, and exhausted. I just needed my stupid number so I could get back in this stupid line and make my stupid request that the store call me if they found a little boys’ coat, size 4T, red with black trim.

Do you know how the dispenser can get a little wobbly and precarious unless you get a really good grasp of it? Whether it was that or whether it just felt like taunting me, I wasn’t sure. But I grabbed at the number, and the machine wouldn’t let it go. I grabbed again, this time with more zeal; the number tab wagged at me as if posing as the dispenser’s tongue, mocking me. I pulled one more time and, when the number refused to give way, I…well…I started beating the machine like a punching bag. “Give…me…my…number!”

It didn’t work. The machine won. Huffing and puffing, I looked around, suddenly mindful of the fact that I had a whole host of witnesses to my childish tantrum. The mouth of every onlooker gaped…all but one…little Amber.

Her look…I can’t describe it very well…love mixed with sympathy mixed with I-can’t-believe-you-just-did-that-to-the-poor-defenseless-machine look. Okay. I was done. Everyone else looked on me like I was nuts. My daughter understood. Somehow in her little nine-year-old spirit, wise beyond her years, she knew I just needed to burn off steam and that now it was over.

“Come on, honey. Let’s go find the boys.” I took her hand, squeezing my thanks. She looked up at me and smiled. She had my back. We both knew it without either saying a word.

So here we were, all these years later, reflecting on that day with the humor and amusement that only time can afford. I laughed so hard, I could barely catch my breath, could barely sit up straight. She giggled as she relayed the events from her perspective. Now one herself, perhaps she understood all the better the frustrations of motherhood along with the blessings.

“Look at all that snow, Mom,” Amber said. “I’m scared to drive to work. What happens if I slide off the road?”

“It’s okay, honey,” I said, squeezing her hand. “I’ve got your back.”

We bundled up and headed to the cars. I followed her to her destination, though I don’t know that she even saw me. That’s what families do. They’re there for each other, no matter how trite or silly or outrageous. My daughter has my back through all these years, and I have hers.


  1. A very good post, Anna, with vivid visuals. I do have difficulty when the text is done in grayscale rather than ordinary black. I don’t know the parameters of your chosen template, but if you can alter it to something darker, it would help.

    • Thanks, Heidi! So glad you decided to stop by. I agree, the greyscale is a pain as is the size of the script. I have not been able to figure out how to manipulate this but will continue to work on it.

    • Fixed the greyscale, Heidi. :) Thanks for the feedback.

  2. Loved it as always my little writer sister!

    • Thanks, Linda! And thanks for the “share” on Facebook. Come back anytime!

  3. Pretty good story. By the way I contacted the store and they still have the video recording of that incident and use it in their de-escalation training for their employees.

    • Good to know I’m still influencing people after all these years. : )

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