It's the final straw in a frustrating day, and you can feel your blood boiling, your chest tightening and your wits escape you as your emotion takes over.
You do one of two things. You become: a) The silent scary mom, where your anger is just bubbling under the surface, but it's fierce and you make it known. Your eyes bug out, you clench your jaw and your threat is issued in a throaty whisper -- the kind Satan might have. Your child is temporarily subdued/scared into submission. b) The batsh-t crazy mom, in which you just let it all out, scream things you'll later regret at an instantly cowed toddler.
|It's like this but with less eye make-up. (photo credit: Poulson Photography)|
Unless, apparently, you're a Kenyan mom.
OK. I could be way off here, and please do correct me if I'm wrong, but I've never seen a Kenyan mom driven to these adult temper tantrums. Maybe it's just more of a private display, but I rarely see them explode like this, and when they do it's never with the undercurrent of actually losing their minds. They never seem to require a mommy time out. There might be a yelled threat of a beating, sure, but it doesn't seem to wear them down personally the same way. There's a "nitachapa wewe," and then they move on to whatever they were doing before.
To be fair, I know some Kenyan moms struggle the same way American moms do, and certainly some American moms manage to not fall to pieces when raising young children (though I've yet to meet them). But, I've definitely noticed a cultural difference in my two years living here.
So, I have a convoluted constellation of theories as to why motherhood does not drive Kenyan women as crazy as it does their American counterparts (assuming this is a correct assumption).
There is more help from extended family; there are fewer parenting philosophies to pick from, doubt and then be judged by; there's no scheduled sleep times to disrupt; there's a more relaxed free-range parenting style; it's a less tightly wound culture in general; there's not the pressure to be the main source of entertainment for your children.
But I'm writing a blog post, not a book, so I'll just highlight one of my half-baked theories here.
It's best explained by Mama Brandon.
Mama Brandon came to our house unannounced yesterday. She was going door to door looking for work as a tailor with her two year old son, Brandon, in tow. It turned out I did actually need some curtains made, so as we discussed specifics, Caleb and Brandon dug into our basket of toy cars.
When we had finally negotiated a deal and they were about to leave, Brandon had to give up the toy car he had been playing with. Well, this did not sit well with the young lad. He threw a mighty, screaming, jumping-up-and-down-with-two-feet fit. It was quite the spectacle.
What did Mama Brandon do? She simply continued, at a relaxed pace, giving us her goodbyes, took time to pinch Emmet's cheeks and gather her things. When she finally acknowledged the stampeding elephant in the room, she asked him to quiet down. Then, she tried to distract him with another toy. It didn't work. Then.... she laughed. Not at all a nervous embarrassed laughter, but a laugh that found the humor in the whole out of proportion emotional melt down. She scooped him up and departed, smiling, shaking her head and saying, "Ah... watoto." "Oh children."
OK. An American response would have probably treated the whole thing a lot more seriously - like a battle that needed to be won, or at least a toddler who needed a lesson reinforced about appropriate behavior and sharing. And then, facing inevitable defeat, the mother would feel embarrassed, frustrated, perhaps judged by the other parent, and maybe even a bit resentful of her child.
And of all the reasons I can come up with that Kenyan mothers seem to keep their cool, this one I can probably try.
I don't have an extended family to pick up the slack. I do have a head spinning array of parenting philosophies to choose from and then doubt. I can't be as free-range or schedule-free. But I can try and find the humor in the situation, and I can let go of winning all my battles, all the time. From the looks of Kenyan children, my kids will grow up just fine despite that. And, they'll have a happier mom in the process.