Crisis in the café: should I have let him go?
I had a total crisis of parenting confidence this week.
I hadn’t felt it for a long while now my oldest is 4 and a half, but at this particular moment in motherhood I felt a pure and stomach lurching responsibility for my little person in a massive world.
We were in a café in a big department store we go to a lot. This particular café though we’d only just discovered in a corner of one level. Little P was asleep in the buggy (a rarity these days), we’d emptied out our bags with some toys and magazines, ordered some food and were really enjoying some Mummy and M time.
Just as the food arrived, he pipes up “Mummy, I really need a wee!”. Classic, I know, having just asked him what seemed like nanoseconds ago whether he needed to go.
I pause for a couple of seconds as he jigs around behind his scrambled eggs, looking more and more desperate as I don’t say anything. I sort of don’t know whether I’m going to say this out loud, but as I look at the baby and the food and the stuff strewn about the table, out it comes:
“Do you think you could go on your own?”
It’s the first time this has ever crossed my mind in a public place. I’m part proud that I’m offering him some independence, part terrified it’s even come out of my mouth. The toilets are almost in eyeshot, but slightly to the left and there are some longish aisles of toys between us and them.
“Er, yeah.” he says, growing an inch or two in height at the table as he feels more grown up at the thought.
Some context perhaps. M is a sensible, cautious and generally well behaved boy who actually likes rules. Yep, of course he’ll break them at times, but overall he thrives when he knows where he stands and he feels much better for it. “Mummy, have you got your seatbelt on?” before we move off in the car. “I need my wellies – it’s starting to rain!” at the first sign of raindrops. ” So swimming is now, then dinner, and then I can watch some tv?” to get his head around the order of play.
I suppose if you don’t have a 4 year old, or if it was a while ago that you did, it’s hard to remember at what stage you granted this kind of freedom and trust. Maybe this sounds like a little thing to you. But here I was saying, I’ve got food in front of me, a baby asleep in a dark corner, can’t you just go on your own? I kind of hated myself.
But I’d said it, and he’s a school boy now, he knows the shop blah blah blah… many contradictory thoughts sending my head into overdrive. I stood up and walked to the edge of the coffee tables, made sure he knew where we were in relation to the toilets, told him if he felt worried or lost he should tell a grown up his Mummy was in the cafe (argh, even just saying that made my bum clench in pure fear and guilt) and that I’d stand and watch him until he went out of sight. He was genuinely excited, was soaking up the information, he knew this was a big deal.
And then he went.
As soon as he left me I felt sick. Tears pricked my eyes. I couldn’t see him far quicker than I’d realised and all those crazy thoughts popped into my head.
“What if he gets in the lift by accident?”
“What if he gets disorientated in the tall aisles?”
“What if he gets locked in the loo?”
I can only have waited 10 seconds before making what was probably a worse decision… I asked the waiter to make sure no ones steals the baby (I know!) and jogged off to the toilets after him, glancing back to the buggy every few feet. Then I’m round the corner so I can’t see either of them. I called him in the ladies, no answer. Panic set in. I called outside the gents.
“Yes?” Oh thank God.
“You ok, bud?”
“Uh-huh.” Like it was nothing.
“I’ll just wait outside then!”
But I couldn’t really wait outside because I couldn’t see the baby either. So I trotted back halfway down the Paw Patrol section and saw him shaking off his wet hands coming towards me with a big grin as I gestured to the slightly concerned looking waiter with a thumbs up – the crazed mum is coming back.
Baby still asleep. Bags untouched. Boy totally bemused I had let him off the leash then manically come to find him 10 seconds later.
Moral of the story? He’s probably ready. I’m definitely not. And it wasn’t worth that sickening 3 minutes of feeling like the worst Mum in the world.
Tell you what, if the next stage of parenting is all about this ‘when to let go’ kind of stuff, I’m in serious trouble.
What would you have done?
Feat. image credit: Shutterstock / Billion Photos