a trip to the zoo with M and her sister aka the WORST day ever

I had been planning a trip to the zoo for today because they were having Cinco de Mayo celebrations, including Mexican folk dancing. I was going to go with a few other friends who had kids, but they both ended up backing out. I thought it would be nice to have M’s 4-year-old sister A, sister #3, along and so I picked her up on the way. I’ve had two children with me before, same ages, without a problem, so I figured it would be nothing I couldn’t handle and would be good for the girls to get some one-on-one time.

I knew the girl had a problem with keeping her seatbelt on, and I thought I had a “big kid” booster seat with a 5 point harness in my garage. It has gone mysteriously missing, so I had to go with a regular booster seat. That ended up being a problem. At the zoo, the following happened:

-A whined for “toys, food, and candy” all day, nonstop.
-A wanted to eat everything in the cooler I had brought right away, but then threw most of the food on the ground
-A took M’s food and drinks from her
-A constantly tried to steal souvenirs and toys and stuff from vendors
-After two animals, A did not want to see anymore. She only wanted me to buy things for her.
-We went into the aquarium, and it was packed with people. M is enthralled by all underwater creatures, and desperately wanted to watch them swim. A refused to slow down, stay with me (no strollers inside, we had a double), or look at the animals. She sat down in the middle of the floor where the crowds had to part around her
-Took off her shoes and refused to wear them inside
-She ran away from me on purpose (to steal from the gift shop), and was officially “lost” while the staff spread out and searched the building
-She spanked M and hit her hands when M started to run (she’d been stuck in one place with me)

I stood there, in a completely packed aquarium, with about 8 staff searching the place, and M completely melting down in my arms because she really wanted to see the animals and I was holding her like it was the difference between life and death. My blood pressure was through the roof, and seriously hundreds of people were walking by me, but I didn’t feel really panicked like I would have if it had been M. I just felt… so overwhelmed, like my brain was shutting down. If it had been M I would’ve gone completely insane, but I would never, ever let M out of my sight or reach. I was carrying her through the aquarium. For some reason, I just felt like… ok, they’ll find her, or the police will come and the rest of my life will be spent as the woman who lost someone else’s kid. Rotten kid, but still. I was sort of numb, at that point.

Finally, they found her. In the gift shop, barefoot, and she still had toys in her hands. I couldn’t even speak to her. We marched out, they both went into the stroller, and we left. I was DONE. She pushed my buttons all the way home, trying to run from me once we returned the rental double stroller, standing up on the shuttle bus, unbuckling her seatbelt in the car and getting up on the highway (pulled over, firmly put her back in), trashing my car, antagonizing M by reaching over and holding down her arms or whatever, making her scream, whining that she didn’t want to hear music, she wanted a movie, wanted food, blah blah blah. I clutched the steering wheel and counted down the miles til we were home.

I never once yelled at her. I firmly told her how scared I was that she was lost and that she was not allowed to run away, after getting to the strollers. I told her after pulling off the highway to buckle her seat belt that we would not go places together if she couldn’t keep the seat belt on. She then said she was sorry. I told her that I would have to report it to her dad because she was not listening or following instructions (which I did). I never raised my voice. But I think there was steam coming out of my ears and my vital signs were probably similar to someone having a heart attack.

I know she is only four. I don’t know how she has been raised so far or the details of her situation at home with authority figures. I realize that she probably doesn’t have any experience behaving in public places. I know that most likely her bad behavior has a very real and serious basis in her home life. I also know that I have no experience dealing with children that have these types of behavioral problems (I think I figured that out today) But you know what? After today, I don’t care. I will not be taking her places and will only consider having the girls get together if we are meeting them, and she must have a parental figure present to supervise her. We will not spend long amounts of time if she’s misbehaving, I will take M and leave. M does not need to be imitating her. I’m not going to expose M to this type of behavior while she’s so impressionable.

Needless to say, M was wound up and a bit out of control herself for the rest of the day. She was extremely tired, frustrated at being near the animals and never getting to see them or spend time doing anything she wanted to do, and aggravated by an older girl constantly picking on her. She witnessed defiance and refusal to obey all day, so she acted out as well. And trust me, M is not the most compliant of personalities herself, so she doesn’t need any help in that department.

I end the day upset for my daughter, mad at myself for even considering going, and furious with this older girl who, even though she is M’s sister, seriously ruined what could have been a good time. I felt helpless and incompetent as a parent, embarrassed in public, worried sick, and completely overwhelmed and out of my depth with this type of behavior. I even have started to think that I will never ever consider a second child from anywhere, including my own body, and including Hermanito, because I obviously can’t cope with dividing my attention, and I don’t think it’s good for M. This whole day has made me think having her as an only child is the only workable family situation that’s in our best interest. My nieces are both only children, and both very mature and respectful. Same with my cousin who just has one girl, she was very good her whole childhood and easy to do anything with. I was raised as an only child (my sister had a different mom, my Nepali family came later) and I never had behavioral problems. (I have friends with girls this age who are also very good and NOT only children, but still, it seems safer to stick with onlies.)

M is not an easy child as it is. She is bursting with energy all the time, and runs/jumps/climbs every second, except when she’s focused on getting into something she isn’t supposed to, or taking apart contraptions, etc. She has to be watched every second because she will find a mess to make or something to get into as soon as your back is turned. She has a very defiant streak, with her first instinct being to say no or do what she knows she shouldn’t. That being said, as her mother I know how she works and what she needs. With the right routines and stimulation, she is a happy child who knows boundaries and only tests them as is appropriate for a two-year-old. She has the normal amount of tantrums and says “no” like every two-year-old you ever heard of. She goes to school and follows directions, she wipes up her spills, she eats fruits and vegetables, she says “please”, she says “sorry”, she stays in time out when she’s put there until it’s time to get out, she is satisfied when she gets something she wants and doesn’t push for more, she gives lots of hugs and sweet cuddles, she uses the potty, and she’s delightfully interested in the world around her, especially the natural world. She can spend all day outside at the lake, happy as a clam looking for frogs, ducks, and fish. Everywhere we go, everyone loves her and she loves everyone back. She’s a normal frustrating two-year-old, but she’s also pure delight just as often.

I wonder how much of it is my parenting and her home environment, and how much is her personality. I wonder how A got to be so horrendously ill-tempered. But I actually really don’t want to know. I just want to never, ever have a day like today again.

These were all taken in the first 15 minutes, when I was naive enough to still think we could have a good time.

Author: Mother of All Things

Mother by fostering, adoption, and marriage... wife to my best friend... Bay area critical care nurse... travel in my blood, reading in my bones, clean food on my mind!

15 thoughts on “a trip to the zoo with M and her sister aka the WORST day ever”

  1. Oh, man. That sucks so bad. I think you handled it really well, but I completely understand your frustration. And it’s kind of heartbreaking for A, too, because you know that acting like that could be a reflection of her home life. I’m glad you’re giving M the chance to know her siblings, and that you’re also really aware of what the boundaries need to be.

    1. I feel like a bomb went off in my brain. Have taken M to lots of other places with other kids and always had a good time. I wish it could be like that with her sister but that’s not possible after today. They’ll have to visit while A has her parents to supervise. I’m not equipped to handle the behavior, nor do I want to be! So much respect for the foster parents who take older kids, cause wow!

  2. OMG that child sounds like an insufferable brat. I know it’s not her fault, really. I’m sure she’s just a product of her environment, and that’s really sad. What did the dad say when you told him how she was behaving?

  3. Woah! What a rough trip. I bet it does have to do with her home life and how she is patented. She was also hard core testing you. You did the right thing but cutting the trip short and taking her home! I have worked with a lot of kids in this age range and they do test new adults but this was more than that. Do you know if Cindy was drinking or doing any drugs during pregnancy with any of th kids? I have worked with two who were exposed to pot and alcohol and I definitely believe it contributes to their behavior problems. Though (adoptive) mom has some really crappy parenting methods too like constantly buying them crap, lying to them, and no consequences for anything. I think it is very different taking care of someone else’s child than it is your own. M knows what is expected of her even if she is 2 and doesn’t always do it. I wouldn’t let that day color your view of a second child.

    1. I do know that this is an extreme example of having another kid around. I have had M with kids’ friends of the same age, and it was no problem. This girl just has behavioral problems that I can’t manage on my own. A was exposed to drugs and alcohol, like all of them, and I have no idea how much of this is due to that or due to her home life now.

      1. Glad you can keep perspective on it. I think your plan to always have one of her parents there when they visit each other is a good idea. It is probably a mix of nature and nurture, as all things are!

  4. The matching pigtails are pretty adorable. That sounds like a really intense day. I made the mistake of bringing my little cousins out for our first one-on-two time when to a fall fest outing. I think having not established myself as an “authority” and person of trust and not letting them know my boundaries was the reason for disaster. I hope that in the future something gives so their relationship can be stronger without being so taxing on you.

    Sending lots of calm your way!

    1. That’s true, it was not a good idea for many reasons. I was naive in assuming it would be like having my niece and M, or some of my friends kids with M. Even though I’m not their parent, they know what is expected of them. It is disappointing that that’s not the case with M’s sister, but that’s how it is.

  5. It sounds like such a rough day!! I hope you and your little girl are able to get back to the zoo soon for an enjoyable day together (i.e. without the misbehaving child along for the ride).

  6. SO SORRY!. Four year olds do not need to behave that way … NOT AT ALL. It is not about having two children with you that created the issue. She would have been a mess if she was only child with you. M is a different child and will be different at 4.
    You held your temper with her and your resolution to not take A again without a parental unit and separate transportation makes total sense. A may or may not be better behaved at an older age but caution!!!!

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