There are two ways of looking at the photos below: a selection of shots I took yesterday at the closing day of the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) in downtown Toronto.
If you just glance at the photos you will likely take in a scene that looks very similar to scenes I often present here, in pictures and in words: scenes of a carefree and charmed childhood enjoyed by a boy with two parents who, whatever their struggles, endeavor to create happy memories that will one day act as a bulwark against the complications and difficulties that adulthood inevitably brings.
Looks like a great day, right?
Yesterday was a terrible day.
Yesterday was a terrible day not because the CNE was hot and crowded and ludicrously expensive, though it was all of those things, but because it caused both Rob and I (though really mostly me) to question whether all the effort we put into creating memories with Graham is actually having the desired effect.
Let me be blunt: Graham wasn't just poorly behaved yesterday, he was insolent and just plain bratty.
Look a little closer at the photos.
Can you see the frustration and the exhaustion on our faces now?
We were exhausted - by almost constant, enduring temper tantrums that erupted over the most insignificant things the instant Graham's gratification was denied or delayed. We all know that keeping a three-and-a-half-year-old in line anywhere there are crowds and candy and rides and noise is bound to involve some major headaches, but normally the fleeting moments of joy and fun make it all worthwhile in the end.
I have never spent so much time correcting behaviour: talking, discussing, sternly warning and yes, yelling. I have never felt tears of frustration sting my eyes so many times in such a short time frame. The pain involved in yesterday's outing so far outweighed the pleasure that even a full 24 hours later, I still wish I had not bothered to go at all.
I still feel unsettled.
Graham's Labour Day weekend was a whirlwind. He celebrated his uncle's birthday with a big family dinner that went late on Thursday. On Friday we headed for the lake and spent Saturday and Sunday at Grandpa and Grandma's where Graham collected clams and played in the water with his cousins. He had a campfire and a sing-a-long and boat rides and barbecues. We came back to the city Sunday night for the express purpose of taking him to the CNE on Monday, our seventh wedding anniversary.
Was Graham overstimulated?
Maybe. Rob thinks so. He also thinks he was way overtired (true) and nervous about his first day of school on Thursday (possibly). He doesn't really think that Graham's behaviour, however awful, is completely out of the norm or that it indicates a problem with discipline or entitlement. He thinks I was right to be so hard on him, but that I should stop being so hard on myself.
But I'm not so sure.
Because I can't shake this nagging fear that my well-meaning attempts to make my son's childhood special have unwittingly contributed to the creation of a spoiled, entitled little monster.