A howl rang out through the store. But, that sound wasn’t from a wolf, it emerged from my young son. He was face down on the floor of K-mart with his arms and legs flung wide. His wails paused briefly each time he breathed in, and then renewed, he continued to howl with fresh strength.

I stepped back by reflex, unsure how to handle the situation. The other adults looked at him with displeasure, unable to ignore his cries that were like a police siren in a peaceful neighborhood. I didn’t want their scorn as well, so I didn’t go to him and admit this badly behaved boy was my child. Instead, I just stood there, hoping that he would quickly wear himself out and stop crying, well, stop howling. My son was just starting to show his stubborn streak and it wasn’t fully obvious yet how strong-willed he was. So, I wasn’t aware that he would not run out of steam unless something changed.

A wolf in baby’s clothing

My empty cart stood innocently at the edge of the clothing rack showing that we hadn’t been in the store long enough for me to pick out anything to buy. If I left right away, I could just head straight out the door and not have to wait in a checkout line. But, before I went anywhere, I had to pick up and carry that flailing, unhappy boy. And, he was past the weight of what I could comfortably lift. So, I didn’t know what to do.

As his tantrum continued, the nearby adults changed their attitude. Their disapproval deepened. Yet, so did their ability to dismiss him. They were now shaking their heads and shrugging off his antics, grateful that he wasn’t their problem to deal with. They could just walk away, but I couldn’t.

Garry was in a wide aisle that went from the back of the store to the front like a runway to the exit. Without any other idea of what to do, I chose to join in with the crowd’s displeasure. I mimicked them, shrugging my shoulders and shaking my head at the other adults. Wordlessly, we acknowledged the awful behavior and collectively wondered where his mother was.

I turned my back on Garry to publicly continue the illusion that I was not the person responsible for this display. I took a few tentative steps towards the front door. The pull of motherly responsibility made me steal a peek back at him, but he wasn’t watching me. Instead, he was still facing down, close to the floor as his wails continued. With another tug of maternal obligation, I worried about the germs he would get from the linoleum. I pushed away this random thought and continued to slowly walk towards the exit, glancing over my shoulder every few moments.

Finally, like a light switching off, the howls ended. I was halfway down the aisle, a fair distance away from him, but close enough that he could see me easily. His little head popped up, a mess of snot and tears. He scanned the area, recognized me, got up, and toddled towards me. My shoulders dropped with relief as the relative silence continued. After three more glances over my shoulder, he was close-by. I extended my open hand down at my side without fully looking at him or saying a word. He reached up, grasped it, and we walked hand-in-hand straight through the doors and quickly out to the car.

I silently put him in his car seat and wiped off his face with a cloth. After a buckle of the seatbelt and a kiss on his head, we were on our way home. A few miles into the drive, a peek in the rearview mirror revealed the droopy head of a sleeping boy. Every mother understands the feeling of satisfaction after a rough encounter with her child where things worked out all right. I also gained the powerful sensation that I had just tamed a baby wolf.