Something must be in the water lately because there seems to be a record number of tantrums going around.
I don't know if the kids are embracing their summer freedom or simply testing boundaries but as Jerry Lee Lewis may have once observed there's been whole lotta shakin' (screaming, screeching and stomping) goin' on.
But I'm less concerned with the tantrums and more concerned with
a. How parents are handling their kids' tantrums and
b. How other parents are reacting to tantrum-handling parents
In the first scenario I witnessed, a little kid, (we'll call him Bucket Boy) kept dumping water over the head of some random little girl. Bucket Boy's Daddy told him repeatedly to stop or he'd take the bucket away and when he didn't stop, Dad eventually took the bucket away. Cue tantrum.
A shrill, high-pitched, thrashing-about mortifying tantrum that caused everyone to stare at him, including me. You're cringing right now because you've been there. Me too. Dad was embarrassed. He moved to give the bucket back to his little boy but he was stopped, unbelievably, by another, random mommy with red curls piled on top her head.
"Don't" she said, gently laying her hand on his forearm. "Don't do it."
Daddy wavered as Bucket Boy screamed for his bucket and began kicking dad in the shins.
"Don't be embarrassed. Are we embarrassed?" she gestured to the rest of us moms. We shook our heads. We were not embarrassed.
"I've been where you are," said another mom sitting there.
"Me too!" I piped up. "Hold firm...you're doing great"
Daddy held the boy at arm's length, protecting his shins from kicking as his son cried and screamed for his bucket.
"It's okay," coached Redhead "You can do this."
"But he's freaking out!" Dad protested. "SHHH!" he said to his son who took that as a cue to increase his volume.
"True," Redhead said, raising her voice louder to be heard. "But if you give him back that bucket, you've taught him that this kind of behavior is effective...and will be rewarded...do you know what I mean?"
Dad swallowed and nodded. He looked in dismay at his beet red, hysterical toddler. He tried to wrap his arms around his son to comfort him but that filled Bucket Boy with renewed fury. In a move that I thought was both incredibly humble and courageous he helplessly asked "What should I do?"
"Take away his audience," I spoke up, emboldened by this red-haired mama guru.
"Yes," Redhead agreed. "Take him over by the lockers and sit him down, turning your back to him until he rides this out. Let him have his emotions. If he can't calm down, maybe even take him home. He will learn that if he behaves this way he will not get the desired results."
Bucket Boy's screaming had reached a fever pitch as he pounded his fists into his dad's chest. He was now screaming "I hate you Daddy! I hate you! Give me my bucket NOW!"
"Leave the beach?" the dad said doubtfully.
"Yes," she affirmed. "That's what I would do. Even if you gave him back the bucket now, it wouldn't even calm him down...he would just know you don't mean what say. Scary thought huh?"
Dad took a deep breath and hauled his son away. The four of us moms left behind started yelling our support. Emboldened by Redhead, I added "Good job Daddy! You're doing the right thing!"
The dad gave a little smile at us as he hauled off his tantruming son. I don't know what happened after that. Maybe Bucket Boy learned that tantruming doesn't equal getting your way. Maybe it took ten more times of being removed from a situation until he learned it. But I know, for a fact, that that father walked away feeling supported by a community of parents. And I think that he may have realized that he doesn't have to give in to his child's whims or let his child run the show in order to "keep peace" in front of other parents. I don't think he felt judgment and I think he was an open enough man to accept help when it was being freely given.
"Are you a child psychologist?" I asked Redhead who was so powerful and serene in the face of this melee.
"No," she responded, surprised. "I'm a mom."
In Scenario 2, I was at my niece's birthday party when a little girl had a meltdown because she wanted to sit in a certain seat when it was time to eat birthday cake and another little girl was already in that particular seat seat. At first, to try and dtop the meltdown in its tracks (and because we were in public) Meltdown Muffy's Mom tried to get the other little girl to change her seat as to pacify Meltdown Muffy. (And don't judge, because we've all pulled that at one time or another...I know I have. That's when I'm all "you have to pick your battles as a mom!" But I know in my heart how bad it is for my kids to indulge them and reinforce their bad behavior.) But the other little girl wasn't budging and Muffy refused to sit in the other chair towards which her mother was directing her. So Muffy, who is 5, began screaming so loudly, and with such a high pitch, it sounded like a giant tea kettle had come to kill us all. Windows began shattering (author is taking artistic license here and downright lying) and the Mom grimly set her mouth and said "Muffy, I am taking you out of this party!"
The mom looked so embarrassed that I thought she was going to cry. I wanted to cry. Because she had nothing to be embarrassed about. The other 5 moms in the room weren't judging her...we were supporting her. I had to get this across.
And I was going to take a page out of Redhead's book and go for it.
I put my hand gently on her arm.
"You are doing the right thing," I said. "You are an amazing mother!" (I chose this because it is, in my opinion, the holy grail of compliments. I'll never forget when I asked my sister Vicky, at the bar of Casa Comida 5 years ago, what she would write on my tombstone. She began with "Natty....devoted mother-" and I interrupted her and said "Stop right there. I don't need to hear anything else. That's all it needs to say."
"Yeah, right," Muffy's mom scoffed, as Muffy's screaming droned on and her mom began to pull her out the door.
"For real," I affirmed "We are all admiring you! What you're doing, right now! We've all been there at one time or another with our darlings! Can I get an Amen?" What I got was a silence, due to the fact that I was in a roomful of non-believers, but I could tell by the looks on their faces that they agreed with the gist of what I was saying.
One mom even added "Muffy, you need to listen to your mommy. When she tells you to sit in a certain seat, you need to do it!" she admonished the girl gently.
It turned out even some time in the hallway couldn't calm Muffy down. Her brave, caring mama decided to take her home rather than teach her to be an impatient, entitled child who would get to sit wherever she demanded if only she screeched loud enough. And without a goody bag to boot! Burn!
I wish more moms spoke up to help and support when one of us is in trouble. I wish less moms judged this kind situation, conveniently forgetting that their own children can sometimes be just as irritable/unreasonable/gargoyle-like. And I wished that even more moms were open to the love and support that can come from other moms when you're in a tough spot and you need some reinforcements rather than being insulted anyone would dare question the utter perfection of their child. I wished so hard that it so happened to me! ( I told you tantrums were going around!)
And then...Scenario Three.
My son and daughter went to a play date last week with a new family where there was conveniently another brother and sister combo who were exactly their age. My son and his friend hit it off like Gangbusters, playing happily for about an hour. During this time, my daughter was being off-the-charts obnoxious. She wouldn't share. She demanded to sit in my chair, whining and trying to push me out of it. (But I didn't budge.) She would get huffy if the other little girl would pick up a toy even if she herself wasn't using it. She wouldn't dress up or dance and her only happy moment seemed to be knocking Barbie dolls onto the floor with a smug grin. She shot dirty looks at her friend, whenever the friend put on a another yet cute tutu and I admired it. My daugher also kept doing gymnastic tricks and muttering to the other little girl what I swear sounded like "you can't do that" under her breath. I'd like to blame her horrible behavior on staying over Grandma's the night before and being pumped full of sugar, but the truth is, even the most angelic child can sometimes act like a complete brat (even if they haven't eaten the contents of Grammie's sugar bowl). I was trying to "roll with it" because I didn't want to have to shorten my son's idyllic play date. But ultimately, my daughter's behavior forced my hand.
After my daughter aggressively yanked an entire game of Hungry Hungry Hippos out of her friend's hands scattering marbles everywhere (and had the audacity to then begin wailing like she had somehow been the injured party) I hit my breaking point. I made my apologies, tucked my squirming screech owl under my arm, yelled to my son that it was time to go, and began trying to load my angry, freaking out jellyfish into her car seat. I explained to her (as I would do many times that day) that we where leaving because she was not behaving like a gracious guest, what with the tantrums, grabbing, not sharing and general rude behavior. I explained to her that home would be the best place for her to express herself and her emotions. That enraged her more. Her protests about leaving were so loud they broke the sound barrier without an airplane and believe you me, I was MORTIFIED. I apologized to my gracious hostess as best I could over the din and dejectedly skulked away, feeling like a failure because my sweet little 2 year old had behaved like a spoiled little bully.
And then I heard the sweetest words as I felt a hand being placed lightly on my forearm as I walked out my new friend's front door.
"I think you're doing the right thing. And you're a great mom."
Music, sweet music.