So tantrums are fun, aren’t they?
It’s a miracle in some respects that any of us grow up and out of our innate desire to act like a raving lunatic in the face of high stress, undesired responsibility or lack of Haagen Dazs in the empty container that’s sitting in the freezer as though it belongs there. We want to initiate a meltdown. Sometimes we do. But usually we exercise necessary restraint because we’re not batshit crazy. (Not today, anyway. Don’t talk to us about what happened last week.)
“Oh, girl,” I want to say to my daughter, “I feel you.” I know exactly how far that emotional pendulum can swing. And while I certainly don’t experience mood swings to the extreme that my three-year-old does, I understand that urge to be real and true; and sometimes that might look like screaming and flipping my lid at a total stranger. Especially when I pull up behind a car at a red light with every intention of taking a right but they’re too busy hogging up the necessary space while they blithely sit there waiting to go straight when the light turns green. I mean, MOVE OVER. YOU CAN DO THIS.
My daughter, though – she’s a serious trip. Her specialty? Bedtime. We follow a routine down to the line, trying not to deviate for anything; and still, I know with utmost certainty that the minute I close the book we’ve read and kiss her goodnight, I can expect a barrage of stall tactics that start with the Actually-I-Do-Have-To-Poops, move steadily toward dramatic weeping, face cupped in hands, lamenting over the You’ve-Made-My-Heart-So-Sads, and crescendo nicely to screams so blood-curdling that I don’t know how she doesn’t suffer from a chronic sore throat.
Take last night, for example. Everything went right according to expectation. We moved seamlessly through each tantrum stage like it’d been rehearsed eight thousand times before (and it has); but I opted to try shifting her focus from blind rage to giggles; so I wrapped my arms around her while she laid there, and pretended to gobble up her cheeks and ears every time she yelled; and it worked! …Or so I thought, until I realized the moment I ended the game on a high note and said goodnight that those giggles turned in one nanosecond back to shrieks.
She wailed. I stood strong. Unsatisfied with my reaction, she started throwing tiny punches. So I grabbed her arm as she raised it to hit me again, and I told her sternly: We Do Not Hit. Ever.
Well, this changed the game for her. She took it up a notch. All the same, I bid her adieu; so she yelled from her bed in the darkness, “You’ve broken my arm!” On and on she went, and time and again I went back into her room to quell the madness. Or maybe to get the last word; it’s hard to say.
How much time had gone by? Hours? Days? I couldn’t be sure. All I knew was I was right in the middle of a shit storm and I was losing the battle against someone one quarter of my size. And do you know how hard it is to stay Zen, to keep your composure and to not stoop to that tiny little level and turn into your Ghostbusters self – your inner Dana Barrett channeling Zuul, because that’s what feels like the most satisfying solution? It’s hard. You know it is.
“ She doesn’t do that for me,” says Husband. “You just need to change your approach.”
“Have you tried…” suggests Mother. I cut her off. “…Everything under the sun, I assure you, I have tried.”
“YOU BROKE MY HEART, MUMMY!” She wails. Well, dear daughter, light of my life and occasional thorn in my side, YOU HAVE BROKEN MY SPIRIT. Now go to sleep so I can have a damn beer. And then another, and then another, forever and ever, amen.
There are no great pearls of wisdom here. I’m not sitting on any solid moral rock. The best I’m doing is chronicling my trials, piecing together a sad picture of effort at Being Good and Strong and Whole, and floating around you the way Rose DeWitt Bukater did on that wooden door in the frigid ocean, Titanic sinking madly over yonder, but allowing you a space next to me on that door because we all know there’s room, Rose. So clamber on up, fellow mamas. It’s rough waters out here.