We needed food bad. I couldn't TCA (Total Cart Abandon. My usual method.) because I had nothing to feed them for lunch after presenting them with the delectable breakfast feast of toast and raisins. So I locked in. I focused. I moved fast and I didn't stop to think about anyone else beyond the two humans in my cart. When all was said and done, we were home. It ended. Life continued without falling apart. But damn, it was wild getting there.
For me, perspective is key.
Tantrums are normal. They happen to every child. Because it is hard to be a kid. Everything is too big or not safe. They are told "not now" and "you can't" and "no" a lot. They must depend on others to do simple tasks that we as adults do easily. They live in a world that is too big. Even just opening their snack is a challenge because the packaging has obviously been fused together with superglue-like impossibility. And while we are there to keep them safe and to teach them regulation, we need to remember that being corrected and parented can also be very frustrating for our kids. Add in the developmental milestones and the desire for independence that comes with being three years old and you've got a powder keg of will vs ability. That's enough to bring any adult into a hissy fit, right? Think about it from a child's perspective. Especially a child who has not yet learned how to manage intense feelings.
So this is what happened....
Half way through the store we came upon the never-there-before toy aisle. You know, because even the grocery store needs one (grrr). Anyway, he saw a toy he wanted. I said no. He asked about 1400 more times. Each time I said, "Not today, bud." And with that, the gates of hell opened up in the neighborhood Aldi store. I focused in. The goals were to leave the store with food, to help my child process these big emotions he was feeling and to not fall apart myself. Oh and also to help Plum not join in on the chaos as she thoroughly enjoys mimicking her big brother.
It didn't go as smooth as I had hoped (Damn you, Bag-it-yourself Stores!) but we made it. And as I tended to my flailing, screaming child while pushing the cart filled with Plum and horrifically packed groceries, I felt a pat on my back. "Hang in there, mom. We've all been there. You're doing great", she said. I turn and see the eyes of several shoppers giving me that knowing look. No judgment. No disgust. Just faces of people who, if I had a free hand, would give me a fist bump and a hug.
That was awesome.
I think if there is anything I want to impart with this post it's that Mr. Pants wasn't trying to ruin my day. The tantrum began as a run of the mill tantrum, sure. He was ticked he couldn't have a toy. He was angling to get that toy when the tantrum began. But it became more than that. Eventually he came to a point where he couldn't rein it in. Not that he didn't want to, but that he couldn't. He became distressed. So then my job changed too.
He didn't get the toy. That was the lesson. But he still deserved my respect for what he was going through. He deserved my empathy. He deserved help.
And to do that, I needed to go to a focused and calming place (Hulk smashes more when people return fire, right?). Not always the easiest thing to do. I reminded myself that underneath all of that face-melting screaming is my kid and he needed my help to learn self-control. I also made a mental note to eat a donut when it was over.
So we packed up the car and I pulled out my bag of tricks. Of coarse none of them worked at first but I continued to try. I suggested our breathing techniques, he hated me for that. I tried music that he loves, he thought that was the worst idea ever. I had a snack for him if he wanted one, he yelled at me. I stopped trying and just listened to him talk in repeated phrases (this is always the hardest part for me because it hurts my heart for him when he gets stuck). But eventually he began telling me what he needed. His wubby's, some milk, a nap. I told him he could have all of these things as soon as we got home. He kept asking over and over. Wubby's, milk, nap. That's what he needed. That's what I assured him he would get. Then things fell silent for the first time in 40 minutes and through his swollen eyes and hiccuped breathing he asked for his music. We had made it and were climbing up out of the abyss. He hid his face to block out light and he whispered things to me that I couldn't hear. He went in and out of crying. I started deep breathing and he eventually joined me. Step by step he came back to himself. And mile by mile we got closer to home.
We made it.
So the next time you find yourself alone with your child having a five-alarm, ear-splitting dance with madness and you are hoping the earth will open up and swallow you, just breath and remember that the rage monster that has taken over your kid will not stay forever. I mean, Bruce Banner learned to control the Hulk, right? It's totally possible to get through the meltdowns of a three year old. You just gotta keep your cool. Keep your perspective. Don't join in on the rage fest and keep moving forward toward the light at the end of the tunnel.
And also eat a donut.