Ah, I love a good tantrum. (Not seriously.) And we don’t get enough of ’em around here. (Seriously.) Toddler are supposed to frequently spiral out of control, overwhelmed because they feel helpless, glimpse the capricious nature of this world, and begin to realize someone else is in charge of them. Now that I recall the reasons for winding into a tantrum, I’m thinking of having a one or two myself.
But Peanut has only had two or three absolute meltdowns in our short (to me; eternal, to him) history together. So we’ve been getting off lucky. (Not really. Every kid, and I believe this, brings his or her own challenges. The tantrum freaks sleep all night; the daytime teethers sleep all night; the nighttime teethers are cuddly all day; the total nightmare children potty train at 15 months. You name the tough issue, I’ll remind you of a reason your child is a dream. Bring on the sextuplets.)
Oh, this tantrum two nights ago one beat them all. Made up for lost time. Was like whiplash all over again. Fill in the aphorism that makes it seem good that we lost two hours of sanity and several years off our lives for finding a happy resolution to last night’s fi-freaking-asco.
Screaming and writhing that he doesn’t want to do something is normal. We talk him through it; we’re firm but fair. We don’t traumatize him, but we don’t let him walk all over us, blah blah blah. He goes willingly every time because we’re wicked wily with the various positive parenting techniques. I didn’t read three-hundred-and-forty-two parenting books for nothing. I have at least five good tactics to try before I lose my patience. He gets the small choices, we get the big choices. “You choose the shampoo, but yes, we’re washing your hair one night this week.” You know the drill. And it always works, if we summon up the hours’ worth of patience it takes to navigate from dinner to bedtime. That two hour stretch is honest to god the longest freaking stretch in my life, every day. Visions of Turkish prison…give me a stint in a Turkish prison any day. NOT Gitmo. I’ll take a toddler over human rights abuses. Let’s be clear about that.
So he’s screaming and writhing going into bath. Screaming and writhing coming out of bath. No amount of negotiation or compromise seem to work. He chooses the soap, then shrieks as though he’s being stabbed as I come near him with it. [We don’t scream inside. If you scream one more time you don’t get stories tonight.] He chooses the bath toy, then flings it at my head when I say we have three more minutes. [We don’t throw toys because they could hurt someone. If you throw any more toys they go away until tomorrow.] He chooses the towel then bangs on my head as I dry him off. [We don’t hit. If you hit me again you get a time out.] It’s a lovely night.
So we’ve gotten teeth brushed and we’re reading books. (Naked reading is now the compromise to get teeth brushed. I’d rather have him grow up with strong teeth than always be fully clothed. I went to college with The Naked Guy. I don’t care if Peanut defies society on its Puritanical norms. I care if his oral hygeine becomes a familial liability. Spouse’s abyssmal record on that front makes me try even harder on the next generation.)
“Okay. We’re reading three stories tonight. This is one…(as the next one approaches) this is the second story and we’re reading three tonight. So one more after this…(as the next one approaches) This is the last story tonight. After this story we’re all done. Look at Mommy’s eyes. Say that when this book is all done, we’re all done stories. (He looks at me and screams at the top of his lungs.)
C: Mommy told you no screaming inside. Quiet voice inside. If you scream again we’re all done stories.
P: [looks at me, decides, and yells as loud as he’s able.] AAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!
C: [surreal calm descends as I know if I get sucked in, the kid is getting the kind of beating that we don’t believe in but often fantasize about]: All done stories. We don’t yell inside. No more stories.
P: [crying] Please one more story.
C: No. Mommy said no more stories if you scream. Time for potty and bed.
P: [Sobbing] Please one more story.
C: No. Time to say goodnight.
P: [Stroking my face, kissing me] Please one more story. (Where did he learn that trick? It’s gonna help in college, methinks).
C: [Looking at Spouse over Peanut’s shoulder and mouthing “I really want to read the story.”] No. Stories all done.
P: [screaming and sobbing] Please one more.
C: No. We’re all done. You cannot scream and get stories. It’s time for pee and goodnight.
So he hits me. I tell him that’s not okay. He yells. I tell him that’s not okay, either. He cries, I pick him up, he slugs me. I put him down he is wracked with sobs and begging to be cuddled. I pick him up, he hits me. I put him down he screams. I go into the bathroom. He follows me, screaming and sobbing about the book, about sorry, about some other stuff I don’t understand. I help him on the toilet and he beats on me, repeatedly, while peeing. That’s some trick, I think. I tell him to stop it, he does. I tell him to wash his hands, he yells. I wash his hands, he screams. I put him down he shrieks to get up. I cuddle him he hits me. I put him down he screams. Spouse walks into the room, Peanut sobs “Daddy go ‘way.” Apparently, no pee, no wash, no window, no light, no door, no nothing but another book. If we turn off the light, he screams that he wants to turn it off. If we turn it back on, he screams that he doesn’t want it off ever.
The cat has been nervously trying to help since the whole fiasco started. He always comes running when someone cries, and since Peanut hasn’t been at cat level for much of this, the feline protector feels helpless. Finally, Peanut gets down to get his book and beg for one more story and the cat goes to comfort him. Peanut swings at the cat and hits him with the book. Spouse and I draw the line.
“You cannot hit cats. You can’t hit animals. That’s not okay. Timeout.”
We try for at least a minute to enforce the timeout and can’t, so we close Peanut in his room. He pounds on the door and sobs. We cast sad and supportive glances at each other. After ten seconds we go back in. “Cuddle.” As soon as I pick him up, Peanut hits me. (I’m getting really tired of this. I’m getting ready to hit back. I won’t, I won’t, I won’t…you just better hope I don’t drop my guard, buddy, because having on my gentle-parenting game face is all that’s keeping you from a good, sound, slapping.)
We try cuddling, we try timeouts, we try talking, we try just turning off the lights and closing the door. Each time he begs for a cuddle (which is his code for “help, I’m overwhelmed by feelings.”) Then he sobs while he hits. Mmmmm. Not enough Calgon in the world.
Repeat ad nauseum for longer than any human being should cry or be cried at. Finally, I try to shake things up. Barring beating the living crap out of him, I can’t decide what will change this cycle. He needs help out of this tantrum because he’s totally out of control and hysterical, and I need to think of something. So the next time he hits me, I fake cry. Really disappointed cry. “Why would you hit me when I love you” kind of cry. Gorgeous acting.
He gasps in horror and cries in terror. And he tries to make it better. He strokes my face and kisses me, cries, and waits.
He doesn’t know what to do. He stops crying within 20 seconds. He cuddles, he breathes (finally). I let him choose songs and I sing to him. I rock him. I talk nicely to him. It’s okay to be angry. It’s not okay to hit.
And at the end, as we’re putting him to bed, I tell him I love him. He says, “Mommy no like hitting. Mommy like Peanut.”
I tell him all the time that I love him, that I even love him when he hits, but that I don’t love hitting. I love him happy and sad, I love him angry. I love him reading, I love him running, I love him hitting. I don’t love hitting, but I love you.
Apparently, he listens.