Okay, Listen up.

Seriously. You have to listen to me this time. I am a parenting genius for today only, and I must share.

I found the secret to ending a tantrum. More specifically, a two-year-old’s tantrum.

Both my kids have very strong opinions. [Shocking.] The eldest used to yell at people at the supermarket if they looked at him. “THAT LADY NO LOOK AT ME!” Every person in the store. Screamed at them. I learned to shop at 10pm by myself when that kid was Two.

One of his longest, most intense tantrums was in the car. He started yelling “That car no on road! MY ROAD!” He yelled and screamed and sobbed for almost an hour that the cars and trucks on the road must get off his road.

And I talked nicely the whole time. I patiently explained how roads worked, and taxes. I explained that he could use his money, as a grownup, to buy his own road, but for now we had to share. “I understand,” I said. “I want them gone, too. But they have rights.” I told him about rights.

Not one single word worked. Not even the taxes part. [Again with the shocking revelations. I’m on a roll.]

[Wait, you’re rolling your eyes, aren’t you? You would have ignored him, I’ll bet. Yeah, aside from my inability to go that route, this kid was un-ignorable.]

Cue the tantrums of the youngest. Wow that kid has lungs. And opinions. And the helplessness that launches a thousand tantrums.

Yesterday we drove past a front-end loader. And an excavator. And a backhoe. (I know, right? Why the backhoe if you have the other two? Why have the two standalone tools when the backhoe is all things to all projects? Why the redundancy? Dunno. Wish I did.)

All three trucks were stopped. We paused, we looked, we evaluated. We let the little guy give the cue to move on. (We’re not crazy. We wait ’til he says “bye-bye” to a construction site or we’re Dead.In.The.Water. Even the kindergartener knows this.)

After we leave, the Almost-Two starts demanding more trucks. Loudly. A tantrum is a-brewin’.

“That’s all, Butterbean. You want more trucks but I can’t make more trucks.”

“YES!” he shouts. “More!”

The older one just shakes his head. “No,” he says. “No more.”

Well, that’s it. Little guy is gone. In his place is a raging sobbing machine who will not rest until he sees more trucks. Especially since his brother said “no.”

So I try my favorite tantrum technique—empathy—but ratchet it up seven hundred fold.

“Aaaaaargh!” I yell. “I want more trucks!”

He calms down to listen.

“I like trucks” I shout, “and I want more!”

The Almost-Six protests. “Mom. You don’t even like trucks.”

“I know, buddy. But watch this work.” I continue. “I LIKED those trucks and I want MORE! And I’m mad there are no more trucks. ANGRY!”

The littlest gets it. He joins in a bit, he adds his two cents. He calms markedly. Finally, as I repeat that I’m angry, the toddler yells his sound for “angry”. All three of us bellow a barbaric yawp.

And the tantrum is done. I feel great (though hoarse). The older guy is relieved. The younger guy is satisfied.

So all I’m saying is: don’t ignore and don’t explain. Join in. It feels good, they feel heard, and all is happy and good in no time.

If you’ll excuse me, I think TED might want this lecture now….

[Update: one hour after I posted I got emails that this genius invention of mine is already a thing. In a book. By some parenting expert person. Figures, of course. The one moment I have parenting success could have come earlier and more frequently if I read a book, an event that happened before kids but hasn’t since.]

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That’s an easy one

Problem: two terrible evenings in a row where Peanut spends the time from nap until lullabies out of his mind with the urge to scream and cry and physically torment his parents until well after his alleged bedtime.
Solution: bogle petite syrah port. two ounces in wedding crystal.
Problem: guilt over subjecting in utero second child to that particular avoidance technique
Solution: eat an entire sleeve of ginger snaps to go with the port.
Problem: it’s been four months since I’ve had a drink and I’m a lightweight. A very bloated, itchy, kind of grouchy lightweight.
Solution: more ginger snaps.

I want to have a tantrum, too

You wanna know how bad last night’s tantrum was? You wanna know what made me so physically keyed up that I was shaking for about an hour after Peanut finally passed out from exhaustion?

Oh, boy.

We don’t get many tantrums here at the WaN household. (I love that acronym…never noticed writing at naptime is wan. Nice. I also like it when 20-20 calls our blog Nappy. That’s good clean fun, too, and not at all Imus.)

In fact, I have blogged the few tantrums we’ve had. I think we’re up to four in three years. (Four big ones. I am not fazed by the fifteen minute tantrums.) Not bad. They tend to last for two to three hours, but still, as two-year-olds go, we’re batting, like, whatever would be a really, really good batting average. How do they say that? Whatever.

But last night the other shoe dropped.

Started with a tough day. Some days just are and that’s okay. No nap, including a power struggle, the end of which included the statement, “Well it’s quiet time, and if you won’t let your body try to rest by closing your eyes for just ten minutes, then I’m ignoring you for an hour. You get to choose. It’s your body. But I don’t have to play with you.” Nice sign for impending doom.

It was bad enough that two hours later I made us both cocoa. That’s a big deal in our house. His first cup of cocoa was election day. He’d never had it before and I told him it was a special treat that we got because it’s so important to vote. It wasn’t a bribe because he didn’t know about it until after the voting, but it felt lovely to make a little ritual out of his outstanding behavior at the polls. He pushed the buttons on the televoting newfangled computer thing that, by the way, brings out the 80 year old Luddite in me. Where’s the paper? Well, this year there was a paper printout, so I’m all better now. Twitch, twitch.

Anyway, the second cocoa incident was thanks to a lovely gift from NM. She gave him a little tea cup, little saucer, and little tin of cocoa for Hogamany. Yay, NM. Very cute. Except that my kid thought we got to go vote again, and this time he wasn’t voting for no rules or no bosses. He was voting for himself so he could tell me what to do. He said so. I laughed. Big mistake.

Third cocoa was inauguration. Big day, y’all, and I felt it warranted cocoa. Plus, and this is a little wrong, but I figured since the whole world was gettin’ a little cocoa that day, that my kid could, too.

So yesterday things got bad enough to bring out the cocoa. And it helped. But the afternoon got worse by about 4. His body can’t handle being nap-free. He started to melt down in little bursts. Fell a lot. The usual stuff. I was lovely and comforting, for, after all, I was full to the rim with warm, chocolate-y goodness. By 5, when Spouse called, Peanut was on my lap, whimpering that he wanted to go to a playground. It was dark, it was cold, it was almost dinner. No playground.  Uh-oh.

I told Spouse on the phone it was a rare, choice, and in all other ways USDA bargain-basement, salmonella-grade day. Which the USDA is not required to tell the public, but I felt required to tell Spouse before he got home. Spouse didn’t hear me, or didn’t listen , for his arrival, later, would spin the situation out of control. What a shock. Take a delicate balance and throw a man in the middle and watch it implode.

Peanut went from whimpering to crying. He wanted to go to Longs. To buy tissues. I had offered that several times during the day to get him out of his jammies and out of the house. Nope. Not until 6pm does he want to go out. Fine. You go put on your clothes and I’ll have Daddy take you to Longs. Twenty minutes of “not Daddy, you.” Then twenty minutes of “I don’t want clothes, I’m too sad.” Then twenty minutes of “I want go Trader Joe’s.” *blink blink* Why? “I want go Trader Joe’s get mushrooms.”  Um, we don’t eat mushrooms. He won’t try them and Spouse and I pass whenever offered fungus.

“But I *need* mushrooms. I no have mushrooms long time. I need go Trader Joe’s get mushrooms.” Well, we’re not going. And therein lay the beginning of the end. As soon as he started to ask for things that defied logic, I knew I was done.

Spouse came home in a foul mood and pissed me off. I barked at Spouse. Spouse snapped at me. I asked Spouse to get dinner ready. Spouse emptied the recycling and rearranged the kitchen and complained about the overfull trash and…where’s the mother f—ing kid’s dinner, a–hole? “I’m getting to it.”

Yeah. Like *I’m* getting to a place in society that’s respected and well regarded. Right.

So I hobble into the kitchen without my crutches to make dinner and Spouse yells at me. Tells me not to walk without crutches and tells me he’s taking care of dinner. I yell back. That was fifteen minutes ago, and I could have had it all done by now. Oh yeah, you’re so perfect. Oh yeah, you’re never here. It’s all been said before, by countless others, including John and Kate. And if those mo-fos say it, it must be true.

So Peanut is still sobbing, though mostly to himself now because Spouse and I are passing him back and forth, knowing that if his feet touch the ground we’re done for.

Peanut doesn’t want ravioli, he wants burrito. Make him that, he won’t eat it. Now he wants ravioli. Fine. Here you go. “I’m too tired to eat.” amen. Go to bed. “Not time bed. I want play.” No, buddy. Bed or bath are your choices. “Mmmm, Bryce.” Bryce is not a choice. Bed or bath. “Not any.” Okay, bed. “No! Bath!” Okay. get naked. “I don’t want naked.” Okay, do you want bath in your jammies? “Yes.” That’s fine, but after bath you’ll need to change to different jammies because those will be wet. “I want these jammies.” Okay, take them off and put on different jammies for the bath. “No I don’t want take these off at all.” Okay, go get in bed. “No-o-o-o-o-o-o!” This bed bath cycle repeats for half an hour.

Now, seriously, how awesome am I to offer a bath with jammies? To offer a bath with different jammies just to keep the treasured mismatch of pink polka dots and red spiders dry? Awesome. I know. And you know. But that little dude doesn’t know. Please email him and tell him. ‘Cuz this would all be easier if he knew how good he has it, given the whole powerless and overwhelmed and full of newness and exploration and hope and change and stuff. He’s got it just about as good as it gets. Minus Mommy and Daddy fighting over the trash and a burrito. But still.

And thus began another hour of sobbing and writhing and hitting (he hit us, we didn’t hit him. Who are we, Glenn Beck to announce that we beat our child? We don’t, and we don’t believe in it, but we wouldn’t announce it. Are you kidding? In a blog post with the words Obama and inauguration and cocoa? We’re already getting a Secret Service visit, I guarantee you.)

Anyway, it was three hours of sobbing and crying and sadness and wanting everything but what he can’t have. Including mushrooms and cocoa and a bath in jammies that magically dry. Nope, not good enough. We wanted to hold him down and cram him in bed. We didn’t. I wanted to lock him in his room and leave him. Spouse wouldn’t hear of it because i’ts just too dangerous. I offered to let Peanut roam the house, glassy-eyed and convulsing with sobs, and ignore him until he passed out. Spouse questioned my new ignore parenting, wondering, mostly to himself because he’s smart, if all I do all day is ignore Peanut. Remind me to yell at Spouse again later. We cuddled the lad and maintained nice voices (after we got all of our frustrations out on each other…nice role models) and he finally passed out while I was singing the alphabet in his dark room.

And I shook for an hour and drank heavily but couldn’t get even relaxed. And at 1am, 2am, and 3am he screamed from his room, crying, that he wanted stories.

Are you kidding me? Obama help me, I’m gonna be 300 pounds, all cocoa, by the time this kid goes to school. And my poor readers, all eight of them, will have forty-thousand pages of lovingly creased and earmarked pages of printed out blog pages because my only sanity lies in telling the world that my kid, and my decision to raise him with respect and love and attachment and intelligence is killing me.

Tantrum of monumental proportions

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.