Don’t You Ever Do That Again!

Recently I came across an online article giving parents advice about how to deal with temper tantrums.

When I was a child, children were seen and not heard.  Had I dared to throw a temper tantrum (at any age) I’d have been knocked straight out of my socks, and I’d neither have been seen nor heard from for many hours.  Don’t judge my parents.  Times were different, and what we now call abuse was then the received wisdom of how to raise children.  And military families don’t argue with received wisdom.

I vowed to parent differently when my own were born.  But, I wasn’t prepared for what my first had in store for me.

When she was two-and-a-half-ish, my darling threw a monumental tantrum in a public restroom.  Approaching the “I’m so good at this, I can pee in every toilet we go near” stage of her development, my daughter decided, seconds after we entered an oversized hardware/lumber store, that she “had to go.”

We had just left the house and while I was not a perfect mother, neither was I a total idiot.  She had pottied before we left home.  But she insisted that she could not wait.

I found the nearest store clerk and asked for a washroom.  He kindly directed me, and with my two-something-year-old by the hand and my 8-month-old in a pack on my back, I trudged up the stairs and down a long hall of offices.

Once inside, my child exhibited the behaviour which normally made me very proud, but which that day exhausted me and weakened my resolve.

She insisted she would take down her trousers by herself.

Dum de dum.

And her underwear.

Dum de dum dum.

“No wait, your underwear has to come a little lower down your legs, sweetie.”

“I CAN DO IT!”

Dum Dum Dum.

And then…Why?  Why me?  Why here?  Why now?

She decided to line the toilet seat.

Now, I’m tidy.  My house was always more than clean. But if I said I’ve lined a toilet 5 times in over 5 decades, I’d be exaggerating.  Where did she get this idea?  I don’t think I ever saw it on the Sesame Street.

With the neurotic care that can only be taken by a perfectionist, first, FEMALE child, this 30-month-old creature pulled reams of toilet paper from the roll and lay them down on the toilet seat which was approximately half her height.

One strip for the left cheek.  One for the right.

I’d been standing transfixed for a while.  The baby squirmed in the knapsack behind me.

In front of me, too big–and yet not quite big enough–for her britches, my eldest wriggled her little fanny up onto the toilet and knocked a piece of the makeshift seat liner onto the floor.

Growled.

Tore another piece of toilet paper from the roll.

Tried again.

This time, liner cascaded off both sides of the toilet.

The baby began to mewl–the rather strong mewl of an 8-month-old who is already unhappy about playing second fiddle.

“Can I help you with that?”

NO!!!!

I was a relatively new mom.  I still had a pretty long tether.

Twice more I watched this circus act, alternating between jogging on the spot and swaying back and forth to calm the critter on my back.

Both times the growl of the creature in front of me became more high-pitched–and I judged we were heading into “loud” territory.

“Let me help you with that,” I said.  “It’s AMAZING that you thought of lining the toilet, but you aren’t tall enough yet to get your bum up there without moving the paper…”

I began to lay down fresh paper and wonder about how best to shift the weight of the baby and pick up my eldest from a stooped position–without putting out my back.

The scream which careened out of the stall and bounced off the walls of the bathroom was ear-splitting.  I stared, first at her and then at the door.  The fumes of a terrible-two’s rage whooshed under the door and began making their way down the hall to the adjoining office–the only office in which anyone had been working when we walked up the stairs. The office marked “Accountant.”

It went on.  Forever.

The baby began to cry.

I asked my daughter to stop screaming.

I told her to stop.

I demanded she stop.

Then she took a very audible breath.

And started again.

The baby cried harder.

I pulled my daughter–who was still screaming–out of the cubicle.

I bent–and as she screamed into my ear–pulled up her dungarees.

I straightened–and while she continued to scream–turned her facing away from me.

You know I did it.

I swatted her bottom.

There was an audible catch in her throat as the screaming stopped and she whirled around to face me.

“DON’T EVER DO THAT AGAIN!”

Chastened, I explained that she was right.  I should not have smacked her.  But neither should she have gone on screaming while people were trying to work in the next room.

I lined the toilet.

She pottied.

We left.

Generously, she never mentioned it again, but I carried that guilt for a very long time.

One morning, for reasons only discussed among terrible-twos at play group, she decided we would spend the day fighting.  By noon we were both exhausted.  Sitting in the living room, many feet away from each other, we rocked.  Hard.  Me in my big chair and she in her little one.

She looked me square in the eye and said, “It’s hard to be a little girl.”

I know now that what she meant was, “I’m going to show you just how hard it can be to be a mom.”

When her father walked in the back door into the kitchen, she was, of course, sweetness and light.  “Hi Geoge,” she cooed, following him into the laundry room off the kitchen.

I sneered as I finished the dinner prep and set the table.

Having assured her place in her father’s heart, she traipsed back into the kitchen and he went into the bedroom to change.

She climbed up on her chair.

“Dinner won’t be ready for a while,” I said.  “Do you want to play with your sister?”

With an alarmingly deft move, she all but cleared the table with one swipe of her arm.

Glasses, cutlery, plates…all crashed to the floor.

Without a thought, I was upon her.  Picking her up by the bib of her Osh-Goshes with my left hand, I moved swiftly to the back door and opened it with my right.

Depositing her on the back stoop of our fenced yard, I closed the door.

Smiled.

My husband, coming back into the kitchen to find out what the commotion was, raised his voice:  “What are you doing?” he demanded.

“Saving her life.”

…advice?  Well, okay.  But, they’re grown now.  With all their limbs intact.  And with no bills presented for the psychiatrist’s couch.

Except my own.

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Published in: on August 26, 2011 at 9:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
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