“Nope. I’ve never had that.” I tried not to make my relief too visible.
We were at our local bar-slash-restaurant, our group of neighbourhood mothers whose kids are all around the same age and at the same school, and one of our party was describing her daughter’s tantrums.
“She flails around and looks like she’s possessed? And just screams her head off?”
The other mothers could identify. Most of them had had to carry their toddlers, in the throes of serious meltdown tantrums, through shopping malls at least once; or have to steer their screaming progeny into the special naughty corner of their bedroom every few days.
You never want to be the mother to admit that, actually, your two-year-old just doesn’t do tantrums. She is extremely stubborn, yes, and has a very set idea about how things should be done, but she’s just too even-tempered to ever throw her toys, literally or otherwise. So I just muttered quietly that I hadn’t experienced that particular parental rite of passage, and then, when the subject changed to our kids’ wilful independence, tried not to feel a bit embarrassed when one of the other moms told me how her daughter tells her every day that she has to help Lil A put on and take off her shoes at school (how is it that my kid is the only one in her class who can’t dress herself? I obviously didn’t get the memo about making your kid independent enough to have total dominion over her footwear). At the end of the night, I walked home with the unsettling suspicion that Lil A was developing differently to her peers.
But then there was Sunday night, and Lil A’s first full-blown, fear-instilling, limb-flailing, blue-in-the-face-howling tantrum. And then her second, about an hour later. Both meltdowns left me quaking, shaking, baffled – they were both at bedtime, usually a very tranquil hour in our home, involving a storybook, a cuddle from both parents, laying her down in her cot and hearing her saying “bye, Mummy” as I close the door. Last night, instead, she started wailing and flailing as soon as I lowered her into her cot, and then stood up and screamed so loudly and for so long that she went hoarse and her lips went blue. The whole time, I was fighting every instinct to pick her up, knowing that as soon as I did she’d be less likely to go down again. But when she got to the blue-lip phase, I finally gave in, only to be kicked and pummelled, and told “porridge!” in no uncertain terms.
“Oh my god,” I thought as I carried her quickly through to her high chair in the dining room, “I’m basically an abusive mother, making my kid go to bed when she’s starving.” But then I tried to put her in her high chair, to more kicking, more shouting, furious shaking of head. Then I left her standing in her room alone, with the door open, hoping she’d get bored or distracted, but had to go back in five minutes later when her wails hadn’t changed in pitch or intensity. I checked her nappy, checked for fever, tried to cuddle her, tried to rock her, tried everything in my comforting-mom repertoire, and eventually left her in her cot so that she didn’t see my tears.
She fell asleep, eventually, after an eternity of my adrenalin-fuelled heartbeats.
And then woke up an hour later, must have remembered that she’d been expressing her dissatisfaction at something or other, and continued where she left off.
This time, I picked her up immediately and took her to her high chair so that she’d eat something. She’d been too tired to eat supper a couple of hours earlier, and sure enough, she immediately grabbed the piece of toast I put in front of her.
She took a few shuddery breaths before taking a bite.
Then: “Ava’s cry.”
A few bites later.
(Chew, chew, chew)
A small pause, and then, matter-of-factly:
Cue my already fragile heart breaking a little bit.
I assured her that she wasn’t naughty, but that her crying and making a noise wasn’t very nice, and next time she should say “Mummy, toast please”, and then I put her to bed, and she said “Bye, Mummy” as I closed the door.
I stood outside her door for a while afterwards. So it turns out my daughter does do tantrums, I thought. And that I was just as helpless in the face of her overwhelming distress as the other mothers had described themselves as being. I’d scrambled around, trying a million different things to appease her, hoping she’d guide me on what she wanted and needed, but of course, she was too tired and too upset and too little to communicate properly with me, and I should have been firm but kind, and just made her sit in her highchair until she’d calmed down enough to eat the first time around. But, in those moments, I’d literally been unable to think. I don’t think I’ve felt as useless as I did that night since the time Lil A threw up all over me in the reception area of a very fancy game lodge (and then rushing with her to the hospital two hours away when she didn’t stop throwing up) just before her first birthday.
All I can hope is that it’s another year and a bit before I feel like that again. As the mother of a generally chilled child, I am ill-equipped to deal with any deviation in her behaviour. Basically, the problem is, my daughter has spoiled me.