One of the things I think I’d love best about the good ol’ days, if I could go back in time, is the fact that children never threw temper tantrums.
Back then, it was all sunshine and rainbows. Children wanted for nothing, but even if they did and were subsequently denied, they’d politely say, “Okay, mommy. It’s probably for the best,” and then sit quietly with their hands folded until Mr. Cleaver returned home for supper.
I can only surmise this to be true after my wife was berated and all but accused of child abuse by a 70+ year old woman in the Wal-Mart parking lot today following yet another world class freakout by our 3-year old daughter, Kamryn.
Like most toddlers, our daughter strives for independence in a world clearly unable to provide it. This frustrates her to the point where the denial of any tangible object or life experience results in blood-curdling screams and exorcism-like behavior. We tell her to be patient but her brain is incapable, or perhaps unwilling, to process the request.
It’s an obvious fact that children aren’t born with the capability to be patient, to share, or to wait their turn. It’s a skill and restrained behavior that must be taught. On a scale from 1 to 100, with 100 being reserved for Mother Theresa and kindergarten teachers, babies are born at a 0. As evidenced by the incessant crying upon womb exit when they realize they’re being denied car keys.
However, with proper nurturing and daily parental involvement, children can be taught the virtues of patience. In fact, if parents set aside a mere 16 hours a day over a two-year span, their child’s patience index can soar to a 0.2, which is only 19.8 percentage points lower than the peer equivalent of a NYC taxicab driver upon a light change. And only .3 percentage points away from the peer equivalent of adolescence.
When Kamryn wants something and is denied by one of her handlers, her brain arrives at a fork in the behavioral road. Veer left and she’ll collapse to the floor in a limp but unliftable inconsolable heap of tears. Veer right and she’ll do the exact same thing, only now, she’ll channel her inner-Kraken. A choice often accompanied by property damage or the repeated exclamation that she hates everything from food to socks to us.
There are really only three occasions when Kamryn faces these bouts of Toddler Rage.
1) If her brother is within driving distance of a toy she forgot she owned.
The best way to revive our daughter’s interest in a toy is to let her brother touch it or look in its general direction. It could be curdled slug vomit and she’ll scream that she “needs it” if her brother dares express any interest in its existence.
2) If she is denied, well, anything.
Kamryn’s threshold for property denial can be measured in fractions of nanoseconds. In the time it takes a gnat to flap a wing, she can go from happy-go-lucky Kamryn to why-did-we-have-one-more-child Kamryn. As small as she is, her tiny little arms can never be too full.
3) If I leave the house or car without her.
This usually delivers the harshest degree of backlash and it’s actually what led to today’s dramatic excitement outside Wal-Mart.
Typically I have no problem taking her with me when I run errands. While I know she’s only going because she hates to pass up any opportunity to possibly beg for toys and candy, I love being with her before and after the imminent meltdown. But today, I had to run into the bank and only had six minutes until they closed. As I hopped out of the car, Kamryn let out a banshee-like scream and started pounding on the window as I walked away.
Even though she was surrounded by mommy and her two brothers, all she saw was daddy denying her company. She freaked out. She cried and kicked and screamed and cried and bucked wildly trying to escape her car seat. Kind of like Houdini defying the chains of doom had he been a spastic frenzied toddler.
While I was inside, Heather noticed an old woman circling our van. She peered inside and then walked to the back, jotting down what Heather thought might be our license plate number. She then walked to the front of our van and scribbled down some more details.
Concerned about what this woman was doing, Heather approached her and said, “Hello, can I help you with something?”
“No!,” the woman hastily snapped back, “Can I help YOU with something?”
She peered over Heather’s shoulders to the van and Heather assumed it had to be about Kamryn’s antics.
“If you’re referring to our daughter, my husband had to go into the bank and she didn’t like that he went without her.”
The woman folded the piece of paper mumbling something about having seen enough of this kind of treatment and tucked it into her purse saying, “Well, I’m always seeing your van all up and down Cayuga Street. What do you do anyway? Why are you out so much? Are you a delivery person or something?”
Blindsided but ever-friendly, Heather explained that we live off of Cayuga Street, that we have three children who attend three different schools, and that she’s always out and about because of her duties at the elementary school.
“What school is that?,” she barked.
When Heather replied, she unfolded her paper and jotted more notes. She said, “Excuse me,” and shut the door on Heather. She backed out of her spot, wheeled around to our lane, and slowed just behind the van. After another 30 seconds, she sped off.
When I returned to the van, Heather was visibly shaken. Andrew, Michael, and her explained all that went down and Heather was certain that the police were on their way.
“For what?,” I said, “Having a toddler who’s displeased? If that’s a crime, parents everywhere are screwed.”
“Greg, this is serious. Don’t make it funny.”
“But it IS funny, sweetheart. She’s obviously some kook. Even if she did call the police, what is she going to say?”
“You read stories all the time about innocent people losing their children.”
“Honey, seriously. If temper tantrums were a punishable offense against parents, the world would be full of orphans.”
Heather was and still is worried. She’s worried that the police are going to show up, or worse yet, that some CPS representative is going to show up at our front door. And you know what? They very well may. Who knows what this woman will say to make sure her story warrants attention.
Truth is, everyone was in their respective seats with their seatbelts on. Kamryn was having her illustrious meltdown while everyone else just let her burn off steam. It’s not like this woman witnessed Heather giving Kamryn a beatdown or even interacting with her. It was simply a matter of waiting out the storm by reading, texting, and listening to the radio. If that’s a crime, lock me up, because the only other alternative is coddling to her.
At first, I was furious with this woman. Furious at the premise that she was going to report Heather for something so innocuous. But then I began to think that I’d never want anyone to shy away from reporting what they felt might be a child in danger. Having been through a devastating family loss at the hands of abuse, Heather knows all too well the kind of pain that a failed system can yield.
Still, this particular situation should have been obvious. I don’t mind a curious eye but to treat Heather this way when it was clearly nothing more than a temper tantrum was out of line. To scribble down notes and shut the door on Heather was just as rude as it was silly.
I hope for Heather’s sake that this woman comes to her senses because I know she’ll completely break down if anyone shows up to question the love, devotion, and rabid protective nature she has for her children. I really wish I had returned to the car sooner.
I don’t know how much time this woman has on her hands but I’d love to know 1) why she interrogated Heather about what she does for a living and how it’s even relevant; 2) how she knows we drive “all up and down Cayuga Street”; and 3) how she can immediately equate a child’s unhappy cries with abuse.
Alas, she was gone when I returned. Probably out reporting the harrowing case of First Degree Tantrum Inducement to anyone who will listen. I can’t imagine this going anywhere but I do know CPS is required to at least investigate reports. It’s just such a non-event that I hope a literal mountain isn’t made out of a literal molehill.
But if it is, parents everywhere need to be forewarned:
Give in to your child’s demands now! Don’t wait for the authorities to intervene. Placate them at all costs. For only with spoiled entitled children can we as parents be safe from the suspicious eyes of others and the misled clutches of justice. If you hear so much as a whimper, CAVE! Fold like Origami. Your freedom and your peace of mind may very well depend on it.