37: The Meltdown
37: The Meltdown
Temper tantrums, however fun they may be to throw, rarely solve whatever problem is causing them.
My daughter has never been what you would consider an easygoing child. In fact, she has a bit of a temper. Okay, if the truth be told, she has a temper like a raging forest fire. Some kids just seem to be born with a temperament that is intense, sensitive, emotional, and dramatic. She is definitely one of them.
I knew we were in trouble when she was three weeks old. I put her down for her nap and she still wanted to be held. She looked up at me, frowned, and absolutely screamed, “MAMA!” I know babies aren’t supposed to be able to talk at this age, but I know what I heard.
She entered the full-blown “terrible two’s” just before her first birthday and never left them. We tried everything at one time or another — time-outs, taking away favorite toys, ignoring her, talking. The only thing that seemed to work (sometimes) was prevention — making sure that she never reached that cranky place where she was too hungry or tired or rushed. With two working parents, of course, this plan was doomed to failure.
We were driving home from daycare one day, both exhausted, and it was dinnertime — a set-up for problems. When I refused to stop for junk food, she went into “meltdown mode”… a full-blown tantrum, complete with hitting, screaming, kicking, and biting. I couldn’t possibly drive safely, so I pulled over for a roadside timeout.
She continued to scream and flail around. After ten minutes of this, I turned off the engine and got out, standing beside the car with my back to her, hoping the lack of attention would calm her down. Instead, she upped the ante, screaming louder and banging on the windows. People were starting to slow down and stare.
Suddenly, she opened the car door and dashed away, screaming at the top of her lungs how much she hated me. I stood by helplessly. I was too tired to chase her, and even if I tried, I didn’t think I could catch up to her. I struggled to hold back the tears.
Her timing was astonishing. At that exact moment, a policeman drove by, slowed, turned around, and then stopped. He got out of the police car, tipping his hat back as he scanned the situation, and scowled at me.
“Is that your child, ma’am?”
“Yes.” I was growing more embarrassed by the moment. By the way she was screaming, he must have thought I was kidnapping her. Or abusing her. To make matters worse, I am a social worker, and part of my job at the time involved child abuse investigations.
“Well, what is going on?”
“Oh, nothing, officer. She’s having a tantrum, and I’m trying to get her back into the car.”
Halfway across the field, my daughter stopped dead in her tracks, watching us. I don’t know what went through her little four-year-old brain. Maybe she even thought that I had called him. Meanwhile, the policeman apparently decided that I was the mother, after all, and that I was not abusing her. His tone softened.
“I’m a father. Is there anything I can do to help?”
“You could try talking with her.”
He walked briskly across the field. She just stood and stared at him. I can only imagine what he said, but after what felt like an eternity, they both walked slowly back to the car. I managed to mumble a thank-you, and she climbed into the back seat. We drove home in utter silence.
At home, my husband asked how our day had been. My daughter looked sheepish, obviously horrified at the thought of her father knowing about her brush with law enforcement. She shot a look my way, her eyes pleading.
“Oh, nothing unusual.”
I winked at her. I could always tell him later.
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