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Thursday, June 14, 2012

Tantrums and Deep Breaths, or "How I Barely Passed The Toddler Test"

The other day my 2 year, 9 month old boy had what I have written about on Facebook and reported to friends as an EPIC tantrum.

We met a friend in Old Town for some nice walking around time, hoping the boys would find the big park and shops interesting, and then we'd eat some quesadillas and enjoy some music and dancing.

Eli however had different plans. From the moment I picked him up from school he had his emotional "gain" turned to 99% and his volume matching. Ever red light elicited a "I wanna GO mommy!" from him, and every attempt I made to converse or sing was met with a screaming "NO!"

We met our friends at the transit station where we watched trolleys and Coaster trains stop and start. Undaunted, Eli (who usually LOVES to just watch them) insisted that he wanted to see OTHER trains. We walked the length of the station then finally convinced him that we were going to have FUN walking in the park.

He wanted to walk down the transit station stairs, versus simply crossing the street to the park and decided THIS was as vital as breathing. Every attempt I made to talk to him, to get him to take a deep breath, to relax, to reason with him was met with a "BUT MOMMY NOOOOO I WANT TO GO THAT WAY!"

Finally we made our way to the park. As we meandered left, Eli decided he wanted to wander right. We'd go right, then he'd run across the grass left. My friend's sweet young boy placidly watched Eli winding up for what would turn out to be the mother of all fits, and I tried to calmly reason (HA) with him, also trying to NOT be embarrassed that I had this emotional firework of a child on this particular day (which of course implied I was a horrible permissive and negligent parent).

We found the toy store in the mercado and I had to convince Eli that it was something he'd want to see. He did fairly well sharing the small train display toys they had set up, and after 15 minutes we decided it was time to (he was getting more ornery so I thought he MUST be hungry).

The shop worker was on board with our cues, telling the boys to park the trains in the shed so they could sleep, and that the store was going to close.

And then....as sure as I type this...it began. I saw it happening. Eli's body was leaving, but his mind was not going to let it go. He stomped NO, hung on the door jamb, and then starting the HOWLING. We didn't get 10 feet out the door when the screaming NO NO NO NO began. I spoke calmly to him, trying to redirect the negative energy saying we were going to get a quesadilla (one of his favorites) with our friends, and milk or juice, at the restaurant. But "NO I WANT TO GO TO THE THOMAS STORE" was all he could say. Over and over and over.

I had him park his but on (near) a park bench, and told him we needed to talk a few deep breaths. I was proud of myself for just keeping it cool and steady. Normally this works, but not today. The tears were flowing, the nose was running, the drool was ..um...drooling and he was not to be soothed. I thought maybe I would just model deep breaths and he'd catch on. More "NO!" and now the piercing screams. Old Town tourists were a mix of laughing, staring, ignoring, and in one case VIDEO-TAPING (WTF?) the scene. The Mexican dancers and music distracted him for a moment, and then he continued.

I said "Eli, if you stop crying we can stay and play with your friend. If you don't we have to leave." Eli said "NO NONONONON I WANT....(train store, thomas, etc.). I looked helplessly at my friend and her bewildered son, and said "We have to go." She nodded in understanding.

I picked up Eli and thankfully he was no longer thrashing (so I didn't have to worry about dropping him.Strangely enough he was okay with being carried, but the screaming NO and piercing animal-like screams kept coming, all through the park, out the pathway in, down the transit stairs, through the tunnel where the busker was busking (I mouthed "Sorry" as we walked by...), up the stairs, across the station, into the far parking lot and all the way to the car. His tune had changed to "I WANT TO SEE MY FRIEND" rather than "TRAINS" so he did at least understand the basic situation.

I opened the car door as he continued as his face was wet, red, and still scrunched in anger, and then he SPIT. Poorly, towards the car, and all over himself, but still, he SPIT. Twice. I was mad, but then I laughed when I saw the spittle all over his face. I told him, "Ok, now when we get home you have to get in your jammas and go to bed. We do not spit and we talked about the screaming already. You know why we left."

No attempt at deep breathing helped him but I said "Well I"M going to take some to make ME feel better." And they did. (for everything except the pain in my bladder because I had to go the whole time he was throwing his fit and carrying his 30+ pounds a couple of blocks didn't help).

I snapped him into his car seat and somehow through the screaming was able to find my way out of the parking lot and back onto the freeway (after texting my friend I"M SO SORRY).

Now he asked for his comfort - a drink (milk, juice, water, etc.). And I had NOTHING to offer him (was going to fill up his cup at the restaurant). I calmly said "Honey, we don't have anything in the car but as SOON as we get home you can have milk." Something clicked, because then he started to repeat "Mommy, when I get home I can have my milk?" He stuck with THAT phrase and alternated it with "Mommy, tomorrow I can see my friend?"...

My concern at this point was so much more about his obsessive screaming and repetition of phrases than being embarrassed or angry. In fact, I wasn't angry at all - I just felt BAD he worked himself up SO much and was SO insistent on staying mad that there was NOTHING I could do.

Once we got home, I gave him a glass of milk (chocolate soy), which is DOWNED in short order, and a pile of pretzels, which he practically inhaled. (hunger was part of the cause, no doubt).

I said "when you are done with your snack we are going to talk" to which he responded "No, no talk." I laughed and said "OH YES."

Which we did. And surprisingly, when I asked him "Do you know why we left the park" he said "I was screaming"...that alone gave me back my hope that behind the fury was still my sweet boy. We chatted more, recapping the events and trying to take a positive spin, and the night went on. He actually had a HORRIBLE night sleeping (up every 2 hours to drink another glass of "milk") but on Tuesday my easy going kid was BACK.

At the very least, I maintained a calm demeanor and did NOT get angry at him - I had a yoga moment of severe empathy for the frustrated toddler (in all of us) and somehow, somehow, it all came back to 'normal'...

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