Confession cam time again: This morning I feel like the crappiest mommy ever. You know the one – that mommy that all the other mommies stare at thinking, “Boy, at least I’m not that bad!” Worse than that, actually. I’m the mommy that the other mommies stare at thinking, “What a bitch. How can she be that mean to her kid?” Tantrumming kids, I can handle. Sad kids – no problem. Tantrumming kids who LOOK LIKE sad kids? That’s my Kryptonite.
Over the years, there have been a number of things that will lead to Ben throwing what Ian calls a wobbler. As he has matured, most of these things have dwindled off, leaving just one: Ben is very much a creature of habit. One of the most common objections he will make to things is, “But I wasn’t expecting that!” Example: “But Ben, you love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.” *whined* “I know I do, but I wasn’t expecting it. Why did you give me it??” When it comes to school, we are in the habit of dropping Molly off at her class first, then Ben, and if I try to differ from that routine, he completely loses it.
Which brings us to this morning. At Ben and Molly’s school, in the month of February, they invite parents to observe their children in class. You sign up for a time slot, they set up a video camera in the class, and you watch on a TV in the hallway, then join the class for circle time, and the child being observed doesn’t know that his or her parents are there until then. Other parents are asked to make an effort to get their children to the classroom on time so that they don’t interrupt the observation or spoil the surprise.
Well, we are notoriously late, and this morning was no exception, so when I realized that there was a mommy sitting down to observe, I explained to Ben that today I needed to drop him off quickly and RIGHT NOW so we didn’t interrupt his friend’s mommy or spoil the surprise. And meltdown in 5…4…3…2…
The trouble with Ben’s meltdown in this particular situation is that it’s not a screaming, flailing temper tantrum. That would be way too easy. I could be authoritative, other parents would smile sympathetically, and a teacher would nod understandingly and take him into the classroom. No, the trouble with Ben’s “wobbler” is that his face crumbles, he bursts into heart-breaking tears, he begs, “But mommy…please…I just can’t go in while I’m upset…I just have to get not upset…I’m trying to take deep breaths”, and I hiss, “Ben, this is ridiculous. Just get into your classroom,” and try to grab him and drag him in while he dances away, keeping just out of reach. To the uninformed observer, he looks like a heart-broken little boy who is trying his best to pull himself together while I look like the angriest, most icy-hearted parent ever to walk the earth.
So now instead of quickly zipping him into the classroom so the other mom could continue her observation undisturbed, we have the spectacle of sobbing, begging, deep-breathing Ben, and hissing, muttering, grabbing me, and let me tell you, the TV screen is no longer what’s being observed…*Voiceover in Australian accent* “And if you look to your right, towards the edge of the savannah you will see a prime example of momminus horriblis with her young. Ain’t she terrifying?”
What could I do? I walked away to take Molly to her class. Ben followed and we continued the back-and-forth, “Just go to your class.” “I just need to get not upset.” “Go back downstairs.” “I’m trying to take my deep breaths.” (Again, you have to imagine this conversation with angry me and pitiful Ben. I really, really sound horrible.) And now here we are outside of Molly’s classroom, and guess what? Ben is hugging Molly, saying goodbye, dropping her off first, and suddenly he’s not upset any more. “It’s okay now, mommy, because we dropped Molly off first.” WELL IT’S NOT FRIGGING OKAY WITH ME.
So I took him aside and explained in very, very angry terms, that it was NOT okay. It is NOT okay that he is now fine because he got what he wanted. “But mommy, it is. I’m not upset now because we dropped Molly off first.” ”But mommy, it IS okay. I’m happy now.” “I can’t always just give you what you want to make you happy.” “But mommy why not? I am happy now because I got what I wanted. So it’s okay!” “But Ben it’s NOT OKAY with me.” “But mommy, all we have to do is drop Molly off first and then I won’t be upset.” “But Ben *through clenched teeth* that is not how the world works.” And he Just. Doesn’t. Understand. Because. He’s. Five.
And I’m furious because he did get exactly what he wanted, with no consequences whatsoever, and all that he has taken out of this whole interaction is that as long as he stalls long enough, he will get his way. And I am embarrassed and frustrated because I know that to the outside observer, I look like a jerk, and deep down inside I feel like a jerk, because how can you not feel like a jerk when you’re are angry and yelling and lecturing with the actual purpose of MAKING your child upset because IT’S NOT OKAY that they are not upset.
So in my fury I told him that from now on we would drop him off first – “But MOMMY!! Then I would be upset! Why don’t we just always drop Molly off first and then I will be happy?” and he cried. And I was okay with that, because I damn well wanted him to cry, because then he didn’t walk away with knowledge that “Yay! Now that I made a big scene and held out for long enough I got my way and everything is fine!”, but I also feel horribly guilty that I deliberately made my child cry and felt good about it. (“Yes, momminus horriblis has been known on occasion to eat her young, but researcher say that she always feels really badly afterwards…”) And then I told him I loved him and sent him into his class and went out to the car and I cried.
Now I’m calmed down, and I’m typing this out, and I’ve moved into problem-solving mode, and I think that the first think I’m going to do is I am going to make good on my promise to drop him off first from now on. Not, as before, because I want to make him sad, but because I think the answer is breaking that habit. This will mean a) Explaining the situation to his teachers and asking them to help at the classroom door; and b) Actually getting to school on time so his teachers are available when we get there.
And if anyone has dealt with this type of tantrum before and has any ideas of what to do in the moment, please let me know!