Thursday, January 26, 2012

Lesson #23: Meltdowns Happen

I considered many titles for this lesson. Some of my favorite possibilities were "Four Year Olds Are The Devil", "If This Is Four, I Want My Three Year Old Back", "You Thought Two Was Bad??!! JUST WAIT", and my personal favorite (drumroll please): "Good Lord I Don't Know If I Will Live To This Child's Fifth Birthday And He Hasn't Even Been Four For A Month Yet!" Ok so that last one wasn't actually in the running but it's totally what I've found myself muttering lately.

You see, my child has never really had a meltdown of epic proportions before. I guess things had gone well for so long I started to think I was exempt from the public meltdown. Surely MY child would never do such a thing. Yet suddenly there I was, standing in Hannaford with a whining puddle of four year old at my feet.

It all started when he wanted his OWN cart to push. Dude, you can’t even see over the cart, you’re not pushing your own. I told him his choices were to help me push the cart or get into the cart. Of course, he jumped onto the end of the cart. Now, I have spent many a shopping trip balanced on the end of a shopping cart, so it’s not like I don’t get the draw. However, my kid isn’t exactly graceful and he JUST turned four so the odds are good that it would have ended in him getting run over by the shopping cart. I told him that it wasn’t safe to ride that way and he’d have to choose to get into the car or help me push. You know what he said? “But Mommy the big kids ride this way, I see them all the time!” Really. If the big kids jumped off a bridge would you do it too? No, I didn’t actually say that but it did cross my mind. I simply repeated his choices which resulted in him LAYING DOWN on the floor of the grocery store. I knelt down beside him and said, very calmly, “Get. Off. The. Floor. Right. Now. Or. We. Are. Leaving.”  I was all proud of myself for keeping my cool. I’d just read some Brazeltonian wisdom and was feeling like SUCH a great parent, all understanding and empathetic. He quickly jumped up and when I repeated his choices, he said, “I just want to get a basket.” Ok fine, whatever. We were only getting a few things: some chocolate chips so we could make cookies together and a couple ingredients for dinner since all we had at home were half meals: spaghetti but no sauce, bread but no cheese- you get the idea. Of course, he wanted to get his OWN basket. I didn’t care, I just needed to get the stuff and get out of there so we could pick up his little brother before childcare closed.

The real problems started when he had trouble carrying the basket because it was about as big as he was. He got frustrated with it and, long story short, ended up throwing it down on the floor before he ran over to the flower display and latched onto a yellow pot of flowers that he insisted we buy. I was still feeling pretty great about my parenting as I calmly and quietly told him we were not there to buy flowers. It went downhill from there and, needless to say, this little shopping excursion ended with me carrying him out of the store as he screamed, “I don’t wanna leave Hannaford” the entire way. Awesome.

We got to the car and he refused to get into his car seat, instead falling into a heap on the floor as he cried and shouted about going back into the store. The following conversation went something like this:
Me: We are not going back in Hannaford. You are not calm enough to go in the store.
Him: I AM calm! I just wanna be CALM!
Me: Yelling and crying is not calm behavior.
Him: I WILL have calm behavior and I WILL stop yelling! I want to go in Hannaford!
Me: I’m sorry buddy, we’re not going back today. We’ll have to go another time.
Him: [Unintelligible crying and screaming]

And on it went. I couldn’t get him into the car seat and wasn’t quite sure what else to do, so I simply closed the car door and stood there like an idiot in the parking lot, hoping to God people didn't think I was tying to kidnap the kid. He totally freaked out and pounded his fists on the window, screaming “Mommy! No! Don’t close the door, don’t close the door!” I openend the door and instructed him-very calmly- to get into the car seat. He refused. I closed the door. He pounded and screamed. This happened a couple more times before I just got in the driver’s seat and started the car. Apparently I should have thought of that first, because he immediately panicked at the thought of me driving off before he was buckled, and jumped right into his car seat. 

Leaving the store, however, did not end the meltdown. He started ranting and raving about how he was "Just going to HIT the baby room teacher and HIT the babies" when we got to the childcare center to pick up my other son. I was still totally rockin' the stoicism and said, "Hitting people won't solve your problem. Hitting them won't make us be at Hannaford." (See? Don't I totally rock?) 

We finally got to the childcare enter but he was still ranting and raving so I thought I should try and defuse the situation before going inside where his little display would have an audience. I knelt down in front of him and said in my best soothing voice, "Buddy I think you better calm your body before we go in. Let's try and get your anger out before we go into B's school." Wrong move. It was pretty much the equivalent of poking an angry bull with a hot poker. The kid went absolutely bat shit crazy. He started jumping up and down angrily, shaking his fists into the air and screaming "I JUST WANT TO GO IN HANNAFORRRRRRD!!!!" At this point my confidence might have wavered, just a little. That is, until he fell into me, sobbing, and said, "I just want to make cookies with you Mama." Insert heartbreak here. I explained that if his behavior got better, then maybe we could make a different kind of cookies that we wouldn't need the chocolate chips for. Wrong answer. This set him off again and he repeated the whole spectacle all over again. I could feel the eyes of other mothers and children on us as they came and went from the center. I was at a complete loss. 

We eventually picked up the little man, but unfortunately we had to drive back by Hannaford to get home. I gotta give him credit, he was really holding onto the hope that we just might stop on our way back by. When we didn't, a whole new wave of tears and anger came pouring out. Part of me wanted to give him another chance but there was no way in H-E double hockey sticks I was going to give him the message that having a huge fit is the way to get what he wants. 

Fast forward to the pb&j and yogurt supper we had since we hadn't gotten any food at the grocery store. I slapped the kids' sandwiches together on regular wheat bread, then made mine on multigrain, only to hear "I DON'T LIKE SEED BREAD!" I turned around just in time to see him THROW his sandwich on the floor. Right about then is when my awesome parenting went out the window. "Go to your room right now!" Of course he didn't, instead opting to lay on the floor. If you've been there, you totally understand how freaking maddening it is when they simply won't do what you say. Luckily, I've still got a good 2 feet and quite a few pounds on this kid so it was no thang to sling him over my shoulder and carry him upstairs myself. 

In the future, maybe I'll just pull an Erma Bombeck: "When my kids become wild and unruly, I use a nice, safe playpen. When they're finished I climb out." I think she was onto something there, don't you?