Public Meltdowns & Mayhem

mayhem post

I’m in Urban Outfitters, attempting to outfit myself in an urban fashion.  I cannot actually afford these clothes so I have to finger through each rack, looking for an item that’s both my size and on sale.  I’m searching.  Been searching now for about 30 minutes, when I hear it.  A loud crash followed by a couple small-ish booms.  Then, the toddler voice I knew would follow:

“Oh!  I sowwy, I so sowwy.  I didn’a mean’a do dat, I make a mistake.  I dis make a mistake, I pick id up.  Whoa!  Dis ding is dis heavy!  Ouch…”

It’s my toddler, Officer Logan, of course.  I’d taken my eyes off her for one minute like the newbie-parent-fool I am, and she seized the opportunity to destruct crap, as is always her desire.  I’ve learned that when we go out, many times Logan is casing a joint, and formulating a Mayhem Plan of Action in her head, “Hmm…dress rack, hat table, shoe display…okay as soon as Mommy looks away I’m destroying EVERYTHING.  Plan A.”  Plan B is in the event that I don’t take my eyes off her, she will quietly destroy everything, one dropped necklace at a time.  I think both plans make her equally as content.

Me?  Not so much.  When we are out and Logan or Ryleigh have an I’m About To Hurt Your Feelings moment, I tend to get, um, embarrassed (pardon me while I display my humanness).  These days though, I know what to do with that embarrassment – I channel it.  I ball it up and throw some strawberry sauce on it and I eat it.  Gulp really big and send it travelling down my body where I forget about it.  Because those moments are not about me and the way I feel, not completely.  Of course I want my children to behave, especially in public, and I have a right to that expectation if I’ve already laid down the ground rules: “Don’t spit at each other.  Don’t try anything on; this store doesn’t have your size and you never go into the dressing rooms.  No, I will not buy you that daybed, Ryleigh.  Logan, take that bracelet out of your shoe.  And do not ask me if that’s a man or a woman over there – I don’t know and you are a HORRIBLE whisperer.  Button your pants.”

Even with the rules, and my smiley face, and my buttery, accommodating voice, we still experience meltdowns.  And mayhem.  My old self would flare her nostrils at the first sight of a public tantrum, or a moment of chaos.  She’d set an example for other young parents of how to stay in control of a situation: “You stop. it. right now or I WILL spank you, do you understand?!”  My little one would look at me with her lips quivering, eyes watering, and put her head down to look at her feet.  I’d take her hand and continue to scold through gritted teeth, and we’d walk around quietly.  Now, I see it differently.  I try to imagine what it’s like to be my toddler when we are out, and how her thoughts race at home.  She is easily stimulated and interested, she loves exploring and climbing and discovering – and she loves making a mess.  I allow it at home, and many places we go when we are traveling.  So when we are someplace where she can’t do those things I know it is a real test for her to control herself.  I watch her shiny eyes dart from object to building to person and I can almost hear her thinking, “Whoa.  Look at that funny man.  He’s scary.  Look at that building, what’s in that building?  I’m going into that building.  Oooh, a doggy!  I want a doggy.  Come here, doggy, lemme pet you.  A penny-nickel!   I’m getting that penny-nickel…what’s that green stuff on it?  I’ll lick it off.  Do I smell hot dogs?  I want hot dogs…”

I get it now, there is just too much good stuff to see and do and hurt, for her to walk next to me the entire time, holding my sweaty, boring ole’ hand.  Just the other night we were taking a sunset walk and I told the girls it was time to turn around, before it got too dark.  Logan actually hated that idea.  I’d already gone further than I’d planned to because they’d asked, and now it was time to go.  Logan stopped dead and I could see her face beginning to melt.  Her mouth twisted into a twilight zone-ish ‘o’, her knees came together as her legs collapsed beneath her, her back arched forward and her arms just kinda hung there like in that model of an early human.  That wasn’t it.  Soon she was screaming, except it wasn’t really a scream, it was a cough-grunt hybrid repeated over and over, the sound of a rabid woodland creature attempting to mate (and judging by that horrid sound, it never would).  It was loud and messy.  There were other families on the trail, and people outside, across the street.  I didn’t care.  I looked at my child, and I read the disappointment in her face and her posture.  She was really hurting.  She’d been having such fun prancing around barefoot with her sister, trying to climb trees, picking grass, yelling silly phrases so she could catch her echo.  She wanted to stay out and play.  The trail is so much bigger than being inside.  But I knew she was tired, which was likely contributing to her meltdown.

Since Logan had stopped walking I followed her lead and stopped what I was doing.  In the past my goal would have been to keep moving, thinking that was important to getting over the meltdown moment.  I was mistaken.  My first order of business needs to be to keep calm and acknowledge Logan’s feelings.  I didn’t touch her just then because I thought it would only worsen the situation.  I got down at her level and spoke to her empathetically, “You’re having fun on the trail, huh?  You don’t want to go home, I know, but it’s getting late, Logan.  We have to head back before it gets too dark.  We can come back tomorrow.  Don’t you want to be able to see?”  No, she didn’t want to be able to see in the dark.  She wanted to walk and if she couldn’t, she wanted to cry.  Ryleigh and I stood there with her, and I didn’t look around once.  I’d already seen the people who I’m sure were watching.  I wasn’t concerned with them.  My only concern at this moment was to let Logan know I understood her frustration, and I was sorry that right now we couldn’t do what she wanted – she really wasn’t asking too much.  It hurt me more to see her so distressed than it embarrassed me that we were in public – and that’s because I’ve been connecting with my children.  Although this incident ended with her in the carrier on my back, singing and asking about the buildings we passed, the point of these moments isn’t so much the outcome for me.

What’s important now is how I handle myself.  I often hear from other parents that my children control me or run my life, which is quite silly to me.  Although I ask my children for their opinion and what they want to do, the ultimate decision is mine.  They know that.  I never feel like there is a power struggle between us, although I used to.  They want to be heard and to be able to have a say in what they do.  I understand that.  And when they cannot, I empathize with their frustration.  I don’t need to threaten or belittle them to get them to stop acting out.  I need to connect with them so that they know that even though they can’t have the final say in the decision at hand, what they feel is very important to me.  I also hear from other parents that “they need to get used to it, everything won’t always go their way,” and I know that.  But I don’t want to compound their frustration with the added frustration of being pushed to get over their feelings.  The mere fact that something will ‘always’ happen doesn’t mean we can’t have a reaction to it.  Humans feel.  Children feel.  We all will eventually die, so should everyone just stop crying about it?  We all will suffer some sort of ailment at one point or another, so should we all just stop talking about it?  Expecting hardship doesn’t lessen the pain that accompanies it, especially for a child.  I want my children to learn that they will not always get what they want, but that it’s okay to express a healthy amount of disappointment, and to move on and to think positively despite it.  Not that they need to bottle their feelings up, especially not just so I can save face in public.

There have been numerous meltdowns with both girls, and various moments of mayhem, and I’m sure they will continue.  But each one gets better; maybe not from the way it looks to outsiders, but I know it’s getting better for our family.  Soon after Ryleigh catches a major attitude, she’s asking me, “Ooh, Mom did you see that butterfly?”  She gets over it, because I don’t make a big deal of it.  I am not concerned with what other people think of the weird lady standing there acting normal while her toddler flails about on the ground covered in yogurt.  I am concerned that my toddler just wasted two dollars’ worth of yogurt needs me to support her just like I would at home.  I remember times when an entire afternoon would be ruined because I’d react negatively to Ryleigh’s behavior.  When I respond patiently, and they know I’m not upset, there are times when they start laughing before the tears have even dried.  They are easier to calm down, which keeps me calm.  How I feel is contagious to my children, and vice-versa.  It’s okay to experience meltdowns and mayhem.  We as parents need to keep our cool.  It won’t always be pretty, or easy, or fun, but it will always be loving, and we can’t go wrong with love.  Have fun on your excursions.  :)

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Categories: Gentle Parenting

Author:Kimberley

I'm Kimberley, work-at-home single momma to two girls, Ryleigh, 9, and Logan, 3. The Single Crunch is the story of our journey from a lifestyle saturated in mainstream ideals to an organic existence, and learning to love each other, ourselves, and any living thing, unconditionally. I'm passionate about breastfeeding, unschooling, single parenting, writing, grief, childhood abuse, childism, and natural living. I write about all this and whatever else moves me, which is a lot, and I throw in some funny on the regular. I'm humbled and grateful to have you reading, thank you. I hope something here will help you in any way.

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15 Comments on “Public Meltdowns & Mayhem”

  1. Jamie
    June 11, 2012 at 10:08 am #

    Good examples of how to be with your kids. I still have some work to do on not being embarrassed. I really DISlike when people say that I’m letting my DD run my life when I’m being sensitive to her needs. I’ve had people tell me that kids should essentially just be compliant and sit quietly while we all live our lives. Ironically, these are some of the same people that have issues with their own childhoods. Funny how I can remember my mom practicing some of these ideas in my childhood and I am more willing to do it now as a mom. People are more ruled by their upbringing than they realize – or want to admit. That’s why practicing AP is so very important.

    • June 11, 2012 at 10:11 am #

      I think it is natural to get a bit embarrassed when in public but I’ve really learned to just focus on helping my children. I see the way those who tell me my children are out of control, raise their own children, and I remember the saying ‘consider the source’. Thank you for reading. – Kimber

  2. Lina
    June 11, 2012 at 6:13 pm #

    these examples are so helpful to me in getting better at the whole connection/understanding part of raising my kids. thank you for that.
    i am curious to know how you got her from frustrated and crying to all happy again on your back?
    that’s where i usually lose my patience when i try my best to show my kids i understand them and feel their hurt and they still continue crying and being defiant. don’t really know what to do next when that happens.

    • June 11, 2012 at 6:29 pm #

      Lina…that was how it ended. I first asked Logan if she was tired and if she wanted to get into the carrier…she said yes. When I put her in, she started hitting me and rocking and saying I am a “Meanie!” She was crying and moaning and she continued to do so for about three minutes. While she did this I was walking, talking to Ryleigh and saying to Logan, “What do you think is in that building there? We will walk here again tomorrow since you like it so much.” I let her have her moment safely on my back and as I was talking to Ry, Logan just stopped crying and started singing. I said, “I love that song, Lo.” She said, “Mom, you nice.” It doesn’t always work so well but when it does I feel so good and happy. Thank you for reading, I hope this is helpful to you.

  3. June 12, 2012 at 12:47 am #

    Thank you. I’ve so enjoyed your posts. This particular one reminds me of something I wrote last year when my boy had a meltdown at the store. http://www.minyisu.com/2011/12/chocolate-tantrum/
    Keep up the inspiring work.
    Blessings,
    Min Yi

    • June 12, 2012 at 3:35 am #

      Thank you, Min Yi. I think many parents can relate to moments like these. – Kimber

  4. June 12, 2012 at 1:26 am #

    Great post! I was really caught by what you wrote regarding power struggles. I think the real struggle is parents allowing their children’s power. I have two year old twin boys, and they are some powerful little people. I try to find ways to balance needs and wants with experiences for them to use their power. In fact, I let them tell me “no” :-) I think it’s good practice.

    • June 12, 2012 at 3:37 am #

      Yes, it helped me so much to let go of that thought, that my children were trying to take power from me. I agree, they do have their own power and I want my girls to experience using their own in a loving way, so I need to do the same with mine. Thank you for reading. :) – Kimber

  5. June 12, 2012 at 8:23 am #

    Thank you so much for this! It’s taken me 3 years to understand that I don’t have to steamroll around with my agenda, expecting my daughter to comply. I used to get angry. Grit my teeth, be too harsh in correcting. Now, I breathe. I laugh. I try to see the world through the eyes of my 5 year old. We are connecting better. I don’t always get it right and I am quick to apologize when wrong. This post says it all. Thanks!

    • June 12, 2012 at 9:35 am #

      Thank you, Sara! I used to be the same way, I know it’s hard to change, but it can be done! Good for you for making the change, and for your 5yo. :) Thank you for reading. – Kimberley

  6. June 21, 2012 at 11:30 am #

    Brilliant. All of it (though I am partial to “I don’t know and you are a HORRIBLE whisperer. Button your pants.”).

    Cheers!

    • June 22, 2012 at 9:08 am #

      Haha. It’s always an adventure with those two. Thank you very much. :) – Kimberley

  7. Trish
    August 15, 2012 at 7:28 pm #

    I have learned sooooooooo.freakin’.much in the last 2 months. In large part, from you sharing your stories. My Tristan has had tantrums since she could walk. Prior to that, she just screamed for 9 months. :/ LOL I have noticed such an enormous difference in the way she handles things when I tell her how I have felt the same way she’s feeling…when I was a kid and still sometimes today. That *almost* always gets the conversation to something about me when I was a kid – or them when they were babies.

    Thanks again, Kimber…really. My kids should be writing you thank you cards! :) <3

    • August 15, 2012 at 7:30 pm #

      Trish, you really are great. I am so happy and AMAZED, STUNNED, FLOORED, etc. LOL that I’m helping you in any small way. Also delighted to do so. Sharing is what I’m good at. Thank you so much for reading…post a pic of your kids to the wall if you’d like. :) I’d love to see y’all.

      K

  8. October 24, 2012 at 11:19 pm #

    Oh the joys of shopping with children. They really do make it fun…and tiring….and a little embarrassing.

    Today we went into Lowe’s. Eli said, “We gots to go to ‘da store wif tractors? I’s tired of tractor store. Can I rides ‘da tractor?” …When we start out with the 2 year-old expressing this much in such little time, we know it’s time to get in, grab what we need and get the heck out. Of course, the Christmas decorations being up in October seem to help with the attention thingy. :)

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