The Adventures of Captain Tantrum

I don’t know what to do about this one.

I’m having a problem, and the normal blogging narrative formula doesn’t seem to quite cut it. Blah blah blah, struggle, keep at it, “there is no try”, encouragement from parents/friends/in-laws/books/the struggles of saints of long ago…somehow, this is harder than a lot of the other things.

And that’s weird in itself, because I know empirically that this is something that will pass. It’s passed before. It’s passed in my own life and the lives of little kids I’ve known. I’m a teacher, for goodness’ sakes—I KNOW about this! And yet, this time it’s different. It hurts, because it’s really happening.

The problem? You guys, Andrew’s been throwing fits in public.

Just in saying that I have to summon all the humility in me. Tantrums are so LOUD. They’re so BIG. They’re so NOT what you’re hoping for when you pray for your children’s future. Tantrums are a sign of struggle that I am not winning—at least not in the moment.

I have become one from whom moms hide their faces. Andrew lies down on his back in the foyer at church and stares at the ceiling—I try to pretend other people aren’t there and say what I always say: “When you’re ready to get up, we can go back with everybody else.” Nobody meets my eyes.

Today he slapped my glasses off my face in church while we were singing this great song. I said, “no!” I said it in my tough voice. I handed him to his daddy who made him sit in his lap. And I just wanted to cry. I realized people might have SEEN that. And they would think of me and Drew as that mom and little boy where he smacked her around in church.

And he’s NOT like that all the time! Sometimes he laughs and giggles and sings a song in his off-key voice. He likes to be chased down the hall—he likes to give hugs and kisses. He missed me when I was in Ireland—he’s missing his grandfather right now something fierce. He is so gentle with babies and with his stuffed Porg. But today in church, he wasn’t his sweet self—the switch flipped, for no reason I could see, and he was hitting and kicking.

Somebody asked me a little while ago if they could switch places with me for a day for some reason—some joke I don’t remember. “Sure, you wanna chase Captain Tantrum around the house?” I asked. I realized how often I talked about his tantrums.

The truth is, they make up a small fraction of his life. And they’re not a consistent thing—some days he’s fine with being told, “please don’t color on the floor,” and some days he isn’t. Some days he’s tired and can’t be expected to realize we CAN’T go get donuts right now. And sometimes he seems to get it when I say, “it’s time to go to bed.” But sometimes he gets offended by my words, and for a second there, he’s a screeching banshee.
And it can make me so TIRED. You guys, he weighs 33 lbs— picking an angry Andrew off the floor is like wrestling a bear that sweats all the time and gets slippery.

And the worst part is that he doesn’t remember his tantrums. He gets over them in seconds, but I feel so embarrassed and sad—I feel such a profound sense of failure. He’s laughing and wanting to quote Star Wars, and all I want to do is cry.

There’s no resolution here, no bright spot. I’m in the middle of a storm and I’m tired and I wish it was over.

Everybody around here graduated from high school last night—there are facebook posts galore. Maybe these proud moms and dads of confident, fashionable graduates wish they could go back and do it all again for the chance to snuggle with them a little longer—maybe they quoted Star Wars to each other. Or maybe it’s a relief to get them to this point at last, successfully, past so many dangerous rocks. Or maybe it’s a little bit of both. I don’t know. I’m not there yet and I’m not ready to be. I know that part of making Andrew into a good man is not giving in when he screams for what he wants, but that doesn’t matter right now. Right now I’m tired.

I’m fighting the urge to go back and rewrite all of this, because I sound so insecure and immature and obnoxious—so people see him throwing a fit! So what? Who cares what people think? But it isn’t just the public fits. The private ones are hard as well—because when it isn’t for a big audience, and we’re at home with all our favorite stuff, why are you kicking and yelling and refusing to do what I asked? Is it me? It must be me. I know empirically that he’s a normal little boy who just turned two, but my heart doesn’t believe it. My heart hurts when he acts up.

I want what I’ve always wanted—not to mess Drew up for life. And I know that being a good parent means parenting early in their lives; it means saying no when it’s the right thing, when they’re too little to understand the explanation. It means not buckling when the tantrums happen. It means carrying him to time-out EVERY time he hits his parents. And I think it means just getting through this one—I don’t have a witty aside or a joke or a great line to sum it all up. He’s in his room, smiling and lying there in his crib, his cute little thumb in his mouth, falling asleep while it’s still light outside. I’m out here with a heavy heart. I’ve been told that bedtime needs to be consistent, and I’ve been told that “no” needs to be consistent. And I believe it, so there you go.

Thanks, team.

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