Celebrating the little victories amongst the meltdowns

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(Stress-free times on Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.  Photo by Seth Darlington)

I was standing in line at the register at H&M this week, and I heard a child screeching from across the store. It was a blood-curdling squeal. I watched the cashier’s eyes narrow ever so slightly in a wince, while his co-worker glanced in the direction of the child who was surely being attacked by a wild animal or seared with a hot poker.

That was my kid. And he was fine, being walked slowly around the store in my husband’s arms. It’s not totally clear why he was falling apart, except that falling apart is his new skill, and he is eager to start showing it off, especially in public places.

I am coming off of a less-than-stellar parenting weekend. I was not at my best. Maybe I’m adjusting to my boy’s newfound penchant for come-aparts. Maybe I’m run down with a cold brought on by the change in weather and a week of travel. Either way, I won no Mom of the Year Awards this weekend.

My kid didn’t make it easy, though. He’s like a ticking time bomb. Everything is fine and quiet and sweet and funny, but at any moment you know the tide could turn and all hell will break loose. My friend likened the burgeoning toddlers to terrorists, keeping us in a constant state of anxiety and fear as we await the next meltdown. Don’t get too comfortable. Stay vigilant. He will fall apart.

Lest you think I’m writing to just beat up on myself, I’ve decided instead this evening to celebrate one small victory. (For the record, I had started out writing about celebrating small victories. Plural. But then I could really just think of one. It’s been that kind of weekend.)

No meltdowns here. (Sara Michael)

As we were leaving the Baby Gap this afternoon, I realized my boy was still carrying around a small glittery stuffed dog purse. I had no intention of buying it, or snatching it out of my kid’s hand (which, by the way, used to work just fine, but now you have to replace any item with something bigger, shinier and louder to avoid explosions). Instead, I knelt down and asked him to please put the dog on the table. And he did. He put the dog on the table, waved, and said “Bye-bye” to the stuffed animal. And we left.

Admittedly, it took about seven tries, and then we high-tailed it out of there before he realized what he had given up. But I will count this as a win. Meltdown averted, lesson learned for us both.

As we enter this new phase, my husband and I have been trading notes about how to react to the come-aparts. It’s not always clear what the boy understands (though I’m sure it’s more than we think), but it seems to make sense to spend time explaining the situation calmly, looking into his face like he’s a rational thinking human and not the escaped mental patient he emulates.  I have to remember that he doesn’t have any control over his emotions or actions (when, oh when, does that control come?), which makes me sympathetic to the plight. Meltdowns must also suck for those doing the melting.

It’s pretty incredible how, peppered among the moments of terror, are moments of complete and total awesomeness. It must be by design. The kid, who compelled me to pull over on the side of the road so I could get out of the car and scream while he continued his blood-curdling harangue in his car seat, is the same kid whose eyes sparkle when he says a new word (Sunday was “diaper”). It’s the same kid whose infectious giggle makes my heart swell as he cracks himself up with a new silly sound. The reaching hands that grab like an octopus at every breakable, off-limits item are the same tiny hands that curiously and gingerly explore a large rock in his path.

If we spent too much time anxiously awaiting the next meltdown or ourselves melting down, we might miss the other amazing things.



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