According to Merriam-Webster, a tantrum is defined as "a fit of bad temper." The origin of the word is unknown, yet it's first known use was in the year 1714. I'm putting money on a red faced woman, wearing a tight corset, her lovely petticoat tarnished with tiny jelly handprints, being the first person to shout, "Stop it with this....this....tantrum!" along a crowded cobblestone street.
Tantrum has become a primary word in my household as my daughter turns 17 months. She has entered what I'm calling The Dark Age where everything seems to stress her out. Things she did before with such whimsy and curiosity have now put her over the edge. Anything that displeases her, be it a stuffed toy, a book, or most frequently, her parents, suffer her wrath.
It all started out with some dramatic throwing back of her hands followed by equally pathetic whines. Funny at first, it somehow turned very ugly very quickly. I knew I had officially entered the danger zone when I took a dirty piece of food away from her the other day. She let out an ear piercing scream, turned beat red and stomped her feet up and down with her arms flailing. I looked in disbelief. I've only seen this behavior in malls and outside toy stores. Yet here in my kitchen was a child who has now turned me into the parent I formerly pitied.
The arrival of this behavior has kicked my patience to the curb. I find myself saying, "I'm not down with this tantrum crap," and let my daughter slump down to the floor, stepping over her to continue what I'm doing. I know this may be a teaching moment. I know I should practice patience and speak to her in the voice of Glinda the Good Witch, but it feels like I'm negotiating with a terrorist.
If a tantrum were to occur after I've had adequate sleep, a refreshing shower, and breakfast, I'd likely float down beside my screaming cherub and whisk away all her anger with a tussle of her hair. But this is reality and as a parent I'm never prepared for anything at any given moment. So when she turns into the beast, I do my best to tame her, being very careful in public not to attract attention and find myself the star of "Frazzled Unfit Mother Makes Daughter Cry" on You Tube.
Truth is when her head is spinning around, I'm scared of the temporary evil possessing my sweet child. We could be snuggling and reading a book one minute and then I'm questioning what psychotic being was shacking up in my loins for nine months the next. My heart breaks and blood boils. I temporarily shut down from the noise. My brain can't handle the sound or the visual. Its like a car alarm going off while you're trying to watch your favorite TV show. The anticipation of it ending wears on you until you just can't take it anymore and something's got to give. You either get lucky and hear the "boop boop" of a far away remote or you shut your TV show and remain pissed off.
Aside from the emotional and physical pain for both me and my daughter, I'm met with utter confusion. When do I have the, "I know you're frustrated and can't communicate," attitude and when do I pull out the "No means no and cry about it if you have to, I'll be over here," card? So often the word "no" becomes the most annoying sound to my inner ear, but somehow takes affect. Other times I succumb to her demands, lose my power position and walk away angry, mad at her for not giving up and myself for giving in. She is smarter than we think she is. She knows at this very young age how to manipulate us to get her way, leaving us amazed this lesson is learned so young and practically self taught.
Out of all the new parents I know, its comforting that no one else has cracked the code. We all walk around on eggshells with our anxiety levels high, waiting for a screaming fit to erupt out of no where. We prepare our ammunition of sippy cups, pacifiers, coloring books, squeeze toys, favored stuffed animals and portable DVD players with numerous Sesame Street videos. We check our inventory and feel confident. We look at our spouses, agree that "We got this" and go about our days ready for a counter attack.
Somewhere up in the heavens, a woman smooths her petticoat. She smiles down at us as we enter grocery stores, prepare for bed time, and strap in for long car rides. For she has watched many battles over the past two hundred and ninety eight years. And she knows exactly who the victor will be every time.