Does everyone remember this game? Press Your Luck? You have a button and a game board and the game board blinks and the contestants chant “Big Bucks! Big Bucks!! NO WHAMMIES! BIG BUCKS!” while the board blinks and then they slam their fist on the button and hope.
Contestants might win a TV, or a car, or a cash prize. But they might also get a Whammy. Three Whammies and you’re out. No bueno.
That’s what venturing out of the house in the afternoons has been like lately. Last weekend was especially bad. Our outings were great until they suddenly weren’t anymore. And when I say the change in our days was sudden I mean it exactly like it sounds. It was like a switch got flipped.
Friday I took them to Ikea. We had a great visit. We played. We looked for book shelves. We ate. It was a good day. And then we decided to go get doughnuts at the best little bakery in Atlanta because it was National Doughnut Day.
So we’re sitting there, eating our doughnuts and Joshua wants another one. Okay, no big deal, really. He ate a great lunch. I don’t mind the treat. I’d bought one to take to Dan and had given Emma a pinch of the dough. But he didn’t want that one because he “didn’t like pinches.” I told him we’d just take it to Dan and he let out the loudest scream in the middle of this very, very small doughnut shop and the walls started to close in as he screamed.
“We need to go,” I said, shoving water bottles and doughnuts into my diaper bag. He screamed again. Emma’s stroller got stuck on the leg of a chair. I couldn’t find the trash can to put away our baskets. Everyone in the place was staring.
I got them both out of there with him continuing to scream the whole time and then white-knuckled the steering wheel for the drive home.
Saturday we got up and dressed and went to lunch and then decided he needed a hair cut. He loves getting his hair cut. Loves it in a sort of uncanny way that kids don’t normally love getting their hair cut.
But he couldn’t play with the blue train. And then another kid asked to sit in the police car that he wanted to sit in but wasn’t yet sitting in because he was trying to play with the blue train. And then I tried to put him in the chair and he screamed.
“We’re leaving. NOW.”
Suddenly I had him on one hip, the diaper bag slung over my shoulder, Emma under my right arm like a sack of potatoes, and my assets hanging out. (I mean my Assets. And also probably my ass? Probably.)
I was head-down, barreling toward the door with Joshua screaming in my ear and Emma looking around like he and I had both gone crazy. (We probably had.) I didn’t want to see the stares from the other patrons as we made our exit.
In both instances, all I could hear in that moment was the sound of my heart beating in my ears as all the blood in my body rushed to my face and head. My only thought was to flee the scene as quickly as possible, with him kicking and screaming and crying the whole way to the car.
Both times I spent the drive home feeling judged and ashamed of my complete lack of grace under fire.
I talked to my best friend about it and I know that what they think of me is completely unimportant. If they’re going to judge, they’re going to judge. They would think whatever they’re going to think whether I stayed or left and the chances of me seeing them again are slim. They don’t matter.
But how I feel about it matters. And I’m my own worst critic.
I know that leaving the scene is the right thing to do with tantrums like that because it teaches him that he can’t act that way and get what he wants. But leaving calmly and in a way that says I know what I’m doing is a skill I haven’t quite mastered.
I know that to a certain extent, his behavior is normal. It sucks, but it’s normal. It’s just a part of being four years old.
It also happens that his behavior tanks right around what would be nap time if he still napped with any sort of regularity. But at the same time, if he’s not going to nap or rest and I can force him to do neither, I can’t be held prisoner here because he might melt down, you know? Because it doesn’t happen all the time. Just sometimes. I just never know when that sometime is going to be.
I’m playing an epic game of Press Your Luck only instead of a whammy, I have a child who shrieks at the top of his lungs like he’s being ripped into pieces. At any given moment, I go from feeling like I’m totally winning at life to having nothing, including my dignity.
It’s like he’s suddenly forgotten all of the many, many, many words that he knows and uses on a regular basis and goes straight for maximum eardrum breaking by letting out the most high-pitched scream he possibly can. I’m surprised the dog hasn’t barked yet.
I’m doing my best to manage this. To maintain my composure. To keep myself from screaming back. To get him calmed down in a way that validates his feelings while also expressed to him that what he’s doing is unacceptable.
And I feel like I’m probably not doing a very good job at it and can’t seem to squelch his desire to squeal.
This too shall pass, right?