It can happen to anyone

Today my three and a half year old son had one of those massive, intractable tantrums that you see young children have every so often. The classic screaming meltdown. We were in the markets, sitting at a busy eatery on a major walkway intersection, next to some burly be-suited businessmen trying to eat their beef rendang in peace.

Son 3 has hitherto not been prone to the screaming meamies so I was torn between several reactions: intrigue, as to how it would manifest in his otherwise normally level temperament, pity for the men seated nearby, but also anger at their looks of disdain in our direction. I felt that momentary sensation of wanting to be sucked into a black hole. Self consciousness is a strange animal. It creates the illusion that a room’s entire energy is focused on you whilst simultaneously slowing your perception of time. So you feel like every person within earshot is staring in silence and horror at you for an inordinately long period of time, when in fact a few people would have looked at you ambivalently for perhaps ten seconds.

It took me about a minute, after pathetically and pointlessly attempting to reason with him, to accept that Son 3 was fixed in his tantrum and there was great potential for the screaming to get even more severe. So I hightailed it out of there with him on my hip and started pointing at fruits, vegetables, nuts, mushrooms, sausages, fish and funny hats until he was calm enough to talk. Removing him from the scene was the right thing to do. It didn’t take long, and being focused on him like that helped me forget about what we had just exited. Forget about the grumpy suits. Forget about the awkward stares. We were both calm. We sat back down. All was right once more.

The episode made me think about what a great world it would be if tears and tantrums and extremes of emotion, particularly in children, were accepted as part of living in a community.  Where parents, when faced with their offspring dissolving into a meltdown, could simply shrug and say “I’m not giving her the lollipop” without fear of judgement or social reprimand about their child’s extravagant display. No one likes to see an hysterical child, but we’ve all been there, either as a parent or – remember when? – as a child ourselves. It’s not great when it interrupts your lunch break, but a wry smile would always be more welcome than a frown. A wry smile that says “I live in this community too and you are welcome here”.



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