Just Another Afternoon in the Zoo

I spent the entire day shopping.  Not only shopping, but shopping completely unplugged (due to an unfortunate glitch with my phone; I assure you, it was not intentional.  I’m just not that virtuous.  But it turned out to be a rather pleasant inconvenience.)

It was such a lovely day.  Until 3:00. That is because 3:00 is when I picked up my daughter from preschool.  What could be wrong with that, you ask.  Well, nothing at first.  She happily ran to greet me when I walked in the door, but as soon as we went to put her coat on, things went south.  FAST.

She immediately started in with the whining.  Her sleeves didn’t feel right.  Her hair was bothering her.  The sky was blue.  You get the picture.

Once in the car, and the wailing began.  Then came the full-on tantrum, complete with the kicking of the car seats.  Oh yeah.  It was lovely.

I calmly told her, when there was a pause in the commotion, that she knows I don’t respond when she speaks to me that way.  Unphased, she continued to protest, as I thought to myself, “And I felt guilty about leaving her at school till three o’clock?  I should have left her till FIVE.”

Trying to remain unruffled, I once again told her that I would answer her when she spoke respectfully to me.

At first the screaming escalated.  And then suddenly all was quiet.  For three minutes, I reveled in the silence.


“Mommy?” in the sweetest voice you’ve ever heard.

“My hair’s bothering me.”

“I’m sorry, hon,” I reply sympathetically.

She was satisfied.  For the moment.

But when we pulled into the driveway, she wanted me to carry her and I had my hands full.  That’s all it took, and she picked up with the tantrum right where she left off before.

Once inside she grudgingly allowed me to help her off with her coat, and then our eyes met.  For a moment I gazed at my sulky, petulant child, wondering at the miracle of a mother’s love.  All of the anger and frustration of the past 20 minutes melted away, and I felt only love and pity for this little piece of me.

I opened my arms and she walked in.  I picked her up and she clung to me.  Instinctively I knew that she needed snuggle time more than discipline.  She was tired.  It had been a long day for her.  I get that.

That doesn’t excuse the behavior, not by a long shot.  But she is simply too immature to understand her emotions or manage her response appropriately.

I sat down on the couch and held her close.  She wiggled even closer and buried her cool cheek into my neck.  We sat that way for a long time.  I think she would have fallen asleep except for the big yellow bus that soon rolled down the street, dispatching several lively school-age children at my door.

Suddenly the house came alive with the hustle and bustle of snack requests and homework questions and tales of the school day, and the angst of the previous hour was soon forgotten.  Well, almost.  Because clearly here I am, writing about it.

Please tell me I’m not alone.  Does this story sound familiar to anyone?  I’d love to tell you that I have no prior experience with this type of event, but that would be a lie.  I’d also love to offer some sage advice or a lesson learned from this afternoon, but if you’re looking for that, you’re at the wrong blog.  But then you knew that, right?

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32 Responses

  1. Oh, you are SO not alone. And I actually miss those days because, believe me, teenage temper tantrums, while much more subtle, leave you stinging for much, much longer. I don’t get cuddled anymore either, which I do kind of miss. Hold her close and count yourself lucky.

    And, for what it’s worth, I think you handled that situation perfectly.

  2. Mine used to do that…often. {hugs}

    I don’t have any advice, mostly I think I have blocked the specifics out. Time gone by.. is fantastic like that.

  3. Boo was never one to throw full blown temper tantrums, but would get pretty nasty when she was tired. Is that a pattern with your daughter? Have you noticed that?

    I hope the rest of the night goes uneventful!!

  4. Oh, we have had out share of blow-outs around here. I think the same things you do (“WHY did I pick him up so early? I MISSED this???”) and when I can finally compose myself, I do the same thing that you did… cuddle them up and realize that this won’t last forever. I know that one day we will miss this. Promise 🙂

    P.S. I don’t think the post was abruptly ended at all 🙂

  5. I was extremely fortunate with my kids in that they weren’t tantrum throwers. Until they (two of them) became teens. I wish I knew what to tell you but I have a feeling you’re on the right track. Staying firm and recognizing when it’s something other than what it appears to be (the hair when it was really the close one on one time/snuggle) will, I’d think, be what gets you and her out of this stage.

  6. Oh, my gosh….you could have been telling the story of my like the other day! Haha, funny how we moms do live very similar lives even though we have never met or live on opposite ends of the country!

    Glad you got that snuggle time with her and she calmed down with your hugs and compassion!

  7. I can completely relate. I think this time of year all the kids are a little “on edge” from being over tired and over stimulated. I’m just holding out until tomorrow when school is over for the 2009 and we have two weeks to catch up on sleep.

  8. Your zoo sounds a lot like mine. You are not alone. I think you handled it the right way and there is probably no way to deter it from happening periodically. I strive to be calm amidst the storm – sometimes I succeed and sometimes, not so much.

  9. Kellyn, Yes, most definitely! My other two were not tantrum throwers. They also didn’t seem to be as sensitive to lack of sleep as this one is.

    Thanks, to the rest of you, for your encouragement! 🙂

  10. I don’t have tantrum throwers either, but your post really resonated with me. Especially when you looked in her eyes and KNEW she was Way over-stimulated and simply could NOT emotionally handle the day she’d had! I think we went through that with my daughter (who’s now 17), all the time. We finally realized it happened FAITHFULLY every Friday afternoon: long week, long day, too tired. She just couldn’t handle it. Sometimes she needed a hug. Sometimes she needed to just go to bed and rest.

    It’s so true that kids often don’t know WHY they respond the way they do. They’re very instinctual. They control themselves as long as they can, but finally they just run out of gas. It’s our job as parents to learn to read our kids — is it disobedience? Stubbornness? Manipulation? Exhaustion? Each one requires a different response.

  11. I smiled when I read this, because I have SO been there. My son gets like that. Exactly as you described. It drives me to the brink.

    I just started reading the Five Love Languages for Children (I read the adult version years ago and it transformed my marriage at the time). I just came to the realization the other day that my son’s love language is quality time. When I give him the time and my undivided attention (much like you did for your daughter today), a lot of my battles with him disappear.

    That kind of undivided attention is hard for me to do, though. It’s not my primary love language (I’m a “words of affirmation” kind of girl) or my natural tendency (I’m usually doing 5 things at once). My son can also be difficult to play with (as in, “Mommy, you’re doing that wrong!”) But, the book is slowly opening my eyes and your post just affirmed it as well! 🙂

  12. My #3 has similar issues. Some days it’s jeans, she can’t wear them because they bug her. and wet hair out of the bath? Forget it. You’d think I was in there torturing her, but it’s just a piece has fallen out of her towel. My other two hardly ever had the issues she seems to have. Someone once told me it was a sign of a future millionaire!!! Lets hope so! ha!

  13. I remember thinking with my first child that I must be the most amazing mom ever cause she never had tantrums. She was disobedient for sure, but never did tantrums. What superior parenting skills I must have.

    Then my second child came along. Her tantrums are legendary. A few weeks ago I thought maybe ignoring her would make it stop. She screamed for SIXTY TWO MINUTES!! I wish I was kidding.

    If you figure something out, let me know.

  14. Try to remember in the “thick of it”….H.A.L.T…..Is your child; Hungry,Angry,Lonely(this could mean lack of your attention)or Tired. I got so caught up as a mom demanding respect, that I sometimes overlooked the needs of my child. I have 3 grown children, only one had “meltdowns”. What I learned was to back off, slow down and say, Tell mama what’s the matter. Usually she just needed me to make eye contact, have me listen to her and she was able to get back on track. Today she is a wonderful young woman who still needs my attention ;), but is able to verbalize it. (snacks always help as well)

  15. I’m right there with you! My three year old had one of THOSE days ALL day yesterday. Today, she’s “shopping” with her Daddy…for tires. Merry Christmas to me, I guess.

  16. “Why, I have no idea what you are talking about.”
    (you might want to step back a little so the lightning doesn’t hit you.)

    The sugar this time of year, I tell you – I’m totally over it. *sigh

  17. Thankfully tantrums are very rare around here (well, until the baby became a toddler anyway). But, I have definitely been there. I do have to remember that our kids are still young, even at 8 years old, and learning to handle their emotions and stuff. I think it is great that you recognized she was just tired and needed help settling down more than she needed discipline. Wouldn’t we all love to have someone remind us to slow down and rest when we are spinning out of control?

  18. All too familiar! I have a 4 and 1/2 year old little girl who just really started having tantrums like a pro! I attribute it to what must be like 4-year old PMS… My favorite is when my 4 and 1/2 year old starts, then my 20 month old son joins in, and my 8 month preggo self has to do something about it! Like pick them up and put them in their rooms! It probably doesn’t help that we’re a week away from Christmas and “Santa” sent my 4 year old a letter yesterday. Happy Christmas! 🙂

  19. For the love of all that is good and holy, PLEASE don’t tell me that four is worse than three!?!?

    Can I just tell you that the EXACT same thing happened to me last night. I picked my son up at daycare and everything was fine until we drove by McDonalds (as we do every day on the way home). He started the mother of all meltdowns because *gasp* I did not turn the car and go get us some “Old McDonald”. What in the world? We rarely go there. He’s screaming and crying, kicking my seat. On and on. And on.

    We get home and he notices that I have this long necklace on. He always wants to play with it for some reason. So, I gave it to him and he proceeded to happily use it to hook up some cars and trucks all night long. Happy as a clam.

    I’ll also admit that I gave him some chocolate milk. Because I’m a sap like that. And, I have working mom guilt.

  20. I think it is a girl thing and equivalent to needing a good cry. When Princess is overtired, overwhelmed or overstimulated the only thing that stops the whining/bad behavior is a big long hug. And maybe a nap. As long as she gets that hug/snuggles first.

    It seems like you are doing a great job of picking up on a pattern and have already figured out what your daughter needs from you.

  21. I’ve got a 3yo and this happens to me all.the.time. It drives me insane!!! I have no clue what to do. But, you’re right, they have that look they give that can make you forget everything you were upset about just two seconds ago. Thank God for that – it’s saved my son from death multiple times!

  22. My Baby Girl was the one that had frequent meltdowns…..she is now 26 (she is coming HOME tomorrow from California to Texas for the Holiday!!). She was always the sensitive child, its just her makeup. The best way to handle meltdowns is just like you did…..allow them, but be sure they know that they need to respect you as parent. Maintain your dignity the very best you can.

    There is absolutely nothing sweeter than the mother-daughter relationship. I have two adult daughters & I love them so much. I still get meltdowns, by phone now!!

  23. My daughter who is now 16 NEVER did that or needed extra cuddling time to calm her. But my son constantly needed this. I would feel like pulling my hair out at times only to realize he just needed to be held for awhile and all would be right again in his world.

    I miss those days terribly. Enjoy them with your daughter.

  24. You have just described my 4 year old daughter to a “T”. I have a 10 year old son and a 7 year old daughter also, and I often feel as though you and I are soul mates on some similar yet parallel universe. I find with the preschooler in particular that all I have to do is say “I understand” or “I’m so sorry, isn’t that terrible?” in a completely non-judgemental voice for her to feel “heard”. God bless you and your blog. It helps me see persepective, and know that I am not alone. And God bless me!

  25. This is my life too. With my daughter, no matter if she stays at school until 230 or 4pm, it’s the same thing when she comes home – whining about she wants a snack, wants to watch tv, the dog is bothering her, it’s too hot, it’s too cold, etc. Funny thing though, she never gets tired at school. What did they call her? Right, an angel. At least it gave me a good laugh!

  26. aww. you’re the best mommy. I don’t have kids yet, but I DEFINITELY THREW tantrums even with the world’s strictest mother. She would always say in jest and anger: “I wish for you one day to have a little girl just like you”. so give me a few years 🙂

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