Tantrum Artist

Before I had children, I was not a real “kid person.” If a friend or coworker happened to mutter any maternal babble, I could hardly understand it.

“Oh, he … uh, reaches? Wow!” I’d offer, while secretly thinking, “Yeah, well monkeys reach; they also fling their own feces, but take your victories where you find them.”

Fast forward a few years and I’m relishing the act of solo grocery shopping with my boys in preschool. Humming to ‘80s Muzak, I’m suddenly jolted to reality by the familiar wail of a child mid-tantrum. Avoiding contact, I feign preposterous interest in the freshness of some kiwis (as if a kiwi could look like anything more tantalizing than a petrified gerbil).

The war-cries follow me through the frozen foods where I can no longer escape the 2-foot-2, pink-clad, Tantrum Artist—her face red and splotched, her hair appearing to stand on end with every high-pitched scream, “CARRY ME!!! CAREEEEEE MEEEEEE!!!!” I spot the defeated mom, whose own hair screams that showers have become a luxury for her, and nestled into her shopping cart, the newborn pink bundle somehow sleeping through it all.

I immediately approached her, whispering, “You’re doing everything right. She’s probably feeling a little displaced by the baby.” Louder I proclaimed, to all the averted eyes in the store, “We’ve ALL been there.”

“Thank you,” she sighed, eyes moistening. Suddenly other moms, grandmothers—even a dad—came forth to support my assertion. “Yeah, we’ve ALL been there,” they agreed, even sharing specific stories. The most amazing thing resulted from their kindness; they charmed that screaming toddler and she quieted.

How did I come so far in a few short years? I learned everything I ever needed to know about tantrum management from a department store clerk named Esther.

My tantrum schooling began when my son was just a year old. I knew the guidelines; no errands too close to naptime, lunchtime, dinnertime, the “witching hour” or anytime between the ages of 16 months to 5 years. Still, there I was in a long checkout line behind a woman with several complicated returns. Suddenly my son started screaming—not words, just a horrible siren-like sound warning women to double up on their birth control. I tried every toy in the stroller, I cooed, scolded, promised, threatened, just hoping to avoid the evil glares.Finally at the register, instead of a stern look, the clerk gently asked, “Would you mind if I gave him a cookie?” My son quieted immediately as he nibbled away at the cookie pulled from the clerk’s own lunchbag. Glancing at her nametag, I thanked Esther, holding back my own grateful tears.

“I’ve been there,” she winked. “I have kids and a grandson. Now, do you need anything else?”

I let out a deep sigh, “Just a babysitter and a cocktail!”

So the next time you hear that petrifying wail and start to panic, take heart in Esther’s wisdom—the smallest kindness can temper a tantrum.