In Defense of the Throwers of Tantrums and the Parents who Love them

When I was in my early twenties, I did a lot of tutoring. A lot of my clients were Korean wives of visiting professors. One afternoon, I showed up for a session with a client. I’m not sure if she had forgotten I was coming or what, but when I got there, she let me in with a sigh. She was in stained sweat pants and a ripped t-shirt. I walked into her kitchen where her one-year old son sat on the floor. Naked. With an entire cake. He was happily licking the frosting off the wall. Tsk. I thought. The way Koreans coddle their children.
Of course, this was before I had two boys of my own. I can tell you now that what ever series of unfortunate events led to this particular scenario, it is a universal human experience of parenthood, not some cultural anomaly. When you have children, you do things you would never think you would do. Like letting your baby suck on sugar packets at a restaurant so you can eat, driving in circles in the parking lot of your apartment trying to get the kid to sleep, or sticking the binky in your mouth to clean it off once it hits the floor.
I was about 10 months pregnant when I went into Babies R Us for some last minute items. I don’t know if all Babies R Us stores are like this, but the one I went to had the loudest toilets on the face of the earth. Any time anyone flushed, there was a pressure change that made your ears pop. My toddler was fully aware of this and was absolutely not going to go into the Babies R Us bathroom. You’d think I would be able to make him, but you’d be wrong. I made it to the door, and he put his hands and feet on the door jam and screamed. I was about to just pee on the floor and hope people thought my water had broken when a complete stranger came up to me and offered to hold my child so that I could relieve myself in the pit of despair.
“Oh God, yes.” I said. “Take him.”
Despite my greatest hope, I mean fear. She gave him back after I was done. He was still screaming.
This is why it makes me cringe when I see strangers criticize the parenting skills of moms and dads just trying to get by. Let me just tell you, you can do absolutely everything exactly right, and your child may still have a complete meltdown in the middle of Walmart. And you’re probably not doing everything exactly right. If we still lived in large family groups, people would know this. But they set out into their single or coupled childless lives with this idyllic image of what they think parenthood should look like. Apparently, some people are blessed with especially well behaved children, or so I’ve heard. They are probably boring dull children.  This is why I am still grateful to that kind stranger. I wish I could send her my son’s handsome Senior Picture and a copy of his ACT and tell her he’d turned out ok after all.
Baby number two was slightly less prone to tantrums, which is why I actually left home with him on purpose. I took him on long walks in his umbrella stroller. We were a mile and half from home when he suddenly determined that Sunday outings were unholy torture. There was to be no more pushing in the stroller. To ensure this, he put his huge baby feet behind the front wheels and made banshee noises. For about an hour. Finally, a grandmotherly lady came out of her home to see what the ruckus was. She spoke to me soothingly with tales of her own children and let me use her phone so I could call for a Dad pick up. Thank you, Mrs. Henson. He’s doing much better now. He still has big feet. Just like your son in Idaho, he wears a 14 now.
Both my kids were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, actually  Asperger’s Syndrome, and perhaps I had more difficult toddlerhoods than many moms. But whether a child is a little bit different or not, he has bad days just like you do. And nobody gives him a margarita after work.
By all means, if you see a child being abused by an adult, notify the authorities. But if you see a kid at the grocery having a complete breakdown because of the way plums smell, he is probably overtired and over stimulated, and so are his parents. Some days, there is a battle of wills, and some days the parents lose. That doesn’t make them bad parents. It makes them human. A kind smile of understanding instead of a dirty look could really make a Mom or Dad’s day.


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