We have a new contender for Most Challenging Kid in our house.

I’m relieved about the switch over. That is to say, it’s sweet to preference Jo for a change. I never thought I’d say this, but Jo is just so reasonable. And even when he’s unreasonable, he and I have been there and back so many times that we just know how it goes.

Alternately, Cal is developing into his own little power pack of a person. Compared to Jo, I hardly know him. When Cal is happy, it’s a dream. He waves at every person, airplane and truck.  He scritches his nose up, closes his eyes into little slices with a grin, and cackles like a heavy smoker. He walks like Godzilla, flinging his soft pink arms around. But let me give you a word of advice about Cal: don’t take away his keys. Or rather, if you choose to take away the keys so you can open the front door, get ready, because he’s going to cue up his gutteral misery scream and then when you put him down he’s going to throw himself onto his face on purpose, scratching violently at the floor.

We had quite a morning.

I sort of remember this with Jo, but I think that he didn’t tantrum this much at this age. What I do remember was tiptoeing around all day trying to avoid the equivalent of taking away the keys. It sort of worked but I got pretty anxious, constantly scanning for anything that might induce 1 year old upset. I eventually learned the style I use now, which is not to tip toe, but to tell it like it is.

I know you wanted to go swimming, but we’re not swimming today. You can tell me how mad you are about that…<insert scream/fling/scratch/kick> …Yep. I know you’re mad and disappointed. You really want to go and we’re not going swimming.

And, as you may have heard, I got some new ideas through this rad parenting class in the last year. I took the class cause I was at my wits end with Jo, and I remember thinking how awesome it would be to use some of the things I learned with Cal. But at the time, Cal was a smiley, sleepy, doughy infant without a tantrum in sight. Suffice it to say, these days I’m getting to try some of the stuff I learned with Cal. Here’s what works for me.

  1. When I notice Cal is amping up, I briefly check in with myself and decide if I have the energy to do this whole shebang. If not, I give him keys or my phone or let him play in the car while I sit there since I don’t have to be anywhere just then. Or I hand him to someone.
  2. If I do decide I have the energy, I tune into Cal and imagine myself growing roots deep into the ground. I literally do this. It helps me feel stable and calm. (No one I know would ever describe me as stable or calm. I am neither. This is where the roots come in. They help me lean more in that direction.)

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    Photo by Kim Seng
  3. I get down on Cal’s level and make sure he can make eye contact with me whenever he wants.
  4. I let him rip through his tantrum.

I did this after we got back from the grocery store today. I tip-toed as long as I could through the produce section. Gave him my phone in the canned vegetable aisle and then thankfully the butcher shop had a ceiling fan. When the butcher asked me what I needed, I actually said “5 lbs of ground beef and a valium.”

On the drive home, I knew without a doubt that we were headed straight to trantrum-ville. I decided that I did have the energy to listen to him. Before ye olde melt down, I managed to get in a phone call with a friend while unloading the groceries, but then I needed the keys. For the door. I’m guessing my friend could hear me saying I needed to go over Cal’s bloodcurdling scream fest. I hung up the phone. And got down on the floor.

It probably took about 6 minutes all told. He screamed and flung himself. He scratched at his snotty face. He looked at me sometimes. I talked to him a little bit. At this point, I had already given him the keys back but it wasn’t really about the keys anymore. He needed to freak out. So I let him. After about 3 minutes of him screaming and me listening and imagining my roots growing ever wider and deeper, I had an impulse to open my arms. When Cal is upset, he usually pushes me away, so I’ve gotten used to being near but not touching him. I had my arms open for about 3o seconds while he cried and looked and considered. And then he walked over and sat in my lap and kept crying. He slowed down enough that he said a word. One of his Cal words that I can’t understand. He sputtered down into silence. Then I offered him some smoothie. He drank some. And it was over.

We spend the next half hour before naptime chatting and eating yogurt and granola. The storm passed.

This is only my 2nd or 3rd experience of what this looks like with Cal, but I must say, it WORKS. When I have the energy, I like handling his tantrums this way because it’s how I like people to handle mine. If AJ tries to distract me from feeling upset, it pisses me off. I get distant and cold when he tries to talk me out of it or give me advice. The best times, always, are when he just listens. And I blubber. And everything crescendos into tears. Only then can I really move on. And then I actually do feel better.