an uncontrolled outburst of anger and frustration
Synonyms: fit of temper, fit of rage
Also known as: that thing that happens when scrambled eggs don’t look scrambley enough, or when you’re wearing a dress but you really want it to be pants but you don’t realize until you’re already in the parking structure at the library, or when you don’t want to wear rain boots but you do want to wear them but also you don’t, or when it’s sunny outside but the sun is bright, or when you want more milk in your cup but the cup is already full of milk.
When my oldest was about ten months old, I got one of those baby bowls with the silicone suction rim on it. You know the kind: it sticks to the high chair tray so the baby can’t pick up the bowl and chuck it across the room. These are the types of inventions that are absolutely born out of necessity, and as such, they are also purchased out of necessity. Bowl throwing had become somewhat of a post-meal pastime in our kitchen, and I really needed it to stop. I bought the bowl, suctioned it to the tray, and dropped in a handful of blueberries. My son happily ate the blueberries and then attempted to lift the bowl.
He pulled again.
It worked; that bowl was not going anywhere.
He pulled once more; still suctioned.
Then he lost his mind: Full body flailing, screaming, yelling nonwords, tears, mucus, kicking. He ripped on that bowl as though the weight of it was crushing one of his limbs and he desperately needed to free his broken body. The packaging did not contain a warning label for this. Thank God I buckled him in.
The rest of the experience is kind of a blur. At some point I think I unhooked the bowl just to show him that his tray wasn’t going to be permanently affixed to a container he now loathed. I might have given him a bath. Honestly, I don’t know, but we survived.
During our first year of parenthood, my husband and I were deep into a complicated foster process with our son. What we had hoped would last only a year dragged on and on. Ever the steady one, my husband weathered this storm far better than I, so around the time of my son’s first birthday I began to pray a very specific prayer: I prayed for a deep well of patience. At the time, this seemed like a brilliant prayer. I had an obviously strong-willed toddler, a tendency to err toward the dramatic and irrational myself (on our first married New Year’s together, I threw a bundt cake pan at my husband’s head in an adult tantrum of my own, but that’s a story for another essay), and a never-ending foster process that could potentially conclude in any number of possibly painful or upsetting ways. I needed that well of patience.
Did you know that sometimes when you pray for things God gives them to you? He does. It’s true. Naturally, I thought praying for patience would mean that I would simply wake up one morning a deeply patient woman. I have encountered such women in my life, so my vision of what patience looked like was pretty clear. These women are calm, serene even. I can tell they’re patient simply in the way they move. Patient women are unruffled, literally, because they have the ability to appropriately iron a shirt; shirt ironing requires patience. These women can sit with their legs crossed at the ankles for long periods of time without wiggling their feet. Patient women smile gently and never yell, and patient women certainly never throw bundt pans at their husbands.
I suppose that I thought praying this prayer would fundamentally change my personality, but it seemed like a good and necessary change, a change that might help me feel more peaceful about life in general, so I diligently prayed it.
Well, it worked. I mean, it’s working. I prayed and prayed, and lo and behold, God gave me so many opportunities to learn patience.
On Tuesdays we go to capoeira, a Brazilian dance fighting class that my son adores. He loves it so much I don’t have to beg him to put on his uniform or badger him to find his shoes. He’s often dressed and ready with his water bottle in hand waiting on the porch for us minutes before we’re ready to load into the van. My middle daughter, on the other hand … not so much. It’s not even her class; she doesn’t have to do anything but color and eat snacks and read books and wait for her brother. On more than one occasion I’ve even let her wear pajamas. The expectations on her for this hour are incredibly low, and about fifty percent of the time she is successful at happily going along.
A few weeks ago, we were headed to capoeira. My girls had napped and woken up happy. No one was fighting in the car; everyone had shoes. It was a good day. When we pulled into the parking garage, my middle daughter announced that she didn’t want to ride in the stroller. She suggested we skip the stroller altogether. This was a reasonable proposition, so I strapped the baby into the front pack, grabbed the hands of my older two, and off we went … until we stopped.
“I changed my mind!” Vivienne, my middle daughter, announced. “I’m not walking.”
“Honey, we are around the corner from the class. It’s closer to just keep walking than it is to turn around.”
“NO!” she dug in her heels and crossed her arms. I took a deep breath. The studio is downtown on the corner of two central, rather busy, streets. Cars lined up to our right, stopping at the stoplight. A large group crossed at the crosswalk and wove around us as my daughter continued to yell at the top of her lungs: “I’M NOT WALKING! I WANT THE STROLLER!”
In effort to still arrive on time, I took another deep breath, grabbed her elbow and dragged her down the street. I had hauled her, much in this same manner, into the class before. There’s a significant possibility that all the other waiting parents think that I’m the world’s most horrible mother, that Vivienne is the world’s most horrible child, or both. Probably both. After a few moments, she wriggled free from my grasp, huffing and disgruntled, but agreed to walk.
Vivienne marched along behind for about half a block, crossing and re-crossing her arms. She periodically glanced behind her and glared. Finally, she stopped. We were feet from the capoeira studio. She whipped her body around quickly: “YOU!”
She pointed to her shadow and growled, “STOP FOLLOWING ME! YOU ARE NOT THE REAL VIVIENNE!”
My son’s eyes grew wide. “Mom, I think she just yelled at her shadow,” he whispered.
I pursed my lips and nodded.
I’ve learned it’s best not to smile in moments like these, so I bit the insides of my cheeks and walked over to her.
“Shadows are the worst,” I said, then grabbed her arm and continued to drag her the final steps to brother’s class.
Tantrums. We’ve all seen other people’s children throw them. Before parenthood, I remember regularly seeing small children flipping out about one thing or another, laying on the ground in the grocery store, wailing inconsolably about who knows what. Those children, I thought. My children will never be like those children … except they are.
About a year ago, I heard a child psychologist give a lecture, and she noted that her younger, more “spirited” daughter tantrumed often and twice that daughter even had tantrums in public places. Honestly, I have no idea what she said after that because my middle daughter has at least two public tantrums a week. My son has outgrown this, thankfully, but my eighteen-month-old is growing into it, and just yesterday I carried her screaming, flailing body from both Starbucks and Costco.
You see when I prayed for a deep well of patience five years ago, I believe that God said yes. Except I wasn’t just going to wake up one morning magically serene and lovely, no. He was going to allow me many, many opportunities to practice patience, to cultivate that gift. He was going to use my children to help develop my soul. In fact, I think children are always developing our souls. As much as we are teaching them, shaping them, and growing them into the wonderful adults they are supposed to be, they are teaching and shaping us into the adults we’re supposed to be.
In all likelihood, the type of adult that I’m supposed to be is not one who perfectly irons shirts or sits without fidgeting. There are not enough tantrums in the world to get me to that depth of patience. But slowly, I’m learning how to breathe deeply, smile in the face of difficulty, and avoid tantrums of my own. Just ask my husband; I haven’t thrown a pan at him in nearly ten years.
Photo by Jennifer Batchelor.