I need a reality check as a parent. I need to ask a wider audience of parents what it’s really like to parent a preschooler.
Tantrums are normal. Everyone says this. Other moms tell me this, when I say she’s kind of intense. That she throws tantrums. Her last pediatrician said it. Her Grandma’s assure me that tantrums are normal.
And I hear everyone tell me this and I flinch. Because I’m being discounted. My sense of unease about the frequency, intensity, and nature of her tantrums is being dismissed. Again. Always.
Like in Target yesterday, when we entered the store all three of us were happy. Cheerful. We were having a good day. I just needed to pick up a few cleaning supplies and then we were going to go explore a little. We planned to wandered into the kitchen aisles to see if we could find a bread maker, because at five dollars a loaf we’d probably see cost savings in just a couple of months.
No big deal. Then we got out of the car. Still happy. We walked across the parking lot. Fine. We crossed the parking lot into the store. She tried to pull away from me and when I wouldn’t let her began crying. I picked her up, trying to determine the source of her sudden upset. She began to scream and try to hit me.
I held her hands away from me and gently asked her, “Fiona, Baby, what’s wrong? I want to help you, but I don’t know why you’re upset?”
After a few moments of this, walking, while she struggled and screamed and tried to convey to me at a full crying yell what the problem was, I was able to make out a few words.
“Walk where the lines are!” She cried, pointing at the painted lines marking a crossing about six inches from where I stood. I stepped sideways and she began to cry again. “There’s a car and Mommy and Daddy have to be safe.
The car was stopped a dozen feet from where we crossed, engine idling as it waited for us to walk.
Briefly, in the lobby, I reassured her, “It’s okay. Mommy and Daddy are safe from cars. We won’t walk where it isn’t safe. Mommy and Daddy can keep you safe. It’s okay. Trust me.”
She responded, “Teacher Diana says to walk in the lines.”
We stand quietly for a moment and I try to regain the sense of happiness and calm that we had only moments before. After a few moments, when her breathing is calm and she seems ready to go, I review the rules of being in a store. She stays close to me and Daddy. She doesn’t go running off. She doesn’t pick stuff up. She does what she’s told when she’s told. If I count get to zeros (I count backwards from 3), then she has to sit in the cart for a few minutes.
We’ve had these rules for most of a year.
We walk down an aisle with chairs and she’s off like a shot. She’s almost obsessive about testing chairs in stores. She has to sit in all of them. Even the identical ones. If I am holding her hand and try to walk past them she will pull away. If she’s not permitted to sit in any of them she will start screaming. At the top of her lungs.
I remind her that she’s not allowed to run away from me or Daddy and that if she wants to do something she needs to ask. She asks if she can sit in the chairs. I summon my patience, “You may sit in one chair for 10 seconds.”
She scrambles into a chair and I begin to count backwards from 10. As I get to 1 I hold out my hand and say, “Alright, time to keep walking.”
(As an aside, she is as of this moment in her room wailing that she wants to break everything, and that she wants to hurt Mommy and make Mommy sad. The reason? I told her she couldn’t have more time watching the Kindle.)
She refused and began to climb into another chair. “Fiona,” I reminded, “If you can’t walk with me you’ll need to sit in the cart.”
“3..2..1..” She hasn’t moved from the chair and is trying to cling to its armrests. So I gently pry her free and place her in the cart. She begins to thrash and scream. I put my face close to hers and say softly, “Fiona. You are making a choice. If you keep screaming, then Daddy will take you out to car and wait for Mommy to finish buying stuff and you will just have to sit in the car and be bored while you wait.”
After a few deep breaths she calms herself somewhat and begins to whine. She wants down. She wants a snack. She has to go potty. She wants to go home. I acknowledge each complaint, “When we are finished here, I will help you with that.”
We find the breadmakers and I nudge a wafflemaker aside to see the sidepanel more clearly. Just what does this thing actually do?
“Mommy,” Fiona demands, her tone close to yelling, “What does it say?”
“Fiona,” I reply, “you need to use a nicer voice when you talk to me.”
“Argh!” She starts to hit me, and cry, and half scream, “What does the no say? Not that one! Put it back! Push the box back! Mommy tell me what it says!”
“Fiona,” I say firmly. Having reached the full and utter end of my patience. “You need to take a deep breath and calm down. I can’t help you if I can’t understand you. ”
She takes enough of a breath to ask a question, “Mommy? What does the no say?”
I look at the boxes and can’t see a “no”. “I don’t see it, Baby, can you point?”
“Mommy!” She shouts. “On the box. Put it back!”
I then see the no she’s talking about. On the side of the wafflemaker it reads, “No mess. Stops drips.”
If you think that our morning ends here you would be mistaken. She whined for the rest of our time in target then through another huge fit once we were in the car. For reasons I have yet to fathom. In fact, the fit in the car lasted the whole way home and including kicking the back of the seat and biting herself hard enough to leave marks at least five times.
Imprints of her teeth all up and down her arms.
And before you ask. No, she isn’t sick. Yes, this was going on before we moved. Yes, this happens at home. (She’s still shrieking and has crumpled up her toy money and is “happy it’s all broken and gone.”) This happens outside. This happens when she’s tired. This happens when she’s well rested. This happens in places with lots of stimulation and places with almost none. This happens at least a couple of times a day and sometimes all day long without end. It doesn’t stop until she gets attention and calming from me. She doesn’t “eventually wind down” (though I’ve been told she will – at length). She says she wants to break everything. She says she wants to make me sad.
And I think it’s not normal. I think it’s a problem. I think there is something wrong and though I love my sweet, amazing, intense little girl, I know that what’s going on now is off. It’s more. I don’t think it’s bad parenting. I don’t it’s intense personality. It feels like something else. Something that we’ve been brushing up against since she was born.
And I’m scared. Because I don’t know why. I don’t know what it is that makes her this angry. That’s making her this violently emotional. That makes everyday with her a tightrope walk of patience and calm to get her through it without her trying to harm herself or me.
But I don’t think it’s normal. And I need a reality check. Is this just what it’s like for parents? Is this what it’s like to parent an intense, spirited, difficult child through the preschooler years? Or is there something else? Is my gut right? Let me know, because I’m out of my depth and have been for a while.
And I’ve made an appointment with her pediatrician, but I have to get through another six days before I can ask an expert. So, help me out?