Monday, December 13, 2004

Should I Reason With Him?

You may have gotten the impression that our 3-year-old's meltdowns occur mainly in less familiar settings such as airplane trips, miniature golf courses and graduations. But the fact of the matter is these meltdowns are as unpredictable as a sneeze, and about as easy to control. For instance. Today we were going to pick up the 5-year-old from school. This happens each day, Monday through Friday, at an assigned time. He is usually a good traveling companion, cheerful and cute, often asking his brother brightly, "How was your day?" like a pint-sized concierge. Today was no different. At first. I was standing in the crowd of parents holding up the sign that would cause someone from the school to call my son's name to come to the door of the "herding" area. (Sometimes they pop up to the door like fish, where you can see them, and then they swirl back into the student crowd and you have to wait for another sighting.) While I was vainly holding my sign waiting for someone to notice, the 3-year-old was edging off the grass and perilously close to the parking lot. I told him he needed to stay on the grassy area or I would have to pick him up. Today he decided this was a challenge. He put one foot on the pavement, looked at me. I was still holding the sign. Then the other foot came down. I came over and picked him up before he could go further. He began wriggling. I held him by the torso while still holding the sign aloft. Eventually he squirmed onto the ground and lay there with "mad face" while a teacher finally called my other son's name. The 3-year-old lay spread out on the ground and began issuing threats. "I'm going to hit you," he declared. " "Well then I'll have to kiss you," I replied. "I'm going to bite you!" he shouted. Other parents were eyeing him. "Not in a good mood today, huh?" one parent said to me. "I'm going to batter you!" he yelled. Finally the 5-year-old had emerged from the school and was ready to leave with us. "I'm going to SCRATCH you!" he said. "Why is he on the ground?" the 5-year-old asked me. "No reason," I said. "He wants to be in the parking lot." He STILL wanted to be in the parking lot. I informed him he had to hold my hand in the parking lot, or I would have to carry him. Because the traffic patterns are very messy during after school pick up. There is a car line, a pickup at the door of the school area, cars parking, cars leaving, cars arriving, and cars doing 18-point turns in a tight area. They cannot watch every little head that dashes in front of their bumper. That's our job. The 3-year-old announced he was going to RUN through the parking lot. I caught him as he came out of his grassy gate. "Then I guess I'll have to hold you," I said. "NOOOOOOOOoooooo!" he shrieked. He tried to grab my glasses but I was ready for him, holding him toward the ground at a 45 degree angle. I asked the 5-year-old to carry the sign (which is showing a significant amount of wear) and to stay close to us. Other parents gave us a wide berth as I held three limbs and part of a torso while carrying him across the lot. "PUT. ME. DOWN!!!!!" He was howling his displeasure. Every ten feet or so I had to change my hold on him or risk having him squirt out of my arms onto the pavement. Some of the drivers in other cars were wide-eyed watching his Houdini-like performance. At one point he was perpendicular to the ground and I had him by the a knee and ankle. We finally reached a remote area of the lot where I had parked our van. I like to park in wide open spaces for just such an emergency. Unfortunately in one of those weird coincidences some parent in a nice car not only parked right next to me, but with barely enough room for me to open the door. I somehow managed to get the door open without scraping her car and herd the 5-year-old in. Then the other driver showed up with her middle school age son. I knew getting the 3-year-old into the car seat with the door open was going to be a lengthy process, so I closed the door and waited near her front tire so she could get in her car and, hopefully, make a quick exit. But no, she was sort of staring at the 3-year-old's tantrum, fumbling through her purse, gazing at her kid, who was saying impatiently, "Could you open my DOOR?" Meanwhile I was trying very hard to maintain a good grip on the 3-year-old because he was still shrieking and I was afraid he was going to rip her windshield wiper off or dent her hood. She finally sat in her car and was adjusting her makeup or something. And looking at me like she couldn't understand what I was doing there with a howling child. WAITING FOR YOU TO PULL AWAY SO I CAN OPEN THE DOOR, LADY. He came very close to putting an Elmo sneaker imprint on her nice door. Getting him into the car seat really required the assistance of four burly state troopers but somehow I found reserves of strength I didn't know I had. I can only praise the Child Seat Industry that he can't undo the buckles yet. The shrieking continued for the entire 15-minute ride home, with him ordering me to leave the car. He was crying so hard I thought he was going to throw up. He started making horse-like noises. Every time I looked back at him he got louder. As we pulled into the neighborhood with him still sobbing I said, "That's it. Your getting a bad behavior stick when you get home." (A stick is a mark on the refrigerator. Not a beating. Ahem.) Then when I finally came to get him out of his seat he blubbered, "But I said I'm SORRY." "That's great!" I said. "I didn't know you were sorry. You don't have to have the stick." When we got in the house he was done. And I still don't know what caused the meltdown to begin with.

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