Saturday, September 24, 2011

Tantrums in Public

We've all seen it.  You are at the store, and there in front of you, behind you, or over on the next isle is a tired, harried mom dragging a toddler/preschooler/elementary aged child, who is screaming at the top of their lungs.  Wailing and crying and making everyone in the store want to hurry up and get out of there.

What do you think?  How do you feel towards that mother and child?  If we are honest, most of the time we think that mother needs to discipline that child, right?  We look with disdain on the whole scene, shake our heads, and get away from them as quickly as we can.

I used to be that person.  But in the last six years I've had two children that have given me a whole new perspective.  MiMi, my foster daughter who stole my heart and took part of it with her when she was reunited with her biological family, was the absolute queen of tantrums.  And now, I have Tommy.

I've blogged a lot about Tommy.  I've written about my worries, of the doctor visits, of finding the Feingold diet, and taking him to the Child Study Center, a place I never dreamed I would go.  I've written of the great success we've had with the diet, and how Tommy is a completely different child now.  I've opened up my life and Tommy's life a lot, because I want to encourage people to adopt from foster care, to understand that this is doable, and also because I know there are other moms out there who struggle with some of these things with their biological children.  The Bible tells the older moms to teach the younger, and as much as I wish it weren't so, I guess I am now an older mom...

Tommy is a wonderful child.  But he does struggle.  I'm not sure what's causing the struggle - if it's the heroin he was exposed to in the womb, or if it might be some of the mental illnesses in his background raising it's ugly head.  I'm not afraid, because the Bible tells us not to fear.  And also because, with the help of this diet, we see less and less of the old problems Tommy used to have.

But, what happens to us when things begin to ease up?  Sometimes, we get a bit lazy.  We slip.  We aren't as diligent as we were...

And I've been guilty of that.  With Tommy doing so well, we've been cheating on the diet.  Yesterday was no exception.  We had to go into Cleburne to take Mary Susannah to the eye doctor.  I had been wanting something really sweet for two days, and as we left the doctor, I saw the doughnut shop was still open.  I gave in to my cravings, and we went inside and each got one, and the lady threw in three extras, because it was almost time to close.  We scarfed those down as we drove, then after a visit to the library, we stopped at the farmers market where I bought the good for you stuff, but then as if the doughnuts were not enough, I bought four of the fried pies a friend of mine makes and sells there...

We went home and ate watermelon, cantaloupes, peaches and fried pies for lunch.

Then we left again for the Dollar Store, and that's when it happened.

Angel-Leah, Luke and Tommy had gathered up all their dollar bills, but mostly their pennies, nickles, dimes and quarters to find they had almost five dollars all together.  They dumped that into a slot in my billfold, and in the car dreamed of what they would buy at the Dollar Store.  I have a new no toys rule, so they wanted scissors, paper, and paint.
At the store Luke and Angel-Leah ran ahead of me.  Tommy stood beside me and demanded I give him all his money.  Tommy is a young acting four year old, and I knew there was no way he was going to be able to hang on to all that change and still "shop".  I told him I would keep it for him until he was ready to check out.  He demanded the money again, and I repeated my answer.  And that was all it took.  He fell into a full blown tantrum.

Maybe I could have used different words.  Maybe I should keep baggies in my purse.  Maybe I should have just given him his money when he first asked.  I'm trying to learn to say yes whenever I can, even if it makes things a bit harder.  But whatever - it was too late...

I stood there with my wailing son, trying to reason for a few minutes, even though I knew that once Tommy gets to this point, especially if his eyes are closed, he is "no longer home" and there will be nothing I can do to fix it.  No discipline, no talking, nothing much is going to end this but time.  I told Angel-Leah and Luke I would be right back (my car was directly in front of the doors of the store, which were wide open) and I took Tommy back out to the car and dumped him in the back seat.  Just as I started to climb in after him, my phone rang.  I half shut the door and answered it because it was his speech therapist who was due at our house in an hour.  She had gotten off early and wanted to come on over.  I told her to give me a little bit.
So now, my time, which was already limited, needed to be less.   I tried to talk to Tommy, but he was not at that point yet.  I had two choices, I realized.  I could call Luke and Angel-Leah and tell them we had to go home, or I could go back into the store with my screaming child.
I only needed five things.  It would take me about two minutes to grab them and leave.  I decided to try it.  I pulled Tommy out of the car, sat him on the sidewalk, and said I was going back in, but I would not be buying him anything.  Then I started walking.  I know him well enough to know he would follow me, and he did.
I told Angel-Leah, "Grab what you want quick, we have to get out of here."  I walked through the store at a fast pace, Tommy screaming behind me.  When I stopped to get something, he would fall to the floor.  Ignoring him (because I know there is nothing else to do)  I would put my things in the cart and start walking again.  He would jump up and run behind me, and when I stopped again, he would fall to the floor.  The screaming never stopped.  I grabbed my five things and got to the register.  The lady in front of me took FOREVER to write a check.  I wanted to tell her about debit cards, but it was hard to talk over the volume of the child writhing on the floor beside me.  In fact, she was screaming herself as she talked cheerfully to the cashier.
When it was my turn, and the cashier asked me how I was, I said I was embarrassed and sorry.  The urge to tell her Tommy's whole life story, and that I really am not as bad a mother as it looks like I am, was very strong, but I refrained.
The screaming continued on the ride home, out in the driveway, where I left him sitting as I carried the few things I bought into the house, and after, as Tommy sat outside Angel-Leah's bedroom door, where he had been barred because she and Luke did not want him screaming in her room.  I laid down on my bed and prayed this would be over before the speech therapist arrived.
In a few minutes, a red faced, heaving, but quieter little boy showed up in my doorway.  I held out my hand and said, "Want me to hold you for a while?"  He quickly crawled up on my bed and curled up in my arms.  He told me Angel-Leah wouldn't let him in her room.  I said I didn't blame her.  He was screaming and no one likes that.  That when you aren't a nice person, no one really wants you around.  And didn't she usually let him in when he wasn't screaming?  He said yes.  Then he told me it was my fault he was screaming, because I didn't give him his money.  So I explained why I didn't.  Oh, he said, he didn't know I would give it to him at the cash register.  I told him he didn't know because he was screaming and couldn't hear me trying to tell him how we would handle it all.  We talked about better ways to handle things when we are frustrated.  But mostly, we just cuddled.

And he was calm when the speech therapist arrived, and he really did well that session.

One thing Tommy has done is give me a new outlook on things.  When I am out now, and see a child in a melt down, I wonder what's going on.  Yes, it's true there is some bad parenting out there, and sometimes it's just what it looks like.  But at the museum recently, when I saw an older child, maybe ten, laying on the floor screaming and kicking his feet as an older and young lady stood over him trying to talk to him, my first thought was that I wondered if he was autistic.  I don't judge so harshly anymore.  Sometimes, if it seems appropriate, I might offer to help.  If nothing else, I try to smile at the harried mother.

More and more, I know that this dying world is full of things that aren't good.  The Bible says as the end nears, things will get worse and worse.  We are bombarded with sin everywhere we look, everywhere we turn.  It's on TV, it's in the movies and games they make for children now.  Our food is full of dyes and artificial things that were never meant to be eaten.  People are in a hurry and don't have time for little ones.  Drug abuse and alcohol use is so wide spread, and the children are some of the ones paying the price.

Tommy has made great strides and has overcome an awful lot in his four short years.  Unfortunately, he has a human mommy that likes sweets, and lets his diet slip sometimes.  After yesterday, I promise to do better.

But next time you see a child having a tantrum in public, remember us...and have mercy!


  1. You continue to teach me so much. And I appreciate your love, patience, and humility. My situation is different, but I wonder if a diet change would help W. Miss you! Beth B.

  2. That is one of my favorite verse in the bible.I just wish more women understood and took it to heart. I think we have lots of the teaching of power and not Family now days. Then there is you, you could insert your picture in there. You are such an inspiration of many things and I only got to spend part of a semester with you at co-op. Tommy is so blessed to have you, as are all the children!

  3. I so feel your pain! Katie struggles with some of the very same issues. I have decided that I was a much better mother before I had children! My cherubs were certainly not going to have tantrums. Why I would train and correct them, and then they would be visions of perfection! Just one problem with that....I'm so not perfect and at the time I had no children! Let alone a child with previous drug exposure..... Time and four children later has humbled me. It's a good thing to have been that woman in the store with the screaming child, because just like you said, it gives you compassion for her. You know. Will pray for your little one. Blessings!


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