Last year, during a swimming lesson with her grade four class, my daughter had a very public meltdown at our local pool.
As the only female parent volunteer I was in charge of a gaggle of six or seven girls post-swim, and after supervising the shower, I herded them into the changing area. My daughter was the last one out of the pool and by the time she reached the showers, everyone was gone. In her mind, I had abandoned her to be with her classmates. I hadn’t waited for her, I didn’t care about her, I liked everyone else better than her.
What followed was an epic, hour-long meltdown. The school bus left us behind so the rest of the students could return to school. Soaking wet, with my daughter naked and screaming, I eventually called my husband for help.
Incidents like these are few and far between, thank goodness, but I am, without question, the mother of “that” kid: the one who whose child is climbing on stuff when she should be sitting, running and jumping when she should be walking, kicking the seat in front of her when she should be sitting still, talking when she should be listening. And arguing. Always arguing.
It’s hard to have that kid, but it’s even harder to be that kid.
My daughter doesn’t want to cause a scene, she doesn’t want to swim upstream and she certainly doesn’t want to piss people off. But she does and my heart breaks for her every single time.
Me, I’m over it. I’ve learned to resist apologizing and trying to explain her behaviour to others. Most people see a child acting up and assume it’s the result of poor parenting or a poorly behaved kid. They give dirty, sometimes sympathetic, looks but they don’t really get it and that’s fine. How could they? I will take all the dirty looks and whispers if it spares her from having to deal with that on top of whatever freight train is racing through her brain and taking over her body.
These meltdowns are often due to our failure (my husband’s and mine) to accurately predict what’s going to cause a blow up. I don’t take all of the responsibility for my daughter’s actions but I am responsible for putting her in situations where she can succeed and thrive.
It’s just that sometimes we can’t avoid them, or sometimes we make mistakes. Sometimes they come out of nowhere and there’s nothing to do but batten down the hatches.
Parenting “that” kid means you can’t mail it in. You are constantly on the look out for minefields – the seemingly innocuous situations that will turn a good outing into a bad one, a minor disagreement into a major incident.
Other parents are watching to make sure their kids don’t fall down or accidentally eat a bee. I’m on the lookout for that AND any triggers or conflicts that will arise in the normal course of an afternoon or casual interaction.
While other parents are chatting with each other and sipping coffee, I’m listening to kid conversations with at least one ear, anticipating the moment when she needs to retreat to her own space. She doesn’t care that her friend was supposed to stay until 3:00. If she’s done at 1:30, she’s done.
The great news is, “that” kid is often bright, spirited, independent and loving.
Once my daughter gets to know you, trust you and love you, she’s all in. And she will never be a follower. She laughs out loud and rarely hides her emotions. She boldly carries her favourite stuffed animal to grade five and when people ask her why she looks at them like they’re clueless and says: “Because he’s awesome.”
As a woman, she’ll encounter people who think she’s too much: too demanding, too emotional, too unpredictable, too distant, too all-in. As a ten-year old, she can be all of these things in a single day.
But you know what she’s not and never will be? Boring, indifferent, lazy or cruel.
This is not a “please don’t give us dirty looks when you see us melting down in public” type of message (though I would certainly appreciate that.) It’s about the fact she can’t help it. My girl is not melting down at Toys R Us because I said she couldn’t have a Barbie. She’s not running away from me in the park because I said it’s time to go home. Something has triggered her deepest insecurities, her biggest fears, and she’s lashing out because she’s terrified.
Her fight or flight reaction exists just below the surface and it’s always on standby mode.
If you see me calming her down instead of admonishing her and you think “no wonder she’s acting out, her mother has no control,” think again. And if you think I’m indifferent to her behaviour, even if I don’t seem sufficiently mortified, you’re wrong about that too.
It’s taken me several years to be able to confidently ignore society’s expectations about how my daughter should behave in a restaurant or grocery store. It’s taken me a long time to focus on her during a meltdown, not the people we’re inconveniencing (myself included).
Is it easy? Hell no. Am I always able to channel a zen-like, namaste vibe when she’s at her worst? Absolutely not. But “that” kid needs a champion and for the foreseeable future, that’s my most important job.