I just asked Thesaurus for a word to describe the sound my daughter makes when she’s tantruming hard. Turns out they haven’t invented one. Screech is too mechanical, wail is too doleful and shriek is far too short-lived.
This is the most blood-curdling scream I’ve ever heard. Shrill, grating and completely unrelenting. You would think she was having her toenails pulled out one by one rather than being told her party dress is too posh for nursery or having a request for a third Mini Milk declined. I guess that’s the whole idea.
Last night, Maya went for a wee before leaving nursery. As I was praising her for telling me in time and she was pulling up her own pants, I absent-mindedly flushed the toilet. Big mistake. Her face went crimson, the desperate panting began and cries of ‘No, Mummy! No, no, no!’ echoed round the upper floor.
She grabbed the handle herself, trying to flush but meeting no resistance. She stamped a bit, jumped a bit, screamed a lot and finally engineered her own knees giving way, enabling her to flop to the floor in mock-wretchedness, one hand pulling at her hair all the while. She looked a bit like she was being touched by the hand of God at a Billy Graham stadium do.
When I told her calmly that I was sorry I’d flushed the toilet but we really had to go, she cranked up the volume and urgency of her screams from I’m really angry with you, Mummy to Somebody help! She’s murdering me!
Parents picking up her classmates peered through the door as they left. I got several winces of sympathy, an ‘Isn’t it awful being two?’ and then another, more open wince – an instinctive reaction to a frankly unbearable racket. Then a door slammed. Very loud. I think the recently clocked-off staff had reached saturation point.
I managed to restrain Maya with one hand, but each time I pulled her knickers up with my free hand, she yanked them back down to her ankles and did something resembling a morris dance to scupper my chances of getting them up again.
There was no way I was going out into the street with a screaming, squirming toddler with her pants down, so I’m sorry to say the staff endured five more minutes of earsplitting tumult before we finally left them in peace. The chaos continued outside.
They say you’re meant to stay calm when a toddler has a tantrum. I’ve read you should stay close by, remove any danger and be ready to hug them once it’s over. That totally works at home and Maya always needs a cuddle once she’s calmed down.
But what the frickin hell are you supposed to do when you’re out and about? I’m usually quite a confident parent but these public displays of what looks like abject misery make me question everything. Am I too harsh? Too soft? Do I have no control whatsoever? Has my body served as a conduit for the Princess of Darkness? Are we bringing Maya up in some pathological environment, forcing her to purge herself of emotional toxins in the street? And what on earth do all those normal people think as they walk by? Has anyone called the police after seeing me wrestle her into her car seat? If I bore witness to a similar thing, the least I’d do is jot down the number plate.
It’s even more painful for Maya’s dad. He felt the eyes of the world upon him last week when she writhed around on the pavement for 20 minutes bare-chested, having stripped off as a protest against coat-enforcement in sub-zero temperatures.
They are not joking when they talk about the terrible twos. Worst thing is, I’ve heard three’s even stormier.
Does anybody out there have a fool-proof strategy for tantrum management? Actually, no. You can keep your smugness to yourself. I only want to hear from equally ineffectual parenters who share my pain…