There’s a story that my family tells about when I was a little girl and we were at a campground with my mom’s whole family and I threw an epic tantrum. The details vary based on who’s telling the story; sometimes it’s about the bubblegum I was chewing that dropped in the dirt or about not wanting to take a picture. But the fact is, I threw a big giant fit–one of many in my childhood–in front of everyone. And I didn’t care.
I used to be sort of proud of this story and others about tantrums I threw, like I was some defiant imp, a strong-willed child on my way to becoming a true blue strong woman who spoke her mind. But the truth is I was a brat–an irrational, short fused kid.
I can see this clearly today, one day after my three-year old threw an epic tantrum of his own. My sister, my mom, my brother-in-law, my two stunned nephews, my brand new baby niece and my oldest son watched as a difference of opinion progressed from reasoning to warnings to threats to yelling insults to physically pinning my youngest into a car seat while attempting to buckle the five point harness around him. His writhing, screaming body would not be buckled. 25 minutes later, we left. He had won.
I felt like throwing a tantrum myself. I had engaged in a war of wills with a three-year old in front of half my family and lost. Sitting in the car, driving back to Portland, I listened to his sniffling, half-sobbing breaths regulate to normal. I felt bad for my mom those years ago.
I’m sure looking back now, she knows that there’s no winning with an irrational three-year old in the throes of a tantrum, that giving in doesn’t make you a terrible parent, that her kid wouldn’t turn out to be a horrible irrational adult, that everyone else knew exactly how she felt and had been there themselves with their own kids.
I’m sure I’ll know that too. For now, I feel like a terrible parent who has no control over my kid.