The low rumbling sounds are unmistakable, a tantrum is about to erupt. A full blown toddler tantrum of tears and stamped feet, a whirling dervish sweeping through the house.
I have to stop it at all cost.
My youngest and I are in the kitchen as a gloomy rainy falls. I’m sipping tea and surfing Facebook, she’s finished her breakfast and is too full of energy for this early in the day. The house needs to be quiet as the rest of the family is asleep. They go to bed very late, she and I get up very early.
The fact is, I need to stop the tantrum before it starts. We make eye contact, she pauses, looking at me, imploring me to step away from the computer and pay attention to her, or else! I know what that means, full blown tantrum, so I stand up, hands on hips, and mouth the word “NO”, adding a raised pointer finger for good measure. She breaks our eye contact and I watch her little muscles tense as she prepares to turn her feet into drum sticks.
It’s a stand off. I’m on thin ice as she is beyond my reach, beyond the grasp of a calming hug. One false move on my part will result in thunderous noise from her and the inevitable groans from the rest of the family awakened long before they were ready.
It is in that moment that a voice in my soul says,
Stop. Stay calm. Get down on her level. Reach out to her….
So I did. I literally sat on the floor all the while keeping my eyes on her. My unexpected movement, in that moment, caught her off guard and I watched the tension leave her little body as she sat, too.
I let out a deep breath and thought, Now what? She can move much faster than I can in normal circumstances but now that I’m on the ground, she’s really got the advantage! It became clear that if I moved toward her, however gently, I risked setting her off again. No, the only option was to get her to come to me.
But how? How do you get a strong willed, full of energy, bundle of stubbornness to come to you?
Looking around I realized a good bit of her breakfast was left. Picking up a piece, I reached my arm toward her and smiled but did not say a word. I’m unsure how long we sat there, looking at each other, neither moving, but eventually her hungry tummy won out over her defiant will and she slowly walked toward me. Leaning toward her as far as I could she gently took the morsel from my hand and sat down to eat. Smiling I slowly offered another bit but this time did not stretch my arm as far. With each mouthful offer and loving words whispered she inched toward me.
Closer, my hand caressing her shoulder as she chewed.
Closer, my hand rubbing her back.
Closer, my hands cupping her face as I kissed the top of her head.
Closer, my arms enveloping her delicate frame, securing her in a loving embrace.
The tension was gone now from both of us. We sat there, in a heart-to-heart hug, our breath mingling into a melody of mutual trust and affection. It was in that moment of stillness that understanding entered my brain. I flashed back to a similar scenario, with a different strong willed soul, that played out on repeat for far too long. But in that movie I failed to avert the tantrum. In that movie I stayed big and authoritative and stern. I threatened with harsh whispers and waving arms, my domineering energy attempting to extinguish the fire about to erupt.
It never worked. I was younger then so I could move more quickly and usually managed to entrap her in my arms before she could scamper away, but the physical restraint could not silence her voice.
Sitting on the floor now, a warm embrace comforting us both, I wish I had come to this understanding long ago. I wonder now how those days long ago would have been different if I had. I wonder now what impact those standoffs had in her development and opinion of authority. Of course I cannot go back and change the past, but I can learn now and not repeat old mistakes. And writing here I can share my newfound understanding with you.
Understanding comes in the strangest ways.
With the tantrum averted and understanding filling my heart, our embrace ended and I watched her scamper over to her favorite toy and settle in for a good chew. Yes, understanding can come in the strangest ways. This morning it came to me as I sat on the floor embracing our old dog who periodically still acts like a toddler. With that understanding I will hug my now adult daughter, the next time I see her, and offer a prayer of thanks that we have a wonderful relationship despite my novice mistakes in mothering, once upon a time, many years ago.