Declan and the Big Fake Flop
Before I became a parent and I would see a child sprawled out on the ground weeping uncontrollably and screaming at the top of their lungs at, say, a grocery store, I foolishly and naively assumed that something important must be awry. I wondered what crisis could have created such an embarrassing and exceedingly public breakdown. It had to be something severe, right?
Now I look back at that time and marvel at how incredibly naive and ignorant I was. Nowadays, when I’m at the grocery store and a stranger’s child hurls himself onto the ground and begins an aggressive campaign of screaming and crying and shouting in an attempt to get their way, I just look at the screaming, sobbing tot and think that this public outburst could literally be about anything, but it’s probably about something that does not matter on any level to anyone outside of a tot forever pushed in strange directions by a complete lack of impulse control combined with a lack of understanding about the world and how it works.
Before I became a parent, I assumed that if a child was throwing a deafening public tantrum, it was because the parents must have done something wrong. I don’t feel that way anymore, needless to say. When I see a child throwing a huge fit I look at their care-takers with a look of solidarity and compassion rather than judgment.
When I see a parent whose child is throwing a huge public fit, I shoot them a look I hope wordlessly conveys the sentiments, “Hoo boy, I have been there!” and “I feel your pain.” Declan is for the most part a well-behaved and lovely child, but it’s not at all unusual for us to be out at a grocery store or restaurant and he will flop to the ground and start yelling and screaming and crying.
This is not because anything is genuinely wrong. No, it’s generally about Declan being tired or cranky, or hungry. These aren’t actual crises. They’re never actual crises. They’re always just about Declan having some passing whim and then expressing that passing whim through tantrum form.
I always imagined that if I were one of those parents whose child was melting down publicly, I’d be filled with embarrassment and shame and self-consciousness and an overwhelming need to let the public know that I’m actually a really good parent, and not the hopelessly lacking patriarch my child’s anguished cries and screams would suggest.
Now that I am a parent, however, I respond to these fleeting displays of anger with a conspiratorial eye roll to my wife and wait for the storm to pass. It always does. Like every three year old in existence, Declan sometimes gets upset about minor things and throws tantrums but those tantrums pass very, very quickly. He burns himself out almost instantly, and then we get our charming little dude back.
So I hope that when other parents see Declan melting down over a balloon or a superhero at a grocery store, they’re able to contextualize it as one of those everyday hassles that comes with being a parent, and not a sign that civilization has broken down or that the parents have erred egregiously and are being punished for their sins by their progeny.
As a parent, you will become jaded to things you never imagined possible. Before I became a parent, I couldn’t imagine what a dad whose child was publicly melting down must be feeling. As a dad, I now know the answer, nine times out of ten, is going to be, “Eh, this is a little embarrassing but what are you going to do? It comes with being a parent.” That’s the exact right response.
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