The day had been bright and warmish....snow melted, socks were put away in favor of ballet flats, and after church Saturday night we found ourselves at a local pizzeria with a handful of other parents with other littles. As the sky turned from cool to warm and then all the way to black, we chomped on the dinner we called ahead to order.
We thought we were being responsible; hungry kids and little wait time should make for a happy family. And smooth meal.
But, somehow, that simplistic math...with no variables...ended up including a few.
Like the fact that our five-year-old sighed and grimaced while waiting for the hot pie and breadsticks. A grand total of five minutes. But that wasn't quick enough to suit his exacting standards. Luckily the pie arrived before his grief came full-term.
Like the fact that the pizza joint has arcade games and they were just a few feet from our table. "Mommy, can we PLEASE play the game now?" and "After we are done eating, remember?" composed the bulk of our dining banter.
Like the fact that I was lucky enough to have the exact change for him to play 'the claw' game with my husband --- just once --- after stubby pieces of crust were all that remained of the once grand pie. But then that wasn't enough because the elder little only won two Tootsie Rolls instead of a big, glamorous prize from the display case.
Like the fact that he doesn't even like Tootsie Rolls today, so he stood beside our table crying, throwing his hands, growling, and then hurling a wadded up napkin at an unsuspecting dad engaged in casual conversation at the next table. His kids were playing arcade games while their pizza baked. They kept running between table and game, table and game, delivering their candy winnings. In good spirits; laughing. The parents laughed, too, as they talked about all things --- trivial and important.
Like the fact that when the elder grew increasingly upset, so did the smaller little. And they were both crying. At our small four-top table with one high chair shoved in the back corner. Beside the games. And everyone turned around to look, sometimes sheepishly, sometimes with rapt engagement. We were the only entertainment; everyone else's kids talked, ate, giggled, smiled, and stared.
Like the fact that I quietly ushered both boys outside to wait on the sidewalk while my husband paid. You know, to avoid any other unsightly fits, outbursts, etc. Even as we exited, I felt their eyes fixed on our little troupe. We caught our breath in front of the floor-to-ceiling window that canvassed the narrow storefront. I knelt down. In a calm, quiet voice, I talked with the elder little about the napkin situation. He listened, his chocolate eyes melting into mine.
Like the fact that in full view of everyone inside the pizza restaurant and a couple two feet away getting into their car, he snipped my comments down to a more palatable proportion by winding up and smacking me on cheek. Hard. Before I could even see it coming. Underneath the eye that squints a little more when I break into a smile. That side of my face smarted, as did the inside of my cheek which I chewed to avoid the ugliness that my flesh wanted to spew all over the sidewalk and anyone who would listen to my hurt and empathize with my embarrassment. Like a statue, I stood staring out at the passing cars bumping along the brick street.
But none of this compared to the wound festering inside my heart that seems to grow a little more each day.
We've tried praise. We've tried sticker charts. Programs. Incentives. Rewards. Yelling. Not yelling. Taking toys away for a period. Time-outs. Time-ins. Time-outs downstairs. Time-outs upstairs. No trains. No TV. More time with mommy. More time with Daddy. Fall soccer. Winter soccer. Explaining. Not explaining.
I always think, Are we the only ones dealing with this brand of pervasive inflexibility and impulsivity? Because again at the restaurant beside all the happy kids, I felt that way.
After the shortest bedtime routine ever for the elder, I googled it. We can't be alone in this.
And most assuredly, the first article I read described my son perfectly...and this one led to a string of others. The formal search term, five-year-old tantrums.
It is a real thing.
And we aren't alone.
And we can get past this.
And he is still one of the neatest kids I know.
And he's fiery, but what his passion could someday accomplish...
Maybe another variable for the list above is that the other kids and other parents were just moments away from their control dance...