Today I had a terribly un-fun mom-experience. I had to take N home early from a birthday party because she was having an ATM (Absolute Total Meltdown).
It was an inevitably lethal cocktail: take one 9-month-pregnant mom with a killer backache; add one 3-year old who is typically shy and withdrawn at noisy birthday parties and clings to mom for the first hour; mix in a sleepover at Grandma’s house the night before, where said 3-year-old does what kids do at Grandma’s and stays up until 10:30pm; also add in the fact that said birthday party was scheduled for 12:00pm-2:00pm, N’s usual naptime.
Mix all these together and what do you get? Absolute Total Meltdown.
The birthday party was held at one of those places with a big carpeted play-area. N completely refused to take off her shoes and go inside; instead, she cried and screamed until I let her leave her shoes on and sit in my lap. I encouraged her to join her friends, carrying her around the play area for a while to let her see the toys and kids playing (not great for the backache). After nearly an hour, she finally allowed one of her friends to take off her shoes and lead her inside.
By that time, the pizza was being served. Thankfully after eating, N started acting a little more like herself, but still she wouldn’t join the other kids in playing hot potato and chicken dance, even when Dora the Explorer showed up. She played with toys for a little while, until an 18-month old tried to play with something she wanted. She grabbed it from him — and that was it. I told her we were leaving, even before cake and ice cream! (That’s how you know it’s serious!)
On the way out, N was screaming at the top of her lungs. I felt everyone looking at us disdainfully — all those parents who don’t know us, so they don’t know how wonderfully charming N can be when she’s had a good night’s sleep. All those parents whose kids who were acting appropriately and playing nicely with each other and doing the chicken-dance with Dora. With my embarrassed face burning red, I whisked N into her stroller as swiftly as I could, said a quick thank you (and “Sorry! She’s just really tired!”) to our hosts and hurried out the door.
Once we were outside, I let N have it. I told her angrily that she had behaved very badly. She continued to cry and scream as we walked down the street (more staring, this time from strangers). Her tantrum was so out of control that I felt powerless — so as we got into the car I swatted her rear.
I have done that a few times — always in a moment when I’m feeling extremely frustrated and powerless, and I always feel so awful afterwards. I got spanked when I was a kid many, many painful times by my authoritarian father, but with N we decided not to use spanking as a disciplinary method. N is a very well-behaved little girl, so I feel that we are generally doing okay on the discipline front.
Today, I should have remained calm and patient, even in the midst of N’s meltdown. It was okay to tell her that I didn’t like her behavior, but I should have just put her in the car, drove home and put her into bed. As it happened, after swatting her, I continued to yell at her for her behavior.
Minutes later, she was asleep in her car seat, and boy, did I feel like a jerk. I called G and proceeded to tearfully tell him the whole story over the phone until we pulled up in front of the house. When I hung up, N was awake and looking at me.
“Mama, now you’re crying,” she said.
“Uh-huh,” I sniffed.
“You just need to take a little sleep, like I did,” she said matter-of-factly.
I guess N wasn’t the only one who had an Absolute Total Meltdown today. How in the world am I going to help her manage her big, overwhelming emotions when I seem to have trouble doing that myself??
I don’t know, but maybe it starts with a good night’s sleep, for both N and me — at least for a few weeks, until the baby comes!!