On a blissfully sunny day in October, me and my two little ones were meeting another mom and kiddo trio at Shelburne Farms for a playdate. Even though my friend and I both had teeny babies at the time, we also had energetic almost-4 year olds that needed to get out and expend some of their juice. So, there we were, quintessential farm with views of the gorgeous lake, pleasant animals to study and pat, snacks. It was a pretty perfect day. Until my friend’s oldest realized her juice box was empty (fill in with any ridiculous reason for total breakdown).
The meltdown that ensued was, in my mind, typical. It was loud, over the top, and accompanied by tears and flying fists. It was evident that my friend was embarrassed by her raging daughter, and she kept apologizing, to which I replied “it’s ok”.
Truth be told, it was more than “ok”, it was great. Not in the sense that I enjoy seeing that panicked look on a friend’s face, or that kids acting out are delightful; but, it reassured me that my 4 year old son is normal, and my response to his meltdowns is on par with my friends’. I also thought it could be a good lesson for my son, as he sees how ridiculous it looks when his friend is acting so incoherent over something as trivial as apple juice, when they were playing so nicely not more than 2 minutes prior. (Or he could be thinking, “man, her mom is a big jerk for not having an endless supply of juice boxes on her at all times.”)
After my friend was able to calm down her daughter, reassuring her that an empty juice box was not the end of the world and the kids were back to skipping in the fields, I told her how I appreciated seeing a meltdown happen with somebody else’s child. I admitted that as E approached 4, and possibly due to the addition of a baby brother, our son went from a sweet, agreeable boy to a raging lunatic when something didn’t go his way. With these outbursts occurring almost daily in our house, I was starting to worry that my son was the spawn of something evil. Some days I am so alarmed by his behavior; the way he can go from zero to 60 in half a second, with ear-piercing screeches and unkind words, I question if his emotional eruptions are a sign of any issues that would require special intervention (Super Nanny?!). And, of course, it always seems magnified when we are out in public.
My friend eased my worry, echoing some of the things I had said with examples of her own, and knowingly nodding when I disclosed my fears of being too tough on a child that is still so young and learning how to handle life’s incongruences. We discussed how difficult it can be trying to come up with the best reaction to said meltdowns, and how a 4 year old is just a big ball of emotion.