Two weeks or so ago, I did absolutely everything dead wrong, according to the Rules On How To Avoid Tantrums from Preschoolers. I took a not-entirely-well, already-cranky 3 year old in the car at 4pm to take her sister to gymnastics class, let her fall asleep for 20 minutes, then woke her abruptly so we could go into the gym. I reluctantly carried her part of the way, but, with my back and neck screaming, I put her down at the foot of the stairs and asked her to walk up them. (I honestly don't think I could have lifted her up them, with my current state of neck pain, but nonetheless, I get it: Self-sacrificing Motherhood. I'm Doin' It Rong.)
The result of this dismal cascade was about what you'd expect - C sat down on the floor at the foot of the stairs and howled. And howled. And HOWLED. She would not be comforted (I tried) or cajoled (tried that too). Her sisters, bless 'em, gave it a red hot go too, to no avail. She was disorientated, pissed off and tired and she wanted me to carry her up the damn stairs and nothing else was going to satisfy her. Her noise level was impressive, if incoherent, and she showed no signs of slacking off at the 3-minute mark, which is a bad, bad sign (her minor tanties blow themselves out within 3 minutes. If she's still in full flight at that point, it's time to make a cup of nice hot Panadol and settle in for the duration).
I sent the big kids on upstairs so that the 7 year old wouldn't be late for her class, and sat down on the stairs, a few steps above where C was performing her interpretive dance of misery. I made sure she wasn't going to hurt herself, told her I was there and waiting when she was ready, and tried to project an aura of calm, smiling patience. Inside, not so calm, not so patient, naturally.
After 15 minutes - I am not even kidding a little bit - of this, with brief dips into sulky silence followed by renewed roars or protest - the stairs started to fill with parents and children going home from classes just finished. I moved C so that she wasn't blocking people's passage, and stood by her as she raged and bounced. Most of the parents moving past me either studiously ignored us (which was a kindness much appreciated) or gave me sympathetic smiles or eyerolls (even more appreciated). One, a mum I know slightly, said, "Oh hon, we've all been there," and squeezed my arm, which almost put me in tears too. The gym staff were fantastic, too, offering supportive and reassuring comments from upstairs and attempting to shamelessly bribe C into moving with offers of stickers and stamps.
Eventually C burned herself out, and subsided into quiet hiccups. She finally decided that the chance to do some stamping was too good to pass up, and, holding hands, we slowly ascended the stairs, 25 long, long minutes after arriving at the gym.
When I slumped down in a lounge chair in the parent room, exhausted in mind and body, I noticed a small cohort of parents giving me the side eye. Their looks got more and more intense, until one finally came over to me and said, "Was that your kid making a racket downstairs?"
I flushed, and said, "Yes, yes it was. I'm very sorry she was so loud..."
The woman frowned at me. "You should have taken her outside. It's not fair to the gymnasts or the parents to have to listen to that carry-on. If she can't behave better, you shouldn't bring her here."
I was devastated. It was all I could do not to burst into tears. I stammered something, but she had already turned away to her own friends.
One of my own gym buddies saw the look on my face and came over. I didn't repeat what had been said to me, but I didn't have to, she knew. She told me it was OK, that no-one except these three had been anything but sympathetic, and that the noise wasn't even audible in the gym itself.
So here's the thing:
I made some bad calls with managing C's propensity to tantrum on that day. I did it in the hope that the 7 yea old would not have to miss her class. I hoped to get away with it, but I didn't. I own that.
Once the tantrum was underway, however, I had little realistic choice but to wait it out, or give into her demands and worsen my injury. Taking her outside would've been risky, given the busyness of the road on which the gym is located (in this mood, C is a runner).
I did the best I could. And unpleasant as the noise would have been for everyone else, it was worst for me, and it flattened me out. To cop this broadside in my exhausted state was just more than I could handle.
I guess what I'm saying is - when a child is tantrumming in public, it's not always possible or realistic to immediately remove them, and it's not always possible to "turn them off". It isn't fun for others around - I get that, truly I do. But it is sure as sugar a lot *less* fun for the caregiver dealing with it, and sometimes, just a modicum of slack - like that extended by all the other parents that day - is such an act of human kindness.