If it wasn’t for the kindness of strangers I would have left my tantrum-throwing toddler in the patio furniture aisle at IKEA today.
Not really, but the thought bubbled to the surface several times and I pushed it back down because a) I’m a good mother and b) I’m the one who thought it would be fun to let him push the mini kid-size cart alongside of me. So I guess I was asking for it.
My two-and-a-half-year-old son, Dane, was doing a great job listening and staying close up until about five minutes before said aisle. He started to get more squirrely by the minute. I probably should have seen it coming—let’s be honest—I saw it coming, but it’s not a skip/hop to IKEA and I had a cart full of new bed linens. I was committed to the purchase. Call me selfish.
My two rules were: don’t run with the cart, and if Mommy says don’t touch that means hands off. You get one chance, one Get out of Jail Free, and then it’s strapped-in cart time. Today I was lazy with my discipline and gave him like, five or six chances. Totally my fault—by now he knows he has me. He wanders over to a table-and-chairs display, climbs up onto the table, grabs a glass lantern, and glances over at me.
“Dane—hands off. Put the lantern down, please,” calmly yet firmly. My teacher voice.
His brown eyes locked with mine, Dane tightens his grip on the lantern, shimmies backwards onto the chair, then the floor.
“Dane—FREEZE. Dane. Dane. DANE.”
He sprints off with that lantern as fast as his little legs can pump, still watching me. With my nine-month-old daughter strapped to my chest in her front carrier, I dash after him, wanting to prevent the inevitable.
Dane stops, turns, opens his hand, and crash! Glass shards scatter at our feet.
“What did you do? Why would you do that? You are SO going in the cart!”
Trying to lift a convulsing, screeching, head-thrashing thirty-pound child into a chest-height cart is one thing. Trying to lift a convulsing, screeching, head-thrashing thirty-pound child with injuring yourself, the child, OR the baby in the Ergo is quite another feat. You have to kind of hold the toddler out at a weird forty-five degree angle, arms outstretched to their full potential while twisting your body in order to protect the baby’s and your face.
And, of course, the seatbelt doesn’t work. So he is able to twist his legs out and stand up in the blink of an eye. Not good. There are no other carts to be found, ours is filled to the brim with bed linens, and I’ve got a baby strapped to my chest. Oh, and people are watching me intently just in case I freak out. Like rubberneckers on the freeway, waiting to see blood. Finally an IKEA employee comes over to help and finds a cart with a functioning strap.
I’m trying my absolute hardest to stay calm. Dane’s throat is making some sort of unholy gurgling sound as he screams, “NOO!!!!! MAAAAA!!!!”
“ Let’s go. We’re going.” I have no problem leaving a cart full of products and have done so at Trader Joe’s and Target. The last thing he needs is an audience.
Let me just say here—I consider myself to be an almost expert when it comes to the fine art of Tantrum Diffusing. Dane is a good boy but when he gets mad, he goes from zero to psycho in like, five seconds. I can count five public blowouts since his first one at fifteen months—and countless home/car blowouts. Private tantrums don’t faze me, since I can walk away. But in a store, in a restaurant (where he once cleared an entire SECTION, I wanted to die) you need to take action before the fuse is lit. Singing, distracting (“Oh my gosh! Dane, look! A blue horse! Did you see it?”) and yes, even bribery, have all served me well. But once a tantrum starts, you’ve just got to let it run its course.
Since we were in the casino/rat maze that is IKEA, getting out was going to be a challenge, and would probably take no less than five or six years.
That’s when I notice my baby bag is not in the cart anymore. Awesome. I retrace my steps with my arms locked straight and ass pitched back to avoid being kicked by the screaming, heaving child. As we make our way past lighting, framed art and finally back to textiles, his shrieks cause every man, woman, and child to stop, turn, and step to the side to let us through. Like Moses parting the Red Sea.
I give up the bag search (luckily my car keys were in my pocket) and head back toward the exit. This time Dane undoes the strap and is trying to stand up again. Screaming all the while, what a talented little guy.
“You know what? Fine. Come on. Walk with Mommy.”
Dane then pulls what I called the Peaceful Protest—he collapses onto the floor, dead weight, won’t move. I try and scoop him up again. If I didn’t have the baby strapped to my chest, this would have been so cake. But of course, it was my bright idea to have the kids twenty-two months apart.
We are both sweating: him a pile of tears on the concrete floor and me wiping my brow and trying to take deep, cleansing breaths, which don’t do squat in times of tantrum. I kneel down yet again to try and get him to stand, look up, and see a group of about five people watching. I say something like, “I don’t know what I was thinking having two kids so close together,” when another shopper replies, “It gets better.” For some reason, that makes me start bawling. Get it together, Mommy!
“No, it won’t, this is so hard, this is so stupid,” I choke. Now my son and I are out of control.
“Yes, it does,” she soothes. “I’ve got a twenty-year-old and a twenty-four-year-old. It gets better.” She puts her arm around me. Another IKEA employee comes over to help, too. She gets my name and number so when my bag is found, they’d know who to call. She even says there’s a secret quick exit she’d show us, so Tantrum Boy and I don’t have to be in the store any longer than necessary. The nice mom offers to hold my daughter so I can get Dane into the cart without injury to me or his sister. Both women walk us out to our car.
I really don’t know what I would have done without their help. I mean, I’m sure I would have figured it out, it’s survival: put the baby in the cart, take Dane into the bathroom ’til he calmed down, beg a stranger for her cell phone to have my husband come rescue me, whatever. It would have happened. And now, several hours later, it seems so easy. Just like the pregnant woman watching me at IKEA—I just know she was thinking, “My child will never behave that way.” Riiiiight. I thought the same thing, sister.