My 3 year-old son has these moments.
He wants something.
A toy that his sister is playing with or some fragile item he sees in a store or maybe to ride his tricycle around the block when he suddenly wakes up at three o’clock in the morning.
And we have to say, “no”.
That’s when the meltdown hits…
He falls on the ground, feet pointing to the sky, and starts to scream at the top of his lungs or he’ll just repeat the phrase “I want it” over and over again.
If we try to pick him up he goes utterly limp, his body becoming about a hundred pounds of dead weight. This can go on for five minutes or ten, maybe even a half our.
We call this “The Rage”.
After the rage there is “The Calm” which often results in some of the most glorious gifts that come to parenthood.
He’ll sprawl across my lap (or more often his mother’s) and reach up and grab the fat of my earlobe and he’ll twist and turn it. Both of my children did this, actually. Our earlobe became their object of comfort, which is REALLY convenient because… unless one of us goes all Vincent Van Gough… we know we’ll always have an ear when they need it.
But between “The Rage” and “The Calm” is a short window which has often overwhelmed Truman and myself and my wife.
In this thirty seconds Truman will alternate back and forth between asking for something and then rejecting that same something.
“I want a bottle!”
Then I hand him the bottle and… he throws it on the floor. “I don’t want a bottle.”
A moment goes by and then… “I dropped my bottle!”
So, I reach down and grab the bottle and give it back and…
“I don’t want the bottle!” and across the floor it goes.
This can go on for as long as we choose to participate in the madness.
Give the way blogs works I’m sure within ten comments a real life child psychologist will give this emotional boomerang its proper name and explain its function, but until then… I refer to it as “The Terror”. And not “The Terror” meaning he’s being a terror, but he FEELS terror… abject terror because there’s something in the world that he wants very, very badly and yet… someone is saying NO to him. He’s a small kid… he believes the sun and stars and wind all exist for him and yet… there’s something he can’t have… and so, really, he is powerless to manifest his every need.
He is literally terrified and so he bounces between the honest wanting and the false rejection or the imagined emotional safety that might come from a lack of wanting.
But there is no safety… the want is real… and no amount of faux rejection can mask that.
In the end, he realizes that there is no way to pretend the need away and so he ultimately chooses the bottle and the hug and to accept our comfort.
On days when it looks like the political world is not going to grant my wishes its easy to revert to a primal form and I find myself in the terror… both wanting to clutch to the thing I hope for and to throw it across the room.
Then again… I’ve got an earlobe if anyone needs it.