There is a cute little series of pictures I’ve seen many times on Facebook recently, titled “Temper Tantrums You Can’t Help but Laugh At.”
In case you haven’t seen it: Little Tantrums
Each picture is of a different child having an absolute meltdown, with the reason for said meltdown typed over it. Reasons include “She dropped the gas station receipt” or “He couldn’t get the last Cheerio on his spoon.”
They’re pretty adorable, and the assorted scenarios are all-too-familiar for those of us who have had any part of raising a child. Children don’t really have that filter system in place, particularly small children, and the things that make them lose it are both hilarious and frustrating. However, kids, particularly our own, are really cute, so they can be forgiven these tiny regressions.
What we don’t talk about as much, probably because of the decided lack-of-cuteness factor, is that temper tantrums don’t really stop at toddler-hood. I know, because I had one last night. Aaaaand it wasn’t the first time that I inadvertently discovered that I’m actually a child trapped in the body of an adult.
It started innocently enough. Josh and I have a trip planned for the Beale Street Music Festival in Memphis on April 30. We’re seeing two days of music. This is the third consecutive attendance year for me, but the first time I’m taking a gentleman friend. We both love music. We both REALLY love live music. It’s a no-brainer.
Obviously I love this festival, and obviously I really want him to love it, too. So I decided to play him some of my favorite songs from the more obscure artists that will be performing.
Mistake One: I made it personal.
I chose the music based on which lyrics got me through assorted trials and tribulations of my life, NOT based on the sound of the song itself. I tend to absorb lyrics, because I love words, and sometimes that means kind of overlooking how the music actually sounds. I know. It sounds really dumb to me, too, now that I’m looking at it in print.
But I digress.
Josh wasn’t impressed. One thing I regularly love about him is that he doesn’t pull any punches. He’s honest. I prefer that, because I’m getting older and find that I have little time or patience for bullshit. Let me again stress, I LOVE this quality about him.
Last night, though, I wasn’t rational, objective, adult Jen who loves like-minded grown-ups. I was Jen, circa 1978, when my parents brought home my baby brother from the hospital and all of the attention was shifted from me.
So when he told me he didn’t like the first song, I felt Hurricane Toddler Jen stirring within me, then waking in a cranky fashion. Adult Jen hastened to do damage control, but there was no time. Operation Tantrum was starting. I reminded myself that it was only one song. I took a deep breath.
I fought it more. I played him a second song, and then a third.
He didn’t much care for those, either, and because he was firmly in control of adulthood, he explained why in a calm, mature fashion.
Adult Jen would have absorbed the critique and countered accordingly.
Toddler Jen heard his criticism in words like this: “You have to take a nap, and you can’t have any snacks. And you can’t play with your toys before you fall asleep. And also nobody loves you anymore, because we have your brother now.”
Mistake Two: I kept talking.
While I don’t remember exactly what I said, I do remember that it was very childish. Adult Jen was alarmed that it had escalated to verbal rejoinders so quickly, and tried to remove Toddler Jen from the situation and make her go to bed early.
However, Toddler Jen still had her phone and was in full command of pouty text messages. Like the baby she was.
These moments truly are like the devil-and-angel scenario. The part of me that pretty much always runs my life was the angel (humor me here), calmly telling the devil part to just, for the love of all that is holy, shut up. The devil part countered with: “Oh yeah? Watch this.”
I didn’t throw myself on the floor and beat my fists into it. But I may as well have. The worst part was that I couldn’t really stop it. I just watched myself devolve, in horrified fascination.
Because Josh is patient and generally awesome, he allowed me to throw a fit. He said all the right things. He did not back down from his previous position that the music I had chosen to play wasn’t for him. He reminded me that we didn’t have to like the same music. He reminded me that we had many, many common musical interests, as well as interests in general.
His words were a panacea, acting as an increasingly-soothing balm. My internal tantrum subsided to hiccups, then quieter sobs, then, finally, blessed quiet.
These are not my finest moments. Although I am well aware at this point in my life that sometimes adulting is hard, I’m still mortified every time I regress. The full-blown tantrum is a rarity, but mini-sulks are more common.
“I don’t know what I want to eat. Literally nothing sounds good except pie. But then my pants won’t fit. That’s not fair!”
“I hate every single article of clothing I own. Why is life so hard?”
“But I don’t WANT to pay my bills with this money.”
“My hair is stupid. And so is everything else.”
So yeah, maybe adult tantrums are less limp-rag, red-faced screaming and more pouty, ridiculous reactions to normal life events, but they are real, nonetheless. Embarrassing, certainly. Something we’d rather sweep under the rug, definitely. What I try to remember, what I have to remember, what keeps me sane to remember, is that these low points make me appreciate the days I have my shit together so much more. The days that my to-do list gets done. The days that I’m self-assured and my hair stays in place and I look people in the eye and shake hands confidently.
Sometimes, embracing our inner child backfires. And that’s okay. Because I, for one, am secure in my adulthood.