Kostyn threw three tantrums last Sunday at Wal-Mart. I know, how cliche of him to throw a fit in a Wal-Mart, right? But rest assured, these were no ordinary toddler tantrums.
The frustration was created out of a desire to help. When he doesn’t ride in the grocery cart, Kostyn likes to help Mommy shop by putting things in the cart. This includes “approved” items I’ve specifically given him off the shelf that are on our grocery list. This also includes two or three extra boxes of every “approved” item, as well as random pieces of fruit and any can of green beans, box of brownie mix and jar of pimientos (how did he even reach those??) that he can grab on our way up the aisles. He also finds it disconcerting when he sees Mommy putting extremely heavy and/or breakable items, like milk and eggs, into the cart without his assistance. (Aaaaand, he freaks when he catches me stealthily putting unwanted items back on shelves.)
Anyway, it was pushing 3 p.m. and he hadn’t napped yet. Plus I was grocery shopping at Wal-Mart, which I never do, so I didn’t know where the hell anything was and it was taking me forever to fill my measly little list. So the small freakout near the bin of plums primed the pump for what was to come.
In the cereal aisle, he took umbrage at me putting back the box of Kix he’d heaved into the cart. (Kid tossed, mother did not approve.) For an overtired Kostyn, this was the last straw — the line drawn in the linoleum over sweetened, puffed corn balls. His lip quivered, his eyes became little slits, and he screamed, “Nooooooo!! Mama no! No!”
And then he looked at me in that defiant toddler way and … carefully sat down in the middle of the aisle. And then he gently, slowly laid his head down on the floor, his arms resting at his sides. That was it; he just lay there looking up at me, stone-faced, turning his ankles in and out so that the toes of his sneakers happily tapped together a few times. It resembled a civil rights sit-in more than a toddler tantrum. I swear if the child could write he probably would have scribbled a protest sign on the back of a Rollback Price card or something.
I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t muster much anger at a child who had made himself into a human chess piece, his whole tiny being silently taunting, “Your move.” So I held back a giggle and said, “Kostyn, the floor is dirty. What are you doing down there?”
I don’t think he knew. He didn’t answer; he just kept looking at me. It was like (in typical guy fashion) he’d started reading the directions for How to Pull Off the Perfect Tantrum, but he’d thrown the manual aside after reading “Step 1: Make sure your body is in the prone position in the middle of a high-traffic area.” He hadn’t bothered to read “Step 2: Flail your limbs wildly as if they are on fire” or “Step 3: Scream as though an invisible gremlin is tearing off your fingernails.”
So there we were, having a standoff/sit-in over a box of Kix. For a brief moment I contemplated allowing him to get the Kix. I like Kix, and it’s not like it’s any worse for him than the Rice Krispies he eats. But of course I couldn’t set such a precedent. (Darn this parenting gig, with all its lessons and consistency and whole grains.) So as people started wheeling their carts around him, smiling, I began to move toward the end of the aisle. “Kostyn, get up. Evan and I are going to keep shopping…” I said, watching him over my shoulder. I got about 10 feet away when he sat up, looking concerned. “Are you coming?” I asked. No verbal response, but his eyes said it all. I walked back, scooped him up without a fight and carried him like a baby into the next aisle, where he wriggled down from my arms and wanted to start “helping” again.
We went through this whole bizarre “tantrum” routine in another aisle over some other meaningless item. This time he ran back to the middle of the aisle before carefully positioning himself on the floor, his body straight as an arrow, taut with defiance. Again I stifled a laugh and pretended to be stern about the fact that he wasn’t going to get his way every time he … lay down … so … quietly.
Parenting a 2-year-old comes with plenty of challenges; I gotta say, though, this one felt more like a reward.