You’re walking down the road, or browsing the supermarket aisles when BOOM – it starts. A piercing, wailing scream, a bit like a police siren. It gets louder until you can’t ignore it. The noise bores into your head, raising your blood pressure and leaving a dull ache in your temples.
You look up and see a child in full meltdown mode. The mother is on the edge of your vision and you can’t understand why she won’t shut her banshee child up – or at least take him out of your line of hearing. What is wrong with some people? Why do they even have kids if they can’t control them?
I have been that mother of that screaming child. And, as I look at you wincing with every piercing scream, I know the thoughts going through your head. Trust me, before I was a mum, they went through my head too.
But now, with one child and another on the way, I understand no amount of Super Nanny episodes pre-kids can prepare you for the Public Tantrum. Here’s what I’m thinking when my child has a public meltdown…
Please don’t have a tantrum right now. Just wait until we’re in the car and no one is around – just ten more minutes!
Why the hell did I even consider coming to the supermarket when my child is tired and fretful? What was I thinking? Of course it won’t be a five minute job – nothing is a five minute job when you have a young child in tow.
I need to stay calm. Don’t panic. Breathe.
Why do these always happen when I’m on my own and have no one to help me deal with it? THIS IS AWFUL!
Everyone’s looking now. They probably think I’m a rubbish mother and my child is wild and out of control. Don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry. Hold it together.
I am a rubbish mother! It doesn’t matter that there’s nothing for tea – better to eat sawdust than drag my child to the supermarket when she’s tired. That man looking at me is right. What was I thinking? Super Nanny wouldn’t have made such a rookie error.
She’s a lovely child thank you old lady. You don’t need to tut so loudly. I know she’s screaming and you think she needs a “firm hand” but you don’t know her when she’s happy!
That’s it. I need to get out. Pick her up, ignore the kicks. Head down. Get in the zone. Block it out. Stay calm. Get to the car.
This has happened to me on more than one occasion. There was one particularly bad tantrum about eight months ago, when my exhausted three year old lay down on the pavement in the middle of a huge downpour and refused to budge. I had to lift her, kicking and screaming in the rain and carry her up the road, before wrestling her into the car seat. I cried silent tears all the way home. The street was packed. People were looking. My face was hot with humiliation.
There was another time, when my daughter was about two months old and started crying just as I was finishing the shopping. By the time I got to the supermarket till she was screaming with that incessantly long cry that only hungry babies can make. My breasts leaked milk as I rushed to pay. As I handed over my money the woman behind the till said, “That baby needs feeding. Anyone can see that.” I never went back to that supermarket ever again.
And there was the Train Tantrum, coming out of London. It was 8.30pm and we’d been to the Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park. My (then) two and a half year old had fallen asleep but woke up as the train stopped. For some reason the train was held at a stand-still outside the station for twenty minutes. My tired daughter let the whole train know she wasn’t happy about this. In the end I had to let her scream it out on the floor, as my attempts to soothe her didn’t work. I was crying by that point. One of the kindest things a stranger has ever done for me happened that evening. A bloke in a suit put down his briefcase and patted me on the shoulder, telling me not to worry - that we’d be able to get off the train soon. Everyone else looked away.
Now, whenever I’m out in public and another child is crying loudly, I firstly breathe a sigh of relief that it’s not me who has to deal with it. Then I smile to myself that it’s not just my child who’s had public meltdowns. And, finally, I smile at the mum or dad and make some kind of remark to show them they’re not alone.
Next time you’re in a public place and a kid starts screaming, resist the urge to tweet about it or share your woes on Facebook about “some screaming child boring a hole into my skull”. Instead, remember it’s probably something you put your own parents through when you were little. Also – it doesn’t matter how many episodes of Super Nanny you watch, if you have kids at some point there’s likely to be a time you’ll have to face the Public Tantrum yourself one day.
And, you know what? Chances are “that awful noise” is even harder for the parent to bear than you. So give them a break and offer them a reassuring smile instead. It could mean more than you think.