Rounding the corner of the baked goods aisle was like walking into a very small but powerful wind tunnel.
I had entered the blast zone of a toddler in the grip of a temper-driven fury so severe it measured about 9.5 on the Tantrum Scale.
The 1 to 10 scale, as any mother can attest, ranges from the early stages of grade 1 to about 4, when you are dealing with general child whining. This is sometimes of concern since it can have a genuine physical reason and there can be two outcomes. One, possible child-centred fluid leak in Aisle 3 because they really did need to go to the toilet, or two, projectile vomiting in your friend’s car because they really did eat all of those sweeties.
Around about Tantrum Scale 5 to 7 it’s usually a particularly penetrating whinge, like a very persistent midgie just behind you. The volume has risen and usually the child is old enough, and knowing enough, to slip potentially mortifying bits of information into the mix in an effort to blackmail parents.
In the course of negotiations over a Transformer action figure, my pal Becky once had to contend with her eight-year-old son announcing to the entire Jenners toy department that, if he didn’t get it, he’d tell Daddy that Becky had done a pee pee in his new red bucket. That’s about 7.5 on the scale. Force 8 and above. Well, we’ve all been there. That’s the full-on mode, when you’re faced with the screaming, bellowing, stomping, tear-streaked, scarlet-faced Dancing Goblin child from hell.
Your beautiful child has been swapped by malicious pixies and this fearsome changeling is tearing up the supermarket lino whilst telling the whole world that you’re horrible, you’re just a horrible mother, everyone hates you, you’re horrible (the word horrible tends to crop up a lot) and she wants to go and live with Granny.
No-one looks at you with sympathy then, you can bet. The sound of tutting almost overwhelms the shop muzak.
This is the ultimate child meltdown.
Sickly victim should’ve quilt when she was ahead
My mother’s gimlet gaze was frequently levelled at the telly. One night we decided to watch The Exorcist. We thought we’d see what the fuss was about, whilst she got on with her crochet. We waited to get scared.
We can’t watch horror films, incidentally. When we watched Salem’s Lot, we had to shout on dad to come downstairs to switch off the telly and see us upstairs safely. Boy, did he think that was funny. Not.
The Exorcist did not impress. I nearly fell asleep. Then came the famous moment when she did the roundabout head spin and threw up all over the quilt. Satan’s victim, that is, not my mum. She was still ferociously crocheting away.
Far from being terrified, mum just glared at the vomit soaked bedspread and snapped: “Well, who’s going to clear that up, then, eh?”
In my mind I saw Beelzebub shamefacedly hop from foot to foot whilst mumbling apologies and heading for the mop and bucket.
Demons, dictators and demanding kids. That’s how to deal with ’em.
Mess with mum at your peril
Tantrums were non-negotiable. You kicked off, and you could expect maternal wrath to be visited upon you.
Today, there seems to be a complex ritual of negotiation and soothing appeasement. The child is pacified by kisses and conspiratorial mummy whispers.
It’s parenting as pal. But mummy is not your pal – well, not at least until you’re both older, wiser and you’ve become a parent yourself.
Mummy is the first law enforcer we ever encounter. It’s mum’s job to teach the tedious stuff about being respectful, polite and considerate, otherwise we’d have a nation of tiny dictators like Kim Jong-un.
Tell you what, though, someone should tell that lad to lay off the sweeties. Wherever he is.
Exterminated . . with just a look
There just seems to be a lot more of it about. Yes, I know. I am turning into a soor ploom-sucking oldie rattling on about things not being what they used to be, but there do seem to be more pint-sized screamers about.
You see, when I was that age, the mere notion of embarrassing my mum in public and expecting to live much beyond the doors of the supermarket was enough to keep me schtum.
My mum had three conflict resolution modes. There was The Look. You did not mess with The Look.
She could raise the stakes by getting my dad to do it at the same time. Side by side they’d stand and glare at you. It was like being in an episode of Doctor Who. My dad hadn’t a clue what was going on. That wasn’t his job.
In the highly unlikely event of needing to escalate, well, I remind you that she had red hair.