I want pizza: Losing ourselves in the Atlanta airport

The mother of all tantrums. You know, the one when you and your kid totally lose it? The one that you fear as a parent?

THE GIANT LENGTHY EXTENDED RE-MIX OF ALL THE PREVIOUS TANTRUMS TURNED UP TO ELEVEN ON THE VOLUME KNOB — THE MOST PUBLICLY HUMILIATING SCREAMFEST COMPLETE WITH VIOLENT FLAILING TO HIGHLIGHT AND UNDERLINE YOUR INEPT PARENTING – IN THE AIRPORT AND THEN ON THE AIRPLANE WHERE YOU CANNOT ESCAPE – DURING WHICH YOUR USUALLY LOVELY CHILD GIVES HER BEST IMPRESSION OF THAT KID FROM THE EXORCIST WHILE SCREAMING “GET YOUR HANDS OFF ME. DON’T TOUCH ME. I WANT TO GET AWAY FROM YOU. I DON’T WANT AIRPLANE. NO NO NOOOOOO AIRPLANE” – AND YOU TRY ALL SORTS OF CALM AND LOVING SOOTHING MOM-TRICKS BUT NOTHING THAT YOU TRY WORKS TO CALM YOUR CHILD AND STOP HER SCREAMING —  PEOPLE STOP AND STARE AND WONDER IF YOU ARE KIDNAPPING OR HURTING THE KID AND THEN THEY WONDER WHY YOUR FOUR-YEAR OLD CHILD WHO IS NOT A BABY ANYMORE IS COMPLETELY LOSING IT AND THEN PEOPLE GET OUT OF YOUR WAY AND LET YOU CUT IN LINE SO YOU CAN HAUL YOUR CHILD (WHO IS KICKING AND HITTING YOU) INTO HER SEAT AND YOU HOLD HER DOWN AND BUCKLE HER IN. AND SHE KEEPS KICKING YOU AND SCREAMING UNTIL YOU GRAB HER LEGS AND ARMS AND SAY IN YOUR SCARIEST MEANEST TEETH-BARED SQUINTY-EYED MOM WHISPER, “STOP THAT RIGHT NOW. STOP IT.” And then your kid stops screaming because you scared her speechless with your violent-sounding whisper. Then she starts quietly crying with very sad eyes. She says, “Mom, you scared me. I didn’t like it when you said bad words to me. You hurt my feelings, Mom. You broke my heart, Mom.” You unbuckle her seatbelt and she climbs into your lap for a hug. And everyone feels like crap.

You know that tantrum? Yeah, that was last Saturday. Apologies to the people in Terminal A of the Atlanta airport and to my fellow passengers on the flight from Atlanta to Raleigh-Durham. I would have beamed us the hell out of there if I could have. And I tried everything I could think of to stem, re-direct, or wrap up our mutual misery, but this tantrum was a boulder rolling down hill — it kept picking up speed until it hit the bottom.

Upon reflection, on the scale of No-Big-Deal to Completely-Awful, I’d say that experience was 100% Completely Awful. Yes, she’s had tantrums before. God knows, ‘the year of living with a two-year old’ was full of fits, but this was definitely the biggest. And it was the second part of a horrible tantrum double-feature because the night before she had a massive meltdown during bath time. So, on airport-day we were starting with a rather depleted emotional reserve.

Next time we are in the airport, I will miss our connecting flight so that we can buy pizza for lunch instead of opting for the snacks in my back-pack. The decision to get out of the Pizza Hut line (which wasn’t moving at all and they didn’t even have the pizza that we wanted in the express area so they were going to have to cook a fresh pizza just for us and our flight was boarding!)…um, the decision to leave the Pizza Hut line was the precipitating and unacceptable incident that set us on the wild ride to Crazy Tantrum Town. Thanks for nothing and screw you, Pizza Hut.

Right, it wasn’t Pizza Hut’s fault. We’d just had a wonderful and exciting trip out West to see cousins with lots of fun activities and little sleep. We were both off our routine, tired and sad to leave family. We’re both introverts who’d engaged in a lot of extroverted behavior, and we both have some challenges transitioning from one thing to the next. Can you see what this adds up to in the Atlanta airport when we were starving for pizza but we didn’t have time for pizza because our flight was boarding and one of us is a four-year old who doesn’t understand the concept of time but does understand the concept of not having food? Yeah. I totally botched the transition from pizza line to airplane and then botched trying to explain it in a way she could understand and then it was too late so I had to drag her onto the airplane and scare her into silence. Bad bad Mommy.

My experience of parenting = one humbling experience after another.

On the airplane, in a calmer state of mind and firmly buckled in once more, my daughter began to repeat, “But if I got lost, then I’d miss my mommy,” and she’d cry a little. I couldn’t figure out what getting lost in the airport had to do with the hell we’d just gone through, so I asked her about it, and she’d cry and repeat again, “But if I got lost, then I’d miss my mommy.” [One handy thing about my kid is that she just keeps repeating herself until I figure out what’s going on. She gives me lots of chances.] Finally, I got it. “Oh, you were so mad at me in the airport that you wanted to run away, but you didn’t because you were afraid that you’d get lost.” She nodded.

Oh wow, even four-year olds want to run away and get lost…and are afraid that getting lost means they will not be found.

“Honey,” I said, “if you get lost, I will miss you right away and then I will find you. Don’t worry about that. It’s ok to be angry at me sometimes. And if you get mad or if you get lost, I will find you.” The the airplane took off, and we were on our way home.

Sigh. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.

I get lost a lot and it’s scary. I don’t know if I find myself or she finds me or if I just wander around until things start looking familiar again.

My experience of parenting = losing and finding myself, my kid, my mind….over and over and over again.

14 thoughts on “I want pizza: Losing ourselves in the Atlanta airport

  1. You are not a bad mommy. You are a great mommy. Bad mommies are the ones who never self reflect and think it is okay to tear down the fragile self esteem of their children. Seems to me you are trying very hard and you meet your four year old half way, which is nigh impossible sometimes. You are a great mommy!

  2. OMG. I feel your pain, Tamara. I hate to admit that I sometimes become the irrational person when my daughter has a tantrum like that. They do forgive and forget much faster than we do. Wish I were better at that.

    • Amie, thanks for your comment. I’m actually surprised by how many moms reached out to me about this. Seems we all are wrestling that irrationality that flares up after getting our buttons pushed and pushed and pushed. I guess there’s comfort in not being alone with that. :) Happily, she seems to have forgotten (or at least forgiven) the airport incident — you are right about that — while I’m still trying to sort it out. This is hard work…but good work. Appreciate you!

  3. I love four-year-old logic, although I’m not sure it’s four-year-old logic. When I find out what Khalil is actually upset about, I sometimes feel irritated at him for not just telling me that he was afraid of a spider or something like that. However, it’s hard for me to remember that everybody has those same networks of fear: for whatever reason we don’t say what we’re actually upset about and we all wander around confused as hell about what makes everyone so jumpy. I think dealing with a four-year-old is great practice for dealing with everybody, including myself.

    • I think you are totally right, Joel. Dealing with a four-year old is such great practice because I have to deal with her — she’s right in front of my face demanding something — so I can’t just ignore her like I ignore my own stuff or other adults. Slogging thru the seemingly convoluted logic of a four-year is hard and frustrating and really enlightening when I take the time to think it thru. And, as you mentioned, there’s the comforting and unsettling realization that we are all wandering around confused and tangled up. (Also, I love your phrase “networks of fear” — I’m going to mull on that.) I appreciate your comments very much.

      • There’s also kindness to ourselves and dealing with our own self-hatred. My four-year-old (you know who!) punched me in the neck again last night. I was there thinking “I’m not mad, but if I let him get away with this…” After I put him to bed I decided that I could let it go. I was thankful for the peace of knowing that I could let it go. I told him in the moment that I didn’t feel safe when he did that, and he’ll deal with that on his own. From then on it’s not my responsibility. When we worry about ruining our kids we are worried about a future that doesn’t exist yet: concentrating on the right now gives us that room for kindness, which is far more important than that hypothetical future.

  4. Tamara you write the best blog posts, so thoughtful and honest. I have to respond to this one though because I can really feel your pain. Firstly, The Atlanta airport is one of the circles of hell. Secondly, you’re a great mom. I don’t know anyone that could possibly stand in the hopeless Pizza Hut line whilst their plane was boarding, that is Dali Lama type behavior. 

    I know that we have discussed tantrums before, they are such traumatic life events. Vivi’s worst tantrums happened while on vacation too. One at the SC Aquarium and one at a Greek themed restaurant in Downtown Disney. Both times Vivi tried to fling herself off of high places. I had to sit on my child in public to prevent her from jumping to her doom. 

    Now, at the age of five and a half years old tantrums have stopped but we still have intense disagreements and I finally have had a parental epiphany. Just a few weeks ago we were staying in hotel hell in Orlando and we had a moment like you described where I grabbed her firmly by the shoulders and bared my teeth and in my scariest voice told her that I was her mother and that she must stop defying me.  I could visibly see her harden up and she gave me her worst f- you face and said, “YOU DON’T SCARE ME!” I walked away and took a few deep breaths and thought about what I was trying to achieve and that is when it hit me, I cannot control my child with fear and anger because she will win. I waited a bit and then I called her over to me had her lay on the bed and I stroked her head until we had both calmed down.  That was my epiphany, Vivi doesn’t respond to anger. All kids are different;  my son was so easy and he never wanted to upset me, Vivi doesn’t care how pissed off I get. That was my life changing moment and I am glad that I learned when she’s five because I think our future will be much brighter now. 

    Thanks for the wonderful blog. I miss you but feel like we get to have our occassional chats by reading on Mondays.

    • Gara, thank you so much for this comment. It actually brought tears to me eyes — what a powerful story — thanks so much for sharing. Sometimes it feels like wandering thru the wilderness, especially because, as you mentioned, all kids are different — so what works for one will not work for another and that is really confusing to a person like me who likes straightforward solutions. I love your “parental epiphany” — I’ve been thinking about that since I read your comment on Monday and will continue to be inspired by it. Seriously, you are an inspiration to me. Wishing you all the best.

  5. I think much of life is about losing and finding, losing and finding, losing and finding… and shouldn’t we all be so lucky as to have someone who will always come and find us, like Norah has you.

    • Melissa, thanks for the comment. You are very kind. Yes, I guess I’m just discovering that! It makes me laugh and feel really comforted to know that I’m not alone in the process of losing and finding and losing and finding. This idea of having someone come and find us is a really powerful one and I’m still sorting it out. It’s not like ‘saving’ — you know, the prince who comes and saves the princess — but it’s something deeper, maybe? Like centering or locating or reminding or…I don’t know. Let me know if you have thoughts about it — I’d welcome the conversation.

  6. What a wonderful post Tamara! The combination of (finally) reading this after hearing Obama speak at the convention, its a weepfest over here :) It’s often after the fact that I remember… I do not need to fix this. Sometimes kids (well, all of us, right?) need to be so SEEN, so completely accepted in their rage, sadness, etc (even though its-good-God-only-toothpaste-pizza-or some such thing-please-don’t lose-your-ever-lovin-mind-over-it-child! sort of stuff). It’s SO MUCH harder for me when I have to process this/help my kids navigate these emotions/this behavior in public. So so hard with that extra layer of the people around you witnessing, judging, (or thinking they are judging). Anyways, I know you are a great mom. We’re all doing the best we can, showing up and loving our kids. And our kids know this!!

    • Andrea, sorry that I’ve taken so long to respond to your comment. I appreciate your words so much and have been mulling about what you wrote over this last week. Yes! Yes! Yes! The public aspect makes things so much harder because of all the stories that I tell myself about what other people are thinking or what they would do, etc. It’s so silly and counter-productive — especially when, as you say, the kids just need to be seen or witnessed as they are in that moment. When I make the situation about other people, then things just get nuts. It’s complicated. It’s an education for me. Thanks for your kind words and for you as an example of a fabulous mom. Here’s to showing up and loving!

  7. Just found this while reading your Sarah post, and it really resonated with me. Sometimes Lu and I are headed towards a major meltdown/showdown/powerfest debacle, and I try and try all my tricks for calming her and curtailing my own rising anger, only to have it all blow up in my face. I’ve been consoling myself with the knowledge that, at the very least, when the shit hits the fan, we will come back for the emotional unpacking conversation that you had with Norah on the plane. Reading what you wrote about being lost and her fear really comforts me. It’s not “at the very least” at all. It’s enough, that talking to them, that discussion about how we all lose our tempers and we’re all afraid and we all make mistakes. Sometimes I am so focused on the guilt-train ride of “if only I’d foreseen this, or responded in such and such a way, or not had her out too late, or or or” because I am scared of the tornado to the exclusion of all else. But perhaps there will always be storms, and what you do afterwards, in the assessing and rebuilding phase, is every bit as important. You are teaching her emotional resiliency. Thanks for writing these stories so beautifully; they are very illuminating and make me happy to read. Hope to see you soon!

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