By: Wendy Wisner
Everyone says you’re too big to throw tantrums.
But sometimes it’s a Thursday afternoon, your whole long week of school bubbling up inside you.
You asked your dad to help you get to the next level of Super Mario, but he was too busy feeding your little brother yogurt.
You asked your mom to watch you rehearse your song for the concert, and she was too busy putting away the groceries.
So you pushed up against her, pretending to smack her with your pillow.
But that didn’t get her attention either, so you threw your tired, hungry body onto the floor, and you broke out in the biggest wails you could muster.
And then, instead of finally listening, your dad came over to you and told you to keep it together, to lower the volume, and can’t you see we’re busy?
So you cried harder, pushing him away the same way he was pushing you away.
And now everything was churning inside you, about to boil.
Then, of course: tears, hot rivers of them.
Your parents were careful not to chide you for crying, but you heard their thoughts anyway (Isn’t he too old for this stuff? What are we doing wrong here? Will the neighbors hear?).
So your dad carried you to your room, and lay you on the floor, trying to reason with you.
Hey, your mom was trying to put away the groceries.
Hey, just tell us what’s wrong.
Hey, keep down the volume.
And after each word he said, you cried harder, searching deeper inside yourself for more tears, more screams, more rage.
There were no words in your head then. But it was like buttons were being pushed—each word he said turning up the volume.
Your mom walked in then. You were still angry at her. You wanted her to leave.
She wanted to leave.
She stood there above you, looking down. You could feel the tension in her body, all of her muscles pulling her away, out of your room, out of your tantrum.
So you pulled at the bottom of her pant leg, squeezed it into a tiny ball, pulled her down.
Somehow you managed—with her assistance?—to rest your head in her lap.
And then the switch, in both of you.
It happened suddenly, the way things happen sometimes, in childhood.
When she sat there, with your head resting on her legs, she let out a big mommy-sigh.
And her muscles relaxed a little; she melted there, on the gray carpet.
You, too, took it down a notch, a few decibels.
Sometimes I want to lie on the floor crying, too, she said.
Inside your head, you were nodding in agreement, but your body couldn’t do it. The tears were still coming, automatically.
She could feel your “inside-the-head-nod” though.
I’ll make a deal with you, a new rule. You can cry all you want, just do it in your room, and try to be just a little quieter. Just a bit.
You liked that. You didn’t know exactly how to do that, but you felt like you had been given something. Permission. A gift.
Where did the tears go? You didn’t know, but they were gone, replaced by words.
You told her about the boys at recess, how you were switched off the good team, and how you spent recess on the bench because you were angry, and no one seemed to notice except the recess monitors, who told you to get off the bench and just do something and then recess was over and you held it inside all day and all afternoon, and and and…
When you were done, you noticed that your mom was stroking your head.
And you noticed that you were hungry, because you hadn’t eaten that much at lunch, when your stomach was in knots from recess.
Sometimes you need just to lie on the floor screaming, to let it out, right? your mom asked.
Right, you said, got up, and walked into the kitchen for dinner.