Tears at Costco: An American Rite of Passage

Subtitled: “My Reptile Child”


Toddlers, man. Am I right?

I spend a decent amount of time trying to figure out what exactly my child is capable of comprehending at this particular developmental stage, which is to say a developmental stage that basically changes DRASTICALLY about every five minutes.

We have some great training from our agency on various things dealing with parenting in general, parenting trauma kids, parenting new/older kids. One of our things recently was about tantrums. It hit at a fairly pertinent time (last fall aka The Epoch of Endless Tantrums). 

It was kind of talking about you know how when you have babies and stuff, and their brains develop through the various parts of the brain, so you actually kind of go through a phase as a human being where your brain is essentially for all intents & purposes a reptile brain, and the part develops that distinguishes mammals (like how you can train a dog to respond to certain things and expect a certain result, but you can’t do that to a lizard), and then the part comes last that only humans have.

[I’d look up all the names of the parts of the stuff but… I don’t want to. You’re lucky to be getting a post at all today – I started a new job Tuesday and am still working my old one and I just took over Missions Commission chair-ship and also TODDLER.]

Well the article was talking about how essentially in a real, genuine tantrum*, a child’s brain basically goes back to the reptile part. Your child acts like a dinosaur because that is literally the only part of their brain that is functioning at the moment. Call it fight-or-flight. When they are threatened (even if it is by the WRONG FLAVOR OF NUTRI-GRAIN BAR THAT’S NOT WHAT I WANTED(/EXPECTED) GWWAARRRRRR) or things are spiraling out of their control/comprehension, their brain actually starts to function in that part.

So. Its point, the article’s, was that this is not a time for teaching or reasoning, because that is literally never ever going to work during a tantrum. The brain is not remotely in a place where learning or bargaining can even occur. So you are kinda beating your head against a wall.


It then DID have some terrifically useful things about how to keep tantrums from happening, or if you find yourself in the middle of one, how to deal. If you really want to know, let me know and I’ll send it to you.

So anyway today was kind of a Daddy Day, if you know what I mean, of like fort-building and wrestling and flying-on-Daddy’s-feet and walking at Target (Mean Mommy always makes him ride in the cart) which are GREAT days, and I love them. But you know, also… Mom keeps seeing the little hyper meter go up-up-up and the sanity meter go down-down-down and I’m trying to let them have their chest-beating man time and wondering if I keep him on too tight a leash but also wondering who’s going to end up crying first.

Well, long story short, after a rather stimulating and rather less buckled-down day than he typically has with Mama, which I realize is probably good and I’m probably way more neurotic than I need to be normally, there was some tickling and some goofiness at the little picnic table in the Costco cafeteria part thing and someone, out of mirth certainly and not out of rage or spite, got carried away and (intentionally, though) raked his hand across the table knocking off multiple cups and spilling ice and soda all over the ground and the nice friendly well-dressed Asian guy at the next table**. Which is kind of a thing he does, like this automatic reaction to anger or frustration or over-excitedness in general, where he loves to just flail his arms out and DESTROY whatever it is he can reach. Which, you know, is maybe a tendency I’d like to curtail, if possible, before he reaches full tank size, which is going to happen in about two months, by my estimation***.

So after a whole day of having my suggestions and reminders and redirections implicitly ignored, this was kind of the last straw, and even though Grandma and Grandpa were about to show him pictures of stuff on their phones and they were having a grand old time, I said Nope, that’s it, we’re going home. Because I have said ABOUT NINE THOUSAND TIMES that swiping everything off of the table in front of you is NEVER the correct response to ANYTHING, and nothing seems to quite sink in. Normally whether we Time-Out, or take away privileges, or sternly correct, or ignore, or any approach we have thus far taken, he seems to think it’s kind of funny and then when we say “Do you know why we ______? Because you hit your food/drink/toys/etc. all over the floor?” and he goes “I HIT a DINK onna FLOOR!” like it’s super fun, and I’m just trying to find aaaaaannnnyyyyyything that will maybe make him understand that that’s not cool.

So I’m like nope, here we go, say bye-bye, fun time is over. Because for real, you have to learn not to do that, and nothing is working.

And the EYES. The huuuuuuge brown eyes, they FILL with tears, the lip quivers, the people at all the surrounding little tables FROWN at me and look all DISAPPROVING, like Oh but he’s so CUUUUUTE, and it was an ACCIDENT (which it wasn’t), and his dad was PLAYING with him and he just got carried AWAY… and I felt like the Meanest Mom in History Ever of the Universe.

These things happen all the time and I wonder if I expect him to understand things that he’s just too young to understand? But I know he’s capable of understanding rules like that, he does it all the time. I mean I know he’s young, but he still can get things like that. But yet he seemed like genuinely hurt and surprised and couldn’t figure out why we went so fast from Super Fun Time to Super Angry Time. And I’m like omg, you know this rule, what on EARTH is your deal.

Well so it wasn’t until we got home and I was feeling guilty and he was asleep in his nap that I kinda put together the reptile thing. I realized that all day long on normal days, when I want to have fun and let him blow off steam and have some freedom, but I still kinda pull it in all the time and re-focus and kind of bring it back down to “Hey, little man, we can have fun, but you still have to listen to Mommy.” Like even after one infraction. It’s because the more the whole thing starts spiraling and spinning into toddler frenzy, the more he’s turning into a little dinosaur, and our words are going to mean less and less to him.

Which, you know, is because he’s two. Not his fault. I would still consider it (for the most part) my responsibility (not his) to try and keep him in a state of mind where he can approach things rationally. (Which all you hyuk hyuk-ers about toddlers are going to laugh at, but he is totally capable of it most of the time, with a little help.)

But at the same time, I need to realize that when it IS crazy time, which we DO need occasionally, and something goes awry, it’s time for redirection and kind of like a pace/scenery change or whatever, but maybe not time for super angry words and insta-major punishments. 

I mean that’s kind of the point of this part of his life, right? To train that human part of the brain to stay in control when stuff is unpredictable, whether the scary kind or the not-what-I-wanted kind or even the fun kind. I will keep teaching him to keep a clear head and use words and manners when he needs/wants something, no matter the situation. But at two, when some circumstance has been winding him up for the past however long, and something goes wrong, maybe I’ll try to be nicer. Maybe we can be consistent in consequences with actions, but still take into account external things that have set his little brain on a different level than a different, calmer day.

So basically all this to say: Sorry, future kiddo who is reading this on your hologram, for that time I yelled at you at Costco. It was basically kind of Daddy’s fault, but he meant well. 😀


*A “real, genuine” tantrum is to be distinguished from a “kid who has learned that shrieking and/or kicking and/or crying gets them what they want so they are doing it sort of manipulatively because it has worked in the past and is likely to work this time.” I’m talking about an actual loss of control.

**Like of course it would fly onto the one dude in the entire store that’s not, you know, in like stained sweatpants. 

***Literally had a play date yesterday where he was 150% his (same height) playmate’s weight. And where it used to be chub, now it’s pretty much linebacker muscle.

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