Alexsondra: Tantrums, Treasures, and Family Stuff
Apparently, I threw many a temper tantrum as a child. I was the “spirited” child. The obstinate child. The strong-willed child. Suffice it to say, I tested the very core of parenting skills. Those were the days that pediatricians would answer all kinds of questions, with such authority that mothers would accept the answers automatically. Yes, I know those pediatricians still exist today. I do hope that every mother has learned to trust her instincts and raise her voice.
My mother loved to tell the story of my tantrums, and how she was “beside herself” with not knowing what to do. She explained how our very thoughtful and insightful doctor suggested she give me one warning, and then throw a small amount of cold water in my face. She was tickled pink at how quickly it worked. But did it? (This is not a mommy bashing post, of course she did the best she knew how — anyway, I’m a mommy and my mommy bashing days are in the “tempered tantrums” file, under forgiven.)
Back to Did it Work: I don’t think so. It did shut me up, but it didn’t change my mind. That strong-willed kid grew. And kept having tantrums. And kept putting her foot in her mouth. Yes, it took me a long time, a very long time to learn how to pick my battles. To decide whether I wanted to pay the price for speaking my mind. But in my day I was boldly willing to accept whatever the cost. And believe me, the costs were staggering sometimes, but that’s another post. It was a matter of survival and justice. I took it seriously. Because, as every kid knows, there are two sides to a temper tantrum.
My mother is now deceased. I cared for her in her final months. We had plenty to share, and one of those treasured minutes was this. When I told her that her son was coming from California to visit, she beamed in anticipation, ”Oh! The apple of my eye.” These words were not new to my ears.
I began teasing her as I usually did, about her sugary love for her boys. She went on in a dreamy voice of remembering the past, ”Yes,” she said, savoring her thoughts, ”Tommy was always the apple of my eye, and Victor was my golden child.” She sighed gently and had nothing left to say. That was it. She had summed it up. Now, I could have let things be, but that’s not my style. No, I decided we’d have it out, right there. I didn’t care if she was dying, and I had heard those titles given to my brothers many times during my life. This was no deathbed discovery on her part. I never had a title, and now, I was going to demand one, if necessary. ”What about me? What was I?” ”YOU,” she said, “Hmmm…you, you were…” and she hesitated a few seconds, ”you were my tantrum child.” There you have it. In fairness to her, as well as accuracy to the tale, she said it gently and lovingly. Kind of queer don’t you think, remembering a tantrum kid lovingly. But she did.
Now, I’m obliged to tell you that days later, she called me over to her bed and said, ”Darling, you were really my precious one.” Adding, though, “If you tell anyone, I’ll deny it.” Always humor. The memory still brings tears to my eyes.
One year later, Christmastime, I would have to make her delicious cookies myself. I had never baked them before. And right there in my kitchen, as I braced myself for this overwhelming task, I threw a huge tantrum, complete with stomping my feet, tears streaming, tight-fisted, and all. I knew that feeling well. I was intimidated by the unknown (baking Mother’s cookies), and mad as hell that I even had to do it.
The tantrum lasted maybe a minute before I heard her words: ”You were my tantrum child.” I had to laugh. How well our mothers know us. Tears wiped, laughter over, I opened a favorite cookbook only to find a handwritten note from her. ”Dear Lulu (nickname), try these recipes (marked), I know you can do this, just follow the directions.”
I think I still throw tantrums from time to time. Only now I’ve learned to couch my words in “acceptable tones” as to be heard. But not always.
A gentle word of advice. Listen to those tantrums, they may not sound pretty, but there’s usually a gem of truth inside.
Oh, and please write little notes to people you love. They are little treasures carrying an abundance of love.