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Blog Post: Meltdown

When my daughter, Liv, was around five, my niece and I took her to a “meet the princess” event at a local Chick-fil-A. We dressed her in her favorite powder-blue Cinderella dress, her sparkly tiara, and her clear-plastic, glass slippers, and I think we were more excited than her. After all, when I was her age, I would have been over the moon to see real-live princesses, have a butterfly painted on my cheek, and take home an 8 x 10 photo to commemorate the epic day, but alas, I forgot this was MY fairytale, not hers.

The July sunshine beat down on a parking lot transformed into a princess paradise! Colorful tented areas and brightly clothed little girls all looking like mini Belles, Cinderellas, and Ariels created a picturesque scene where pink glitter was only overshadowed by the brilliant smiles on those faces. Despite the face-of-the-sun heat, we got out of the car and started toward the crafts, face-painting, hair-doing, and nail-painting area. My daughter’s death grip on my hand should have been my first indication of a problem bubbling like a wicked witch’s curse, but my mind was too enamored by the pleasant possibilities ahead and the photo ops that I could savor for years to come.

Now, Liv has always been a contemplative little thing. From her earliest days in diapers, my strange bird has been thoughtful, not the “are you okay” thoughtful but more like the true definition as in “full of thoughts,” so I’d become accustomed to drawn brows above her big gray eyes, but I  should’ve been more thoughtful (in the former sense) that Saturday. If I had been, I might’ve predicted the explosion that was about to demolish my picture-perfect day.

My niece, Katie, is one of the kindest people I know, and she’s fantastic with kids. In fact, she’s a better mom to my kids than I am. She immediately took Liv’s other hand and squatted down to eye level with her to ask what she wanted to do first. Did she want to make a cute craft? Did she want her cheek painted? Did she want flowers braided into her hair? And while all of these other girls ran laughingly around us, Liv stood stock still, shaking her head at each suggestion and moving so close to me that she became another appendage. After exchanging a glance with Katie, I suggested we go inside to eat, thinking she might just be peckish or that she would get excited once she saw the princesses set up inside. Clue number two of approaching danger should’ve been when my child with her normally healthy appetite refused to eat her nuggets and stared, wide-eyed the whole time at the princesses. After begging and promising, we finally convinced her to pose with a princess. Not even the photographer with his endless bag of “happy” props could coax a smile, but with the picture snapped, we went back outside to wait our hour until it was ready. We made it as far as the first curb before Liv’s class five meltdown.

When I was a kid, I’d watched some cheesy movie about a nuclear power plant disaster, no doubt created in the wake of the Chernobyl. I remember clearly the female robotic voice warning of the impending doom and how the characters had raced to escape the red-lit plant as the countdown commenced. And when my pretty princess sat down on that curb in the Chick-fil-A parking lot, that scene flashed into my head, red lights, sirens blasting, and all! My calm, little miss had a full-on, meltdown in her Cinderella dress and plastic shoes. All I could do was stand, mouth open, and listen to her scream. Her eyes were wild as her cheeks turned a neon pink that would’ve given that flashing red light a run for its money, and her sweaty hair curled crazily around her lopsided tiara. It was my first experience with a true tantrum, but child had had enough. She wasn’t about to enjoy herself, and she was tired of me trying to make her.

Liv taught me an important lesson that day. What we want isn’t always what our kids want. I SO wanted her to have a day she’d love, but I’d given her a day I would love, not her. I’d tried to force my aspirations on her instead of asking what she would like. We all want our kids to be something. No mom sees her child for the first time and thinks, “Gee, I hope my kid grows up to be a loser.” We all want–more, more than we did, more acclaim, more joy, more success. But our idea of acclaim, joy, and success may not be the same our child’s. I’d tried to force her into my mold, and it had resulted in an embarrassing, ugly tantrum where she made it clear this wasn’t her thing, and I hadn’t bothered to ask her.

Did she get in trouble for her little explosion? Yes, because she can’t go through life thinking screaming on the curb is appropriate. Did I get my perfect princess photo to love forever and ever? Nope, we left immediately.  But the lesson of that day has stayed with me. I’ve seen a few more meltdowns in both my kids since then, but none as memorable and beneficial as that day. Teach your kids to respect you, but remember to respect them sometimes, too, and remember, your little princess may be a screaming banshee inside. 😉

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