Yesterday Rosie threw herself on the floor, kicking her tiny feet against the carpet until one Velcro-fastened shoe flew off, bucking her short torso in waves and circles, moves that a break dancer works months to master. The biggest, loudest meltdown of her fifteen months seemed to pull the plug on her mother’s energy – and before breakfast.
If you’ve had a child, or been around one on a daily basis, and that child has been powerfully, absolutely loved, adored and wanted you might have seen such a tantrum. If that child has been in your care you might well have stood there – watching, thinking you ought to stop it. You may even have wondered if there’s something wrong with this kid – or wrong with yourself as a parent. Toddler tantrums are scary. Guilt is a mother’s constant companion – whether the child is easy or challenging.
The reality is that all children are challenging. Especially when they’re as young as Rosie, the life force manifests powerfully and primitively, taking over their tiny body that wants, wants wants – whether it is attention, control, or breakfast. I don’t know about Rosie, but for most of us, I think, the sudden explosion of anger is a way to lay down the gauntlet, a challenge. A tantrum is an overwhelming force against what we perceive as an immovable object in our path. The object can be outside of us – in the form of a parent who is saying “wait.” Or it can be inside – a need to find out what will happen if I scream and hold my breath.
The reality is that we’re all this challenging. The child, the keeper of the powerful and primitive life force , lives in us no matter what our age. We find this out at times when we receive one of “God’s kisses” – when we are cut off suddenly in traffic, when the stress and responsibility piles up at work, when we’re standing helpless watching our child have a tantrum.
As adults we have, hopefully, learned not to throw ourselves to the floor and kick and scream. But sometimes – tell the truth now – don’t you want to? I do. Sometimes I’ll settle for muttering “asshole” or flipping off the driver who cut me off. But equally will I fantasize, or dream, about laying waste to the landscape or the person. Even more – I’ll feel this need to just lie down on the floor and howl when it all piles up around me and I get tired of trying. I imagine just lying there, having my nervous breakdown until someone comes and rescues me.
Of course I don’t. Even when I permit myself to cry in frustration, when the stresses of life pile up, I do it in private, or in therapy, with a trusted other.
But I can imagine the relief, the pure visceral experience of letting loose - allowing my libido, my life force to erupt, getting back to the basics of human experience, testing the waters of life, to see if they will hold me.