How is it that something so small, so seemingly easy, can escalate into a meltdown performance worthy of an Oscar nomination?
Tonight’s Incident could have been avoided. I know it. If I had not insisted, The Tackler would’ve gotten to spend an hour playing at Barnes & Noble, not ten minutes. And there was a part of me that screamed the entire time, “Let it go! Don’t push it.”
But I pushed.
Because The Tackler is 3.5. And he’s smart. He is constantly testing his boundaries. And then retesting. And then retesting again, searching for any loophole, any inconsistency to exploit so that he can file it away for future use.
We have a saying about The Tackler. “There doesn’t need to be pattern for a pattern to exist. He only requires precedent.” Basically, if it has happened before, it will again. The phrase “only once in a lifetime” does not compute in his world.
Which brings us to tonight’s issue.
Or rather, lack of them.
The Tackler will say “please” and “thank you” often. Even without prodding on multiple occasions. He’ll hold the door open. Sometimes. He’ll say “excuse me” after letting loose a belch that would’ve made John Belushi proud. He has a nice arsenal of Good Manners that he can use, should he be in an obliging mood.
As long as it doesn’t involve saying “I’m sorry.”
These simple words are apparently so challenging, so beyond his skill set, that I would have better luck teaching him to ride a bike across a high wire while eating broccoli – when he can’t pedal yet and hates broccoli.
Tonight’s scenario began low on the “Things The Tackler Does that Call for an Apology” list. He “nudged” a much bigger boy out of his way (using his body) so his trains could continue around the track.
Me: “That wasn’t very nice. Tell the boy ‘excuse me’.”
Tackler: Ignored me and played with his trains.
Me: “Please tell the boy ‘excuse me.’ We don’t bump people out of the way like that. It’s very rude.”
Tackler: “No, I don’t want to.”
And the line in the sand was drawn. We stared at each other, sizing up how far the other was willing to go over this fairly minor offense (falling on the list somewhere between chewing with mouth open and knocking his sister over).
I paused. I knew where this was going, but if I backed down, he’d file that away as “Mommy has crappy follow through” and push even harder in the future.
Then he “nudged” the boy away from the turntable roundhouse portion. And gave me A Look.
A Look that said, “This is stupid. I wasn’t mean. I didn’t knock anyone over. I’m going to do what I damn well please.”
And I knew in that moment, this would play out to the bitter end, a Shakespearean tragedy littered with bodies.
Me: “You have to tell the boy excuse me if you’d like him to move. You should tell him you’re sorry for bumping him out of the way.”
Tackler: Continued to play trains with a focus seldom seen outside of a bomb squad.
Me: “If you don’t use good manners and say you’re sorry, we’re going to have to leave.”
Tackler: Glanced up to gauge seriousness. Continued playing with intensity.
Me: (stood up and started walking away) “Ok, time to leave.”
Tackler: He immediately snaps out of his train bubble. “NONONONONO! I want to play with the trains! I don’t want to go!”
Me: I paused. “Then tell the boy you’re sorry and we can stay.”
Tackler: (Pretends he hasn’t heard me.)
Me: (moved toward the door again) “If you don’t tell him you’re sorry, we’re leaving.”
Tackler: (Insert Meltdown HERE).
And repeat the scenario, about three times.
Each time we got as far as leaving the children’s section, and he’d promise to be good and talk to the boy. And each time, he refused and dug in his heels as he returned to the train table.
By now, his nose was runny, his face red and blotchy, and we’d attracted the attention of everyone within hearing distance, who gave me The Look as they wondered what my child could possibly have done so evil, so horrible, I was insisting for an apology to the point of meltdown.
The final time I was nearly halfway to the exit when he caught up, screaming as though I was abandoning and torturing him simultaneously. Then he hit/shoved me with his hands – that still held the Thomas trains.
And with that act, he went from a Manners correction into the Things You Don’t Do if You Ever Want to Come Here Again category. This action equaled immediate eviction. No “I’m sorry” was going to cut it now.
I held his hand as we left: him screaming, crying, and whining all at once. Me glared at for daring to disturb the magic B&N peace.
At least he didn’t require being carried. We’re at that stage in meltdowns, where if you leave and walk away, he will follow. After gaining as much audience as possible.
Another battle of wills awaited in the car, as I did not want to set the precedent of forcing him into his new car seat (which loves).
That battle I won. It took ten minutes, but he willingly sat in it and put his straps over the shoulders.
The manners battle was a draw. Neither of us won. We both lost out on fun time.
I still have that part that wonders if I should have let the whole thing go.
And then I think of precedent.
Hopefully next time, he’ll say “excuse me” instead of nudging someone. Or say “I’m sorry” when needed.
Because I know he can.
It’s just a Battle of Wills.
And he has no clue who he’s dealing with.
Just ask my mother.