I'd like to offer an open apology to countless people I have unknowingly wronged over the years. They are a group that suffers in silence, but it's high time they had a voice. I'm sure you know them, you've seen them, you may even be them. They are the parents of toddlers in the throes of a tantrum.
For years, I have seen them at the grocery store, on the sidewalk, at the mall, and God forbid, on airplanes. I have watched and listened as their little ones reach ear-piercing decibels, turn increasingly darker shades of red, jump up and down and twist their bodies into Cirque de Soleil worthy contortions. And I have judged them.
"Why can't they control their kids?" I would wonder, sometimes not so wordlessly. "I will never allow MY children to act like that in public." Of course, this is easy to say when you don't actually have any children. Now I find myself eating those words and they taste like... ketchup.
It all began at some point over the summer, a season which is somewhat of a blur of sleepless nights and very, very messy diapers. We brought home our baby girl at the end of June, swaddled in receiving blankets and cautionary tales from everyone around us. Beware, they said. Your sweet, angelic toddler is about to explode in jealous fits. But nothing happened. A few weeks later he turned 2, a birthday that comes with a warning label: life is about to get Terrible. But it didn't. He was the same energetic, loving little boy he had always been.
And then one day the dictator showed up, staging a coup de tantrum in the middle of the kitchen. "I WANT KETCHUP!!!!" this unfamiliar creature screamed. "KETCHUP!!!!!!" This "request" came complete with flailing arms, stomping legs, and a very red face. So I did what any good parent would: I burst out laughing.
This, as it turns out, was not the right response. My giggles were met with tears, screams, and eventually a wriggling mess of a child on the floor. And counterintuitive as it might seem, ketchup was not the right answer, either. In a panic I ran to grab the so desired bottle from the fridge, which he promptly threw at the wall. "I DON'T WANT KETCHUP!!!!!" my towheaded dictator screamed. Really? What kind of alternate condiment universe had we entered?
Time to pull out those handy parenting books. Let's see, 3 Easy Steps to Taming a Tantrum.
1) "Ignore the tantrum." Great. I'm not exactly the tantrum's biggest fan, but unfortunately, the tantrum will not be ignored, and I am now covered in ketchup. Moving on.
2) "Try reasoning with your child." Sounds good. "Noah, you and I both know that ketchup is for eating, not throwing." Now I just need to reason with the folks at Heinz, who designed and manufactured a highly aerodynamic ketchup bottle.
3) "Empathize with your child." All right. "Noah, I realize it is very frustrating for you to not be able to throw the ketchup. I understand, and I am here for you." And by "here" I mean right next to a pile of Legos, which I now know will stick to ketchup.
4) Hold your child tightly until the tantrum passes. Fabulous, now we're both covered in ketchup, I'm on the verge of a tantrum of my own, and the baby is screaming in her bouncy seat. Turns out tantrums are highly contagious.
Over the past few months I've tried different approaches, experimented with different techniques, and what I've found is that the storm will pass when it's good and ready, usually as quickly as it arrived. Still, I've put together my own list for dealing with the inevitable.
1) Try not to laugh, no matter how funny your child looks.
2) Remember how much you love your child, despite how much you may not actually like him/her in the moment.
3) Hold the ketchup.
Mona Shand is a TV and radio news reporter who no longer enjoys ketchup. You can read more on her blog.