Friends, it’s been a minute since I had a child of the “full-on breakdown in the middle of a store” age. He’s ten and while he will absolutely do his best “You’re ruining my life” teenager impression in Target, it’s not the spectacular toddler breakdown. The breakdown that everyone turns to see. The breakdown that sends you back in time to that exact moment you decided to have children and think “Nope.” The breakdown that makes judgy people clutch their carts in disbelief, saying “Surely, someone has called Social Services by now.”
You know the breakdown I mean.
My son’s dad and I used to call these Chili’s Breakdowns. We lived overseas and the one, American chain restaurant we had near our home was Chili’s. Maybe it was the loud American-ness of it. Maybe it was the Disney World-sized red pepper hanging over the doors. I don’t know. But, for whatever reason, this place inspired the most epic, ear-shattering, emotional meltdowns that told others “These people have kidnapped me and brought me to a foreign land and my life is awful and why won’t someone save me and return me to my real parents who would never bring me to a Chili’s?” It was bad.
To this day, I can’t even ride past a Chili’s without feeling some small shred of PTSD.
The other day, while running a quick errand at the grocery store, I saw this whole trauma unfold for another mama and another child. This mom, with her cart full of toddler food and wine, was at the end of her rope. Her little one was done. She was on the floor, ruffly skirt up over her head as she flailed around like a tiny glittery fish, screaming incoherently, and hugging a box of Sugary McSugarface Cavity Town cereal like her life depended on it. This mom was trying so valiantly to hold her high ground. No. They weren’t getting that cereal. Her Cheerios were in the cart. No. Put it back. No. Not that cereal either. No. Put them all back. NO. Oh, my heart knew. I knew that struggle and that argument and that escalating “No.” This mama was barely hanging on. This was it. This was her Alamo. This was her Chili’s.
I wanted to walk over, wrap my arms around her, and tell her “You do not have to die on this hill today, Mama. Put the cereal in the cart.” But, I didn’t. I just stood there and watched it all play out. It’s a struggle that is as old as time. Little ones with big breakdowns. Mamas with exactly zero clue how to handle it. You can’t handle it, really. You just have to let it run its course and hope that a manager doesn’t ask you to leave the store before it’s over.
But sometimes, just sometimes, I think “Why can’t I do that?”
Why can’t I drop to the floor and scream about whatever it is that’s breaking my heart? Why can’t I put on a glittery ruffle skirt and wear my heart on my puffy sleeve and just break the heck down right where I stand? While I certainly felt empathy for the mama, I also found myself feeling the tiniest bit of jealousy for the child. I wanted to tell her the truth of it.
Roll around on that dirty grocery store floor while you can, sweet girl. Get it all out. Because someday you won’t be able to react that way when you can’t hold it in anymore. Someday you’ll grow up. And, holding it in will be what you have to do. Look at your Mama. That’s exactly what she’s doing right now. She wants to scream and cry, too. But, she won’t. She can’t. So, feel your big feelings for all of the world – or people trying to pick out breakfast – to see. Someday you’ll be a grown-up.