The Concert and the Tantrum

Holiday Concert!

Originally uploaded by kjda

It was an accident.

I have been to enough Montessori concerts by now to know that you do not MESS with the afternoon before the concert. You do not go swimming. You do not have playdates, or hair cuts, or doctor appointments or flu shots. You do not accept deadlines or work assignments. You take those kids home, cursing the fact that a 6:00 concert makes dinner impossible, you feed them a massive snack and get everything ready for the next day, and then you start dressing them up EARLY, because if you don’t get to the concert with at least twenty minutes to spare you will not get a seat. And Montessori concerts are long.

And that is all I meant to do.

Went home. Laid out the new dresses and the Christmas sweater and the shiny shoes. Found the (too big) dress shoes for Wyatt from the handy-down box. Put out the big snack-bread! Butter! cheese, pepperoni, milk! Eat, childrens, eat!

And said, as the snack wound down, Lily and Sam, get your homework out of the way. Wyatt and Rory, time to pack lunches.

Mmm. Now, to understand what happened next, we must go back in time, first, to me, joining the cult of Parenting on Track‘s Vicki Hoefle and drinking the glorious kool-aid of her cds, thanks to this neighbor (seriously, I love this woman, by which I mean Hoefle. I also love my neighbor–thanks neighbor!). Vicki H points out that we do too much for our kids, that we need to be training them to do for themselves, and that means not just not doing it for them, but not reminding, nagging and whatnot. For us, that’s started with homework, backpacks and lunches. That’s been their responsibility before, but with much nagging, and ok, I’ll do it this time, and here it is, just you do just this one little bit and rewards and starchips–all because at that point, as far as I was concerned, they were doing it for me. So I wouldn’t have to do it. Now they’re doing it for them–so they can learn to take care of themselves as they grow up.

So this week, just as a little start, I don’t touch the backpacks or lunch boxes (unless you have your hands full and ask me or something). You put it in the car, you take it out of the car, you empty it, you pack it. I don’t care when you do this. I don’t care how. I don’t even care what–much–that’s already pretty engrained, anyway, from an earlier emphasis on packing this past fall. But you do it. I don’t remember Monday or Tuesday. I think I’d brought them in for them, not yet being myself fully with the program, or reminded them to do it–but yesterday, when it came time to do homework and pack lunches and everyone but Sam’s was still in the car, there was much consternation. But I do not want to go get my lunch box! I know. But it is cold! Yep, sure is! But I am not wearing shoes! Put ’em on!But I DON’T WANT TO! Neither do I.

Eventually, working together, Lily and Wyatt got their stuff. Rory refused. I, she declared, am going to use a different lunch box!

Fair enough. She did. Now, Rory always has to win something, and having won that, she packed her lunch without difficulty, and I didn’t think much more about it. Until 4:00 today, when I said “Time to do lunches for tomorrow!” Now, Wyatt actually got out of the car today, went to the front seat, got his lunch box and took it in, without being asked. Lily didn’t, but when I said “time,” she went and got it without comment.

Rory, once she realized where that lunch box–and the other lunch box–was/were, lost it. She only has two, see. I don’ WAN go out to the car! I too tired! I cold! It cold! I don’ WAN TO! No! I WAN you to do it! You can fill in my replies as you wish here. Occasionally I sat down on the floor next to her, but mostly I did not. It was all some variation, shorter, because Rory only hears about four words at a time, of “I HEAR you. You don’t want to do it. I know you don’t. But it’s your lunch, and I know you can do it, and I’m not going to do it for you. Once you get it, I’ll help you pack your lunch.”

She screamed for half an hour. Seriously. On the clock. Half an hour. Screamed. Kicked. Hit. Screamed. Kicked the glass doors between the playroom and living room until I thought they would break. I did nothing. Didn’t send her to her room. Didn’t stop or scold her. Didn’t go get the lunch box, or offer any additional compromise. (I did stop Lily, who, at minute 15, said “I’m going to go get the lunch box.”)

She screamed while Wy made his lunch. Screamed through Sam and Lily’s homework. Screamed while I helped Wyatt get dressed in his red turtleneck and snowman vest. Screamed while Lily, through with her homework, packed her lunch. Screamed, kicked, screamed. It was an astonishing display. And I began, just a little, to panic.

We really had to leave the house at 5:15. I didn’t care if she was dressed. I didn’t care if she was still screaming. But how was I going to handle that? Rob was out of town and barely going to make it to the concert. Sam and Lily had their hearts set on hearing it, and Wyatt would be crushed if I didn’t go, but what would I do? I couldn’t leave her screaming in the parking lot in the car, she would never stay. I finally called a neighbor and got her son, and explained, very briefly–could him mom call me? He said he could hear Rory, and wow, wasn’t that something, and yes, he’d ask her to call. I thought she come over, I guess–kind of a lot to ask! It occurs to me now, of course, that I should have called flockmother, who lives right across the street, but it’s hard to think straight over that kind of screaming. What, I asked Sam, am I going to do if she doesn’t stop?

Rory heard us and paused. “Isn’t she going to the concert?” Sam asked. “Not if she’s still screaming,” I said, but pretty calmly–it wasn’t a threat to Rory, that wasn’t how I wanted to play this, I knew that much. Rory, though, caught on. “I GO CONCERT!” she roared, and I said, of course you can. You just have to stop screaming. BUT I NO WAN GET LUNCH BOX I WAN YOU DO IT!” I know you do, I said. I hear you. But I’m not going to.

I walked away to help Lily get dressed. And I hear her run to the hall. Hear the door. Slam and she runs back. Again, run. Slam and she runs back. Shoes on, no coat. IT TOO COLD! Put your coat on. I NO WAN! Ok, don’t.

And she’s gone again, and slam! slam! Slam! She’s back. Thows the boxes on the floor. I WAN’ YOU EMPTY THEM! nope. I WAN YOU EMPTY THIS ONE! (Remember, there are two.) Nope.

I hear, from the kitchen, plastic containers being slammed into the sink. Cupboards slamming. Banging. Rory appears in my bedroom doorway. “Will you help me pack lunch?”

Well, yes. Yes I will. And I do, doing no more or less than I would any other day. I’ll cut your apple. I won’t put chips in a container, you can do that. I’ll reach the box of cookies from the shelf.

As you can see, we got to the concert. Early. Second row, my friend. And here’s how I know this was the right thing: Rory, once she stopped, had no recovery time. None. This wasn’t sorrow or fear or even really anger, it was a battle, and I made her fight it all herself. (I know she looks upset in the picture, but she wasn’t–that was goofing. ) And I didn’t, either. Usually, when I write something like this for the blog, I shake with the very memory. Not this time. I was calm, I was actually really nice. I wasn’t angry. This just wasn’t a big deal for me. If she’d never done it, we would have worked out the concert–the only thing I was worried about–somehow. I’m pretty sure she’d have stopped screaming at school. And she would have no lunch, and the boxes would still be in the car, and so be it–it was no big deal. It wasn’t my problem.

This is going to be harder for Rory than the others. (I wrote a little about that in the No Hands But Ours post, linked below). She’s more dependent on her patterns than the others, and she needs to feel in control. But I’m going to help her feel in control because she can pack her own lunch, and because she can take care of herself, and because she can be a loving and loved helpful part of the family–not because she can manipulate me into doing stuff for her and then call that love. This is going to be good for both of us.

But somewhere along the line, we may miss a couple of concerts, one way or another.

4 Responses to “The Concert and the Tantrum”

  1. Eliz. says:

    Holy moly. GOOD FOR YOU.

  2. Catha Lamm says:

    Wow, KJ, wow. You are really doing it. This part is particularly brilliant: “Usually, when I write something like this for the blog, I shake with the very memory. Not this time. I was calm, I was actually really nice. I wasn’t angry. This just wasn’t a big deal for me.”

    That is pure gold. In fact, it brought tears to my eyes because that right there is the seismic shift in parenting that will set you up for a lifetime of glorious relationships with your kids. Amazing.

  3. Vicki says:


    I thought it time to introduce myself. I’m Vicki. It’s nice to meet you. Your story is wonderful. And, as our friend Catha pointed out, that seismic shift you made, will indeed bring your years and years and years of blissful moments with each of your babes. Enjoy the season and may your hearts be filled with joy.

  4. TiredObserver says:

    From a far-away vantage point, and only reading a little about your child, you have an explosive child. The meltdowns, the recovery time, etc. You will need to start intervening fast before those kicking and hitting fits end up hurting someone or something important. It may be sort of cute and impressive now, but later on it will disrupt and draw the life out of the rest of your family.

    In fact, it’s already happening now. Do you know how I know? I read a few months of blogs. She’s in almost every one. Your sons and your other daughter barely make it above the threshold. How sad.

    Please, go read “The Explosive Child” before it gets much worse.