It had to happen sometime. A public toddler meltdown in a restaurant.
In the list of parenting nightmares, this is pretty high on everyone’s list after the really serious stuff, like trips to the emergency room, kids dashing into the street while you’re wrestling with unfolding the stroller, or wandering out of your line of sight in a moment of inattention. It’s not life-threatening but it’s stressful and embarrassing and you just want it to end. So why am I writing about it as if it were a happy thing?
Because I did not lose the plot and I am inordinately proud of myself. Adulting like a boss is hard. Adulting like a parent boss is even harder.
The tantrum should not have been a surprise, really. Hawkeye had a very exciting night the night before. He spent the evening with Nana and got a bit overenthusiastic, refusing to go to bed. This morning we had to deal with the consequences when we decided to go out for brunch with Nana while my other half was out running errands.
Things were going ok when we headed out to brunch but I should have realised that something was off when he started whining for “Elmo” before we even had a chance to order food. “Elmo”, in this situation, actually refers to his “tawet”. In parent-code we refer to it as his android when we don’t want to say the “T” word in his presence (like, “did you remember to charge the android?” or “can you sneak the android into my handbag, please?”) The tablet has a few Elmo videos as well as some fantastic Sesame Street movie parodies starring Cookie Monster and other puppets. We generally try to limit his screen time, but every now and then you just need that distraction and we find that in cafes and restaurants he usually reaches a point where he needs the tablet to let us finish our meal in peace.
Even with the tablet on the table, Hawkeye hit his limit before I even had a chance to get a third forkful of (very awesome and tasty) blueberry pancakes. Suddenly the videos were not enough. The games weren’t right. He didn’t want the animal flashcards, or the truck racing game. He didn’t want his snacks but he wouldn’t let me put them away. Everything I offered received a “No! Not that one!”
I first tried to figure out a way in which I could contain the situation while still letting me and Nana finish our food, but I soon realised I had to do something as his crying was getting louder and louder. I decided to take him outside to see if it would help calm him down while Nana finished eating, but honestly I was losing hope at this stage. He wasn’t distracted by a passing dog. He didn’t want to wave to the policeman. He wouldn’t let me put him down but he wanted to go back inside. I knew I had to take him home but we hadn’t brought the stroller with us because it was only a ten minute walk from home and he had insisted on walking. The street was rapidly filling up with people. The guards had begun restricting traffic ahead of a big rugby match in the stadium down the street. This spectacle would soon have an ever-increasing audience outside as well as inside.
I rang my husband. He had texted me earlier to say he was home but he was heading out to meet with friends as we had previously agreed. I asked if he would help me just long enough to get everything packed up and get us home. Did he want to come and do it? Hell no. He was about to head out for some pints and games and friendly manly banter with people he doesn’t get to see very often these days. Did he say any of that to me on the phone? Of course not. With only the slightest hint of reluctance and resignation in his voice, he said he would be there shortly.
Nana finished up in the restaurant and got the staff to pack up my delicious pancakes and Hawkeye’s sausages. I wandered up and down the street with a howling toddler clinging to me like a spider monkey. And (not) soon enough, daddy was there striding down the street like a freaking super hero to take the squirming, squalling, heavy beastie off my hands.
He and I split the burden on the walk home. He helped get a bottle going and get Hawkeye ready to crawl into our bed while I ran to the loo and stripped out of my shoes and found my fleece blanket. And then Hawkeye and I cuddled up together while my husband finally got underway to his manly responsibility-free retreat.
And after all that, I lay in bed with a sniffling, weepy, exhausted toddler and basked in self-congratulation. I repeat: I did not. lose. my shit. I started to get a little flustered in the restaurant when Hawkeye wouldn’t cooperate with me while I was trying to lift him from his high chair and his feet kept getting stuck while he tried to resist me. A few people were throwing us sympathetic looks but I knew it was going to get out of hand soon. Before the situation escalated I just took a breath and reminded myself that the best thing was to remove us from the crowded, noisy environment without losing my own temper, so that’s what I did. With a quick sudden pull I freed his feet and put him on my hip. I talked to him softly and told him it was ok for him to be upset because he was tired. I held him close while I carried him out. I smiled at the staff who held the door for me and apologised for the interrupted meal. I chatted calmly to the very nice police officer manning the roadblock as he valiantly tried to distract the toddler with little success. I owned it.
And you know what else? I ASKED FOR HELP. I am so happy I thought to do that. I think a lot of parents forget. It’s easier to remember to ask someone you know, but sometimes even asking a stranger next to you to help will give you just enough control to navigate your way out of the situation. On the (long, oh so long) journey home I was trying to figure out what I would have done if my husband hadn’t been available and Nana hadn’t been with us when this happened. If I had been tired myself or cranky I might have just gotten super stressed and been at the mercy of the mood of the crowd around us. Some people offer to help, others give you “the look”, judging you for daring to show your toddler’s face in a public setting. But I realised that I just need to be proactive. I think I would have asked the staff to help me pack up our stuff and help me carry everything outside. And I would have called a cab instead of trying to walk all the way home with a heavy, crying toddler on a sprained ankle.
What’s the moral of the story? Stop. Take a deep breath. Ask for help.
And always make sure to have your phone and taxi money on your person.
(In addition to my husband, and Nana, I would also like to thank the staff at Juniors who took the toddler histrionics in stride, and who made pancakes that were still delicious even after being microwaved at home. You guys need to up the blueberry content in those, but otherwise they’re tied with herbstreet‘s blueberry pancakes for being the best pancakes in Dublin.)