Saturday, January 05, 2008

Remembering Tantrums

Tantrums are never pretty.
Photo Souce (and an article on applied behaviorism): DaddyDaze
I hugged her hoping
she’d return from fish or flame
to “presentable.”
She rippled, rigid,
slack, delivering waves from
some dim horizon
too far away to
believe. What trickle raised
those torrents? I ran
along the breakers.
Always be calm, I was told—
but anger gushed
new tongues and—locked—we
fit like enemies.

All kinds of goings on today. The primary accomplishment was taking down the Christmas tree and the accompanying decorations. Beccano felt good enough to help me carry the tree corpse outside.

Something in the air has been dragging me down for the past couple of days. Today, it gave me that achy-all-over feeling and moved into my lungs.

Neither Suna nor I felt much like cooking, so I made a trek to the purveyor of goods to pick up a few things we need—mainly something we could eat with minimal preparation.

When I returned, TubaBoy asked for pudding. I had bought apple sauce as a healthier alternative, but this displeased him immensely. Note: Suna and I are still unloading and putting away the groceries at this point. TubaBoy whined for pudding again. I told him he could make some of the instant pudding we already had. “I don’t know how.” I basically told him to learn. That set him off on a tantrum that, had it progressed any further, would have had him jumping up-and-down, crying, and holding is breath—not a pretty site, especially in someone within a year of franchise. Luckily, he stalked off to his room.

I see this as a bullying behavior, and nothing makes me madder than a bully—especially when someone tires to bully Suna. Protestations of, “Take care of me because I am incompetent,” rank a close second. I don&rsuo;t think I can take the high ground on the first condition yet—I am probably as overprotective of Suna as she is of the kids, and that is not necessarily a good thing (or a bad one). To the second point, a 17-year-old of either gender should have a working knowledge of kitchen technology. Lacking it, I see only a few options when he moves out with the limited income of a philosophy major:

  • Learning the hard way in an uncontrolled environment
  • Falling into a hasty relationship with someone who is willing to take care of him
  • Moving back home
  • Starvation—he does not have much reserve to draw on
To his credit, TubaBoy did apologize later of his own volition. He claimed that it was not his intention to bully. Again, there are two take-aways from this for him:
  • “I’m sorry,” while necessary to start the healing process, is not a panacea that immediately restores the previous condition. Negative emotions, once roused, take time to dissipate.
  • Other people cannot know your intent. They can only judge on behavior and effect. When something bad happens to someone, the first question that investigators ask is always, “Who benefits?”

With the benefit of time and distance, I tend to agree that TubaBoy did not intend to bully. He did not understand that he was engaging in bullying behaviors. He was simply employing a previously-successful acquired, unconscious manipulative strategy. When overloaded with inputs, Suna tends to acquiesce to reestablish harmony and buy herself some time to think. Under these conditions, I have learned the hard way to dig my heels in to keep from over committing and promising things I cannot do or might not think would be proper when given time to process all of the information. None of these strategies is right or can work in all situations.

Of course, this tantrum was nothing compared to some I have seen—even some thrown by people much older than TubaBoy. There was never any chance of this one escalating into physical violence. Except for the physical pain that any disruption of harmony causes Suna, I would have been willing to let it play out without further investment. Conflict is an inevitable part of the human condition. How we deal with conflict is part of what defines us.

So, what lessons should I learn from this encounter? I don’t know; I’m still working on that. I am learning how to fit in to this still-new environment. On the whole, Suna has done a great job raising her kids, and I certainly do not want to do anything that would compromise or detract from that. GOK that I have made too many mistakes of my own to feel superior to anyone else or seriously criticize any strategy that works.


Suna said...

I will try to do a better job of telling the kids to stuff it and not just trying to make irritating situations go away. I apologize again for my wimpy parenting.

Now all my friends know my secret wimpy style! :-)

Lee said...

It's just a choice. Neither style is right or wrong, just different.

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