Handling a Public Meltdown
Thanks for welcoming our new blogger Poppy Montgomery!
Best known for starring as Samantha Spade on Without a Trace, she’ll be back as Det. Carrie Wells on the second season of Unforgettable, returning to CBS next summer.
In addition to her acting work, Montgomery is also producing a show, Sworn to Silence, for Lifetime.
Montgomery is mom to son Jackson Phillip Deveraux, 4½, with her ex, actor Adam Kaufman.
In her latest blog, the actress takes a comical look at handling public meltdowns.
“Always end the name of your child with a vowel, so that when you yell, the name will carry.” — Bill Cosby, Fatherhood
My son Jackson and I recently attended a wedding. My friend’s 4-year-old daughter was the flower girl. She was angelic, tossing rose petals from a basket as she followed the bride down the aisle, giggling, dancing, spinning in circles and eating way too much wedding cake.
When the time came to say goodnight and leave, the angelic flower girl turned into a cracked-out, off-the-wall, one-fry-short-of-a-happy-meal psychopath, ripping her mother’s top down — exposing her breasts — scratching her mother’s face, wetting her knickers and finally kicking her father and screaming all the way to the car.
As I stood with Jackson, witnessing this display of total insanity (if an adult behaved that way in public they’d be arrested. Or committed. Or both.), I asked myself — is there a remedy, a “cure” to these irrational and sometimes inexplicable public outbursts? And what was my friend, now soaked in pee with a bleeding face, ripped blouse and hysterical, over-stimulated child screaming and kicking everyone in sight supposed to do?
Threats? The silent treatment? Therapy?
I felt terrible for my friend; but I must admit, I thanked my lucky stars it wasn’t my child behaving that way. I’m ashamed to say that I fell into the “smug mommy” trap and silently gave myself a pat on the back at what a well-behaved, polite, wedding-friendly little man I had raised.
Not. So. Fast.
“Kids let you know it’s coming. Their eyes grow dead and dull, like a killer’s. Their limbs jerk, and their sticky hands begin frantically searching for hair to pull … You have only seconds to decide. Do you finish up what you’re doing, or do you leave?” — Sh*tty Mom – The Parenting Guide for the Rest of Us
A week or so after the wedding, Jackson and I were having an early dinner across the street from the local toy store. Midway through the meal, his eyes zeroed in.
“Mama,” he said. “I want bubbles.” “We’re in the middle of dinner, baby,” I replied. “Maybe we can get bubbles tomorrow.”
Well. You’d think I had burned him with a red hot poker.
Move over, Incredible Hulk. The public meltdown, tantrum, tirade, hissy fit, call it what you may — Jackson had one right there in the busy restaurant. Crying, yelling, shrieking, kicking, frothing, howling, flailing, thrashing and finally holding his breath (though sadly not long enough for him to pass out).
As Jackson has gotten older and too heavy to carry rigid as a board in the throes of a public tirade, I can no longer just remove him from the situation. Besides, I had to pay the check — didn’t want to be arrested for dining and dashing.
So what to do?!
I chose the path of least resistance. I asked for the check. I simply waited for the hurricane to calm.
Eventually, he ran out of steam. I put him whimpering and exhausted into the car. (Thankfully the toyshop had closed, so giving in and buying the bubbles was not an option. Besides, I don’t negotiate with terrorists.)
We drove home and as soon as he was asleep, I frantically called my mother in Australia. She single-handedly raised six of us and was constantly outnumbered. But she managed to keep us all in line without getting arrested. I needed some advice.
My angel – Courtesy Poppy Montgomery
“I’m right and you’re wrong, I’m big and you’re small, and there’s nothing you can do about it.” — Roald Dahl, Matilda
My mother had various intimidating stories that never failed. If we started to lose it in public, she would lean down and in a gentle whisper threaten us with one. Scariest of all? Aunt Josie’s for the weekend.
Aunt Josie lived in a large, dingy basement apartment of a massive old house with a dark overgrown garden. It used to be a private hospital. For the deranged, we all imagined. She was an alcoholic academic with a very bad stutter and serious anger management issues.
She terrified us as kids. We would’ve eaten glass before spending a weekend with her. At the slightest sign of a public tantrum, my mother would whip out this nightmare-ish threat and voila! Meltdown averted.
Traumatizing? Yes. Necessary? Maybe. Her theory was to never allow the situation to escalate where things became out of control … The threat worked. The reason it worked was because we knew deep down that she would have carried it out.
“There is no point in threatening if the intent is not there,” she told me over the phone.
“You understand that your child has a personality. His very own personality. He was born with it. For a certain period this child would live with your personality and you would live with his and you would do your best to survive each other…” – Nora Ephron
The Silent Treatment
“Silence is true wisdom’s best reply.” – Euripides
My mother reminded me of an incident from when I was a child. We were in the school uniform shop. There was a girl my age — I remember her name, it was Miranda. It was our first year out of kindergarten and we were all feeling extraordinarily grown up.
Miranda’s mom was tall, thin, extremely glamorous and had a very loud voice. Miranda was short, plump and quiet with frizzy hair.
Miranda’s mother announced to the sale assistant (and the entire store) that Miranda was to have her school uniform “…two sizes too big to enable her to expand because as you can see, she’s going to need it!” Those were her exact words.
As my sister Rosie and I stared, Miranda silently disappeared behind her mother’s skirt in the agony that only this kind of vulnerability can inflict.
Her mother was having none of it and shoved Miranda in front of the mirror, the large navy blue, lower mid-calf uniform swinging around her ample body. Poor Miranda — she looked like a circus tent.
Suddenly and with no warning, Miranda hurled herself screaming, fists flailing at her mother, hitting her in the solar plexus rendering dear Mama speechless and slightly blue. The Chanel sunglasses went in one direction, the designer purse in the other. Miranda then proceeded to bite the sales assistant and spit on her dress.
Her mother said nothing. She picked up her sunglasses, retrieved her purse, walked slowly to the mirror, fixed her hair and left the store and her daughter behind.
This is the silent treatment.
I saw Miranda on the first day of school and she had a perfectly fitting school uniform on … did she win? Did this teach her that her behavior was acceptable?
My mother said that whilst she could understand Miranda’s humiliation, if we ever behaved like that in public, she would send us to Aunt Josie’s for the weekend.
We all felt really sorry for Miranda.
“Do not teach your children never to be angry, teach them how to be angry.” – Lyman Abbott
My devil – Courtesy Poppy Montgomery
Therapy (of Sorts)
Cassie was my best friend in kindergarten and I would frequently sleep over at her house. She was obsessive about her clothes being “smooth.” Unless her clothes were “smooth,” she would not put them on.
One morning she would not get dressed for school because her clothes were not “smooth” enough. Upon her mother’s insistence that she “get dressed now! We’re late!” Cassie threw herself and her cornflakes at the wall and proceeded to bang her head over and over again. Her mother, without a word, picked her up, put her in the car, drove her to school, took her into her classroom and left. Cassie only had her underpants on. It was winter.
Extreme measures? Yes. Embarrassing? Sure. Cassie did, however, learn to iron at a very early age and is now an occupational therapist.
There are so many different kinds of meltdowns. Dealing with them in the privacy of our own homes is always easier than in public, where it feels like everyone is looking and thinking, “What a horrible mother and/or child.”
I try to look at Jackson’s rare public meltdowns as a lesson in understanding my boy and what pushes him to the breaking point (too much sugar, not enough sleep). I look at what my triggers are, and what pushes me to the breaking point (too much sugar, not enough sleep…). And I try to avoid these things for both of us.
Sometimes I look back at the way I’ve handled some of these outbursts and say, “Okay, I blew it that time.” By blowing it I mean (among other things) making empty threats, giving in to keep the peace (and stop everyone from staring) and losing my temper. But I am working on it.
“Children are great imitators. So give them something great to imitate.” – Anonymous
There is no set answer or cure for the public meltdown. They are, for the most part, irrational and inexplicable.
Luckily these are not a regular occurrence for most of us, but it happens to almost all of us. Every parent I know with a child over the age of one has experienced these public emotional earthquakes.
The only way I know how to deal with them is to judge each situation as it arises and handle it the best way I can (with minimum collateral damage). But most important is to acknowledge that my best is going to change from day to day, depending on the circumstances.
My life, my son’s life, are a series of lessons. We are learning together and that is what makes the journey so sweet.
– Poppy Montgomery
P.S.: “If the person you are talking to doesn’t appear to be listening, be patient. It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in his ear.” – Winnie the Pooh