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Monday, March 28, 2011

The Tantrum Game

How many times has it happened to you? You’re out to dinner, at the park, or at some tourist hotspot perhaps. You are having a fine time, perhaps hand-in-hand with the one you love. Suddenly, the peace and tranquility of your moment is shattered by that most insidious and devastating event: somebody’s kid is throwing a tantrum.

Arms flail. Voices wail. There is kicking and screaming. Or maybe you react a bit more calmly, and just grind your teeth. Either way, your day is ruined for at least the next five minutes.

No longer!!! Hearken to my tale and learn the absolute best way to turn a noisy interruption into a laugh riot guaranteed to send your drink through your nose and get applause from innocent bystanders, all the while garnering the baleful glare of the poor besieged parent.

It was some years ago, and Wifefish and I were on our honeymoon. We’d planned our schedule with a healthy mix of romance and being big kids. Part of our time was spent in a lovely cottage on Sanibel Island, and the rest we spent bouncing around amusement parks in Orlando, with one-day stops at the beginning and end of the trip at Busch Gardens, as we’d flown through Tampa.

It didn’t take us long to notice the copious amount of tantrums surrounding us. There were some truly Chernobyl style meltdowns popping off around us like bizarre fireworks of sound and fury. We also noticed a wide range of parental reactions, ranging from appeasement and bargaining to Ming the Merciless and his Iron Fist of Fucking Justice. (That threat of duct taping your kid to the front of the roller coaster, dude? Totally keeping that one.)

While it’s true that the Magic Kingdom can produce joyous squeals from children of all ages, it can also produce an absolutely ridiculous number of very, very loud tantrums. By the 23rd that had detonated nearby us, I was deep into a crowdnoise induced headache. I began to dread the wind up to the piercing wails of “wanna” and “gottahaveit” that do very special things to the adult eardrum. The very act of a strong inhalation by a nearby child put me on edge, wondering if they were about to exercise the nuclear option.

Several days in, Wifefish and I found ourselves at Disney World, closing in on evening. We sat down in the square, just chilling out for a bit and letting the people pass by. That’s when we saw the beginnings of the mother of all tantrums. This little girl in a stroller near us had seen Winnie the Pooh through a window, and beyond that window was one of those spots where you can have dinner with Disney characters for a per-plate price slightly smaller than the federal deficit. The little girl, her eyes fixed upon her own personal Tigger Nirvana, asked her mom if they could have dinner there. Her mom, certainly sensitive to her budget, said no.

Somewhere, thunder rolled. Animals became uneasy in surrounding counties. Mickey, secure in the castle, grasped for Minnie’s hand and told her it would be OK. Four horsemen rode forth, bracketing this child’s stroller as she engaged Tantrum: Apocalypse.

Oddly, I didn’t let the headache take hold. I chose not to be traumatized by the tiny tornado of terror, and instead grinned as I saw Wifefish looking at the same scene of carnage. I adopted my best TV Announcer voice, and began The Game.

“Well, I don’t think we’ve seen a performance this elaborate since Helsinki in 1977. She’s gone for full on technical points here, and has really committed to the routine.”

Wifefish picked it up and ran with it, a twinkle in her eye. “Right you are! If you’ll watch closely, she’s gone with the full head thrash and footkick, a trademark move.”

“She worked hard on that in training.”

“Oh, souvenirs are raining to the pavement as she tosses them out of the stroller”

“A very artistic choice, we’ll have to see how the judges score that one.”

The mother tried to soothe the child, only inspiring further anger. She had seized on Winnie the Pooh, and would not be assuaged until she had feasted in his presence.

“Oh, and she’s out of the stroller! We have a full on tummy flop, striking the pavement with both fists! The crowd are loving it!”

“Listen to the decibels she has achieved, husband! Her vocal coach must be very proud of this performance, she may. Go. For. The. Gold!”

We struggled to maintain our personas, trying not to break out into laughter. The poor besieged mother glanced furtively about her, and seeing people stare, caved. She gave in. The storm passed nearly instantly, the little girl squealing “Winnieeeeeeeee!” The horsemen rode off, downtrodden. Especially Famine, he looked downright forlorn.

“Oh, she has done it! She has done it! This is more exciting than Florence Whipple in Berlin in ’82! This may be a perfect score!”

We couldn’t hold it in anymore, and we laughed together, long and pleasant. We wiped away tears and looked at each other. We decided that any progeny we would ever have would be doomed, unable to throw any kind of productive fit. There might be therapy bills, but the chance of us caving in to a tantrum is terribly low.

We played the game several times during the trip, and each tantrum around us became an opportunity for us to have a little fun. We developed scoring based on technical prowess, vocality, originality, and of course effectiveness. If a tantrum failed to get the child what it wanted, they lost points to the Russian judge, and typically had to settle for the bronze.

And so, I invite you all to join in. Next time a nearby tantrum threatens your peace, game on!

Remember to score high for originality, and always try to be absurd. It’s worth it for the giggles. I don’t recommend playing the game loud enough for the parents to hear, though, unless you are the parents. It can lead to some interesting times.

Whereas Little Danger isn’t old enough for fits and tantrums, rest assured that he is, in fact, doomed when he starts in. We’ll try to make it easy for him at a zoo or amusement park, recognizing that quite often a tantrum is just crowd burnout. But we also know that sometimes the tantrum is just “I want it”, and since we still haven’t got our money-growing tree, and because “I said so” is still Daddy Law #3, we will do our best not to cave to the tantrum. Unless, of course, Little Danger scores perfectly for originality. Then it’s out of our hands, and all up to the Russian judge.

Note: There is a little button over there on the right hand side. It is a facebook sharing button, and I'd like you to click it. Think about the fun we would have if this game went viral!!! No more being annoyed by tantrums!


  1. There's an interesting thing about tantrums. They are worse for the parents then the bystanders. You will completely freeze up for more than a few. This will be the 8th tantrum of the day because you, dad, do not understand the personal angst.
    1. Do not take the kid somewhere where you wouldn't want a tantrum, cause it will in fact happen. Some days this will anywhere out of your house.
    2. There are 2 winning tactics. Ignore and distract. Pick your poison. They will not always work the same.
    3. Good luck. Those people that you were pre-child, they are judging you. Look for the supportive eyes of another parent; they might say hello to the child and kick in the emergency shy and stop the tantrum with a single word.

  2. @Anastasia I've always assumed they were worse for the parents. Heck, I remember one or two I laid on my parents when I was little. I do however suspend speaking responsibly when I do a humor piece. He's not actually doomed, and those folk are welcome to judge. He's still not getting dinner with Winnie. :)
    The Game is a nod to the fact that tantrums WILL happen, and rather than roll eyes at them and judge the parent, we can all have a little fun with them.

  3. What a creative approach to dealing with unwanted tantrums that others are forced to endure. At least you've found a way to not let them ruin your day.

    Thanks for helping me make it to the next round of the blogging tournament. Today is the last day of voting for Round 2. There is a link over at my blog. Your vote is much appreciated.

  4. Ugh. This is pretty much what I am expecting, except the biggest tantrum-throwing laying on the pavement will probably be Special Agent.

  5. We have a similar game we play when our own children are throwing fits.

    It used to make me cry too but now I found it quite hilarious.

    Not that I'm not sensitive to the dear child that is so very upset. Just not so intrinsically attached.

  6. Wow. That's genius. I'm going to have to try that! Every single time I ever hear a kid pitching a fit, I think my biological clock slows down a little...


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