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I’ve been taking Ellie to a toddler art class pretty regularly now. She didn’t quite get it at first, but it’s been a little while now and she really seems to love it. The arts and crafts, the teacher, the stories, she seems to love it all. And while she embraced everything about the art class, she even welcomed the emotional outlet art can provide. An outlet for all emotions. Even the explosive ones.

Everything was going so well. Chloe had taken her bottle and was quietly absorbing the creative vibe in the air while Ellie had been painting with such intense focus as to not leave one inch of the paper uncovered. After she finished painting, it was time for the class to wind down and start cleaning up. All went just fine until an incident with some crayons opened the door to expose her inner tortured artist.

The little boy sitting on the other side of the table picked up the crayons to go put them away. He was being a good kid, a helpful kid. But once he started to grab the crayons (that no one was using) Ellie shouted “My crayons!” and grabbed the remaining two.

As I explained to her that one, these were not her crayons, two, the boy was helping to clean-up, and three, it was time for her to clean up too, she held the crayons close to her with watering eyes and a quivering lip. “But they’re my crayons.”

Uh oh, I thought. This could get bad really fast if I don’t do something.

Fortunately, after some short negotiation and even reasoning, she gave up the crayons and put them away.

Phew! Crises averted. Or so I thought. Little did I know this was only the beginning. Her tormented dramatic emotions were slowly building.

While we got our coats on and gathered our things, we chatted with the teacher like any other day. And just before we were about to walk out of the door, Ellie realized her coat was on. All of a sudden, that was the worst possible thing that could ever happen to her. That was her trigger.

“I don’t want my coat!” she yelped as she tugged on her buttons trying to free herself.

“I’m an artist and must be free of such restrictions! This coat dampens my creativity! You cannot repress my art!”

While I explained to her that it was cold outside and we had to wear our coats, the situation quickly escalated. I think the teacher took that as her cue to walk away perhaps for fear of witnessing Ellie’s inner tormented artist.

As she walked away, I knew things were going to get worse. Ellie had switched over completely to the other side; the over-emotional dark side. My window for negotiating, reprimanding, demanding, and disciplining had completely collapsed. This was not happening. This was Ellie’s first public tantrum. I had only one option. To carry Ellie out of the building kicking and screaming.

The problem was I wasn’t sure how I was going to walk up the stairs, out the door, and across the street to the parking lot with a kicking screaming toddler while carrying Chloe in her carseat. Oh, and my man-bag, of course.

Luckily, the art teacher reappeared and offered to carry Chloe while I used my two arms to wrestle Ellie out of the building. “AAAAHHHHHH I DON’T WANT MY COAT! I DON’T WANT TO GOOOO!!!  AHHHH WAAA!!!

Oh man, this was bad. If she had paints to express her feelings, she could’ve been the next Jackson Pollock.

I was thankful that it was the art teacher helping us and not some complete stranger, but I couldn’t help feel like I was doing the walk of shame. It was like I got in trouble at my friend’s house and my friend’s mom had to drive me home. As parents, we always understand the circumstances, but of course I felt embarrassed while we walked to my car with only Ellie’s bloody murder screams covering the awkward silence.

I was hopeful that once I got Ellie into the car, perhaps my problems would soon be over. But I had to actually get Ellie in the car first. I knew she just needed to finish her epic meltdown, but I couldn’t let her openly emote on the ground of the concrete parking lot in the freezing cold. She was kicking and screaming with all her might while a mixture of tears and snot covered her face, hands, and coat. “DON’T BUCKLE ME!!! DON’T. BUCKLE. MEEEEEE!!!

The more she screamed and kicked, the more I lost control of my own actions and emotions. When attacked by a barrage of her shrieks, my mind falls apart and my patience collapses. As she yelled and yelled, I yelled back. But her screams were so loud and piercing, I couldn’t even hear myself. It was ridiculous. It was completely unproductive.  As I was in the moment, it’s like I could see myself from the 3rd person and I felt embarrassed for me. I was shaking my head in disapproval of myself. But I couldn’t stop. I didn’t know how. This wasn’t me. I’m a calm, cool, rational, responsible person. But I couldn’t stop shouting back. We were both just stripped of any logic or reasoning, it was just raw unfiltered emotion.

Once we got home, I managed to safely get her upstairs, in her room, and closed the door. I thought things would have simmered down, but boy was I wrong. They just escalated to epic proportions. I just sat in front of her door with my eyes closed trying to remain calm and gather what dignity I had left.

Between the screams and the violent banging on the door, anyone walking by my house would have guessed that I had captured a live chupacraba in my upstairs bedroom. Little did they know it was just my little Van Gogh. At least she had both ears.

Chloe just sat in her car seat with a worried look on her face. “What is going on?”

Ellie was not letting up. “NOOO! LET. ME. OUT!!! GOOO! I WANT MY COAT!!! STOOOP IT!!!

After what seemed like an eternity when in reality it was only about a half hour, I gathered myself, took a deep breath and opened the door. Her screams instantly stopped. We stared at each other with angry faces not saying a word. And then in a flash, the tortured artist left, and Ellie came back.

She burst into tears and ran into my arms to give me a hug and said, “I’m sorry daddy, waaaaaaaa (sniffle sniffle)!”

I held her in my arms while she cried a little. And then she took in a deep breath and was fine. Just like that. “Can I have a snack please? Let’s go!” she said with a big smile like nothing ever happened.

It’s amazing how quickly she can recover, forget, and forgive. While she happily played the rest of the day without an incident, I remained shaken, broken, and absolutely drained for the rest of the day.

Aya came home and saw me huddled on the kitchen floor holding Chloe with my eyes twitching.

It’s been a couple weeks since the “incident,” and the memories of it still haunt me and makes my eyes twitch whenever I think about it. We sit at a table by ourselves at art class now, and every time the crayons come out I get a little nervous.

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5 thoughts on “TORTURED ARTIST

  1. I feel your pain so intensely that I wish I could go back in time two weeks ago and mentally hug you. My husband, son and I were at the hospital visiting a good friend who had just given birth. We brought JB because I am due with our second in a few months and we wanted him to see the environment, plus he is a pretty well behaved kid (most of the time). Cue the end of visiting hours- aka eight in the evening and it is time to go. Complete and utter breakdown with screaming, flailing and snot. I couldn’t pick him up to carry him much less even get his coat ON and my husband was doing his best to wrestle him into the jacket and get him to QUIET DOWN. We were both SUPER flustered because it was just not like him and we had been there for almost an hour and he had been a complete angel the entire time. By the time we got out to the car he was fine, almost like nothing happened – but the entire trip through the maternity ward it looked like “dead man walking”. I was so so embarrassed and unprepared. Even with two adults there were were completely helpless. Kudos to you for handling that one solo.

    1. Thank you, I appreciate that 🙂
      Public meltdowns are rough. And of course as soon as you got to the car he was fine. That had to be super frustrating. On a happier note, congrats to you and your family on expecting your second! Hope you have a great delivery.

  2. Just a little tip….I have experienced this MANY times and usually can’t contain myself, but when I am actually able to remain calm I have found that whispering to the kids works pretty well. Keep your face calm and empathetic and continue whispering until they quiet down. Usually they will stop screaming and crying to try to hear what you are saying, then I just give a big hug. That’s only the times when I can control my own anger. Your mom was telling me that the 3’s have kicked in. 3 was the roughest age with both kids for me. I hope you have better luck!

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