Yesterday I confirmed to myself two things that may already be obvious to most people.
The first is that once an almost-three-year-old gets wound up, it is almost impossible for him to switch gears, even if he wants to.
The second is that one day, if I can just be consistently patient and loving, I will likely see a reasonable human emerge from the wreckage of a thousand toddler tantrums.
I was in a rush yesterday morning, as always, and gave very little thought to the fact we were out of soda crackers. And so, as we headed out the door to the baby sitter's, instead of handing Graham his normal snack of three - always three! - crackers, I substituted a piece of fresh, toasted bread smeared with peanut butter.
The meltdown started slow, but soon built to epic proportions.
"I want my peanut butter crackers mommy. Peanut butter crackers."
"There are no crackers left sweetie. Have some bread. It's delicious. Yum, yum! Mommy will get more crackers later."
I forced my voice to sound cheerful as I buckled Graham in his car seat, but my heart was sinking. I knew where this was going. I was tired. I was late. Again. I was burdened with worry over a loved one's recent illness.
"PEANUT BUTTER CRACKERS MOMMY! PEANUT BUTTER CRACKERS!"
Graham's rage was in full force by the time we pulled out of the driveway. He cried. He flailed. His screams reached ear-splitting volumes.
And I lost it.
I burst into tears.
"Please Graham! Please! Please just stop treating mommy like this!"
The sobs were louder and more anguished than either of us expected; louder and more anguished, certainly, than the situation warranted.
But a funny thing happened.
When I looked in the rear view mirror, I saw something flash across his still raging, tear-stained, face. Compassion? Regret?
He screamed louder.
"BE HAPPY MOMMY! I LOVE YOU MOMMY! I WANT A HUGGY!"
My heart lifted and my tears dried up almost as quickly as they had appeared. Instantly ashamed of my dramatics, I cooed to him.
"Mommy is okay sweetie, don't worry. It's okay."
I turned and I smiled right at him. And I realized that Graham couldn't smile back. He wanted to, but he couldn't.
Arms flailing, tears flowing, voice at a furious pitch, he was past his anger over the crackers, but remained trapped in his almost-three-year-old body. He was powerless to instantly switch gears in the manner that we adults take for granted.
"Be happy mommy! I love you mommy! I want a huggy!"
The refrain continued, but gradually quieted until his tone matched his words and his rage ran its course. When got to the baby sitter's five minutes later he was beaming and chewing on his toast.
I gave him his huggy, told him I loved him and continued on my way to work.
And while I drove I ruminated on that rather intense reminder of just how undeveloped a toddler's sense of reason and control really are.
It was a much-needed reminder that it is me, not him, who supposedly has the maturity not to let my temper or my frustration dictate how our day will go.
It was a much-needed reassurance that my son, despite his almost-three-year-old limitations, has at least some compassion and patience for a mother who still spends so much time confirming things that are already obvious to most people.