Fight or Flight

child-in-a-tantrumI noticed it the first time about six months after finally recognizing issues I had with my upbringing and  making the decision to stop spanking our kids. Ms Action plopped her bottom onto the floor and accidentally onto a hard toy in the process. She jumped up with a shriek, holding her bottom and crying. I had seen the whole thing from across the room, I knew what had happened, and that it was an accident, and that she would probably be ok, but my heart was racing, blood roared in my ears, my breathing was fast and shallow and I wanted to run. I pulled it together, and managed to comfort her, but couldn’t put my finger on why I had reacted so strongly.

I walked to the park with the kids, and shortly after we got there a man arrived with his son. He wore dress slacks and shoes, and a long sleeve button down. The sun practically reflected off his short gelled hair. I felt uneasy right away. He stood quietly, arms crossed on the edge of the playground, watching his son play. At some point, the kid did something he did not approve of, I did not catch what exactly, and he strode over purposely and grabbed the kids arm and escorted him to a picnic table where he planted him on the bench and said something sternly, and then went back to standing quietly, while the kid sat on the bench. I had seen enough, as soon as the dad had moved to get the child, I was gathering mine and we went home. This time I understood the panicky feelings a little more, the authoritative aura of the dad at the park had triggered something, a memory, a feeling, whatever it was, my body reacted.

It’s intense, unsolicited, and sometimes completely unexpected. While logic can tell me that the child crying is probably tired, or that crying is a perfectly normal reaction for a human sometimes. Some days despite logic, something else takes over and I just want to put my hands over my ears and run. Some days I can empathize and care for my emotional child with ease, and then other days it takes everything in me to keep from begging them to stop crying because I have an overwhelming feeling that SOMETHING BAD (not sure what) IS GOING TO HAPPEN.

This happens on a fairly regular basis. I ran into a store just for a moment, and I could hear an unseen child crying loudly from somewhere in the store  “No! No! Mommy Please!”, logic tells me that in this public place it’s probably “No please don’t put that back on the shelf I really really want it!” but my  heart jumps to “No please don’t hurt me!” I get what I came for and leave as fast as I can. A simple trip to a store has left me shaken.

Sometimes it’s an intense enough experience that it is in my thoughts for days afterwards. Ms Drama and I went out for cupcakes, and then stopped at Target for a few things on the way home. As soon as we walked in the entryway, I was on high alert. A little girl of probably 5 or 6 was standing by the exit screaming. She stomped her foot and insisted that her mom help her put her coat on, her mom was holding a bag of groceries in one arm, and a smaller child’s hand in the other, the coat was lying on the floor. It was clear that both the mom and the daughter were tired. “Why won’t you HELP me?” wailed the girl.

These situations are so high stress for me. I made it a few steps to the banana stand, and picked up a bunch. We were not there to get bananas. I thought about taking Ms Drama’s hand and leaving, but when I looked at her, she hadn’t even noticed the commotion, and was chattering on about plans to make a gingerbread house. Time seems to slow down, I feel disoriented and shaky. I try to pay attention to what Ms Drama is saying, but I keep checking out of the corner of my eye, waiting for the SOMETHING BAD to happen. Part of me wants to rush over to them, give them both a hug, say something encouraging to the mom, and help the little girl put on her coat. After what seems like hours, they resolve things somewhat, and head out to their car.

This happened months ago, and I still feel bad that I didn’t do or say something. I have been that parent with the emotional over tired child, it was neither of their fault that they were having a bad day. I tell myself that they are probably ok, the mom handled it without threats or violence, the child probably would not have felt fearless enough to throw a fit if she would be treated violently for it later. But still, I wish that in moments like that, I could be that person who didn’t just stare. Who knows what to say. Who can really believe that everything will be alright.