Meltdown on Aisle One

“Why don’t you just behave and listen to your mother?” snapped my father angrily.  He lifted up Michael by the back of his shirt from where he’d splayed himself on the floor of the Ikea entry way.  I stood there, paralyzed by a mixture of anger, frustration, embarrassment and horror.  Before I had time to think my father was swatting my screaming child on the bottom, which led to even louder wails.  Suddenly, the protective instinct kicked in and I grabbed my three year old son from my father, and ran.  “I’ll be in the bathroom with him until he calms down; why don’t you go ahead and take the kids and do what you need to do.”  Sweating and seeing red. I held my squirming bundle of rage tightly and ran for the family restroom thirty feet away from the sliding front doors.  By now people were stopped and staring at the scene, but I didn’t care.  I bolted the door behind me and sat against it while Michael’s rage continued.

It had all started out perfectly fine.  My father was visiting our home for the first time, having flown up from Florida a few days ago.  My father had already exhausted all that there was to do in the confines of our rural New England town, and he set his sights on activities outside of town.  I hesitated to take Michael on any adventure that was too physically taxing or demanded too much silence or listening; my father took Zach alone to the historical village an hour away.   When he’d suggested the shopping trip to Ikea, I thought we’d be OK.  We could start out with the soft serve ice cream and then shop.  As long as Michael was contained in the cart, he could be entertained.

And for most of the trip, he was fine.  We’d had our ice cream, looked at books while my father wandered through the aisles of premade rooms, and enjoyed the bright colors and interesting things in the children’s area.  We made our purchases and got everyone back in the van for the ride home.  All was well until my father remembered that Ikea had a cafeteria.  “Why don’t we just eat here for lunch?” he suggested.  “It’ll be inexpensive and we’re right here.”

I had pondered for a minute.  Michael was already tucked into his carseat and anticipating a ride home.  To unbuckle him now could be a problem; he didn’t do well with changes in routine.  One time I’d driven home from the supermarket, only to discover as I turned onto our street that I’d forgotten something.  When I turned around in our driveway to return to the store, the howls started from the backset.  Still, the promise of lunch might work out for us.  I didn’t want to disappoint my father, so I put the car back in park and turned off the car.

Immediately I knew that we were going to have a problem when I went to unbuckle Michael’s seat; he started crying and saying “no”, one of the few words he now consistently used.  I lifted him into my arms and figured I could carry him into the store, whispering in his ear the whole time, a whole parking lot between me and convincing him that french fries lay in his future.  But instead of him calming down as we made the trek, his anger intensified.  He started wriggling against my grip to release himself so he could go back to the car.  By the time we made it to the sliding front door, he’d succeeded; I bent over so his descent to the ground would not hurt him as he pushed my arms aside.

By now the meltdown was so complete that he didn’t run or bolt away; he simply lay there on the blue mats of the entry way and screamed “no” and “home”.   And I knew at that point that nothing now would be done to stop the chaos; it simply had to run its course.  Spotting the bathroom, I had been about to explain to my father that I would wait it out there with Michael when he’d taken matters into his own hands.  I had been horrified to see my father hit my child; I hadn’t talked to my father in anger since my teenage years, but I did now as I angrily told him to deal with my other two children so I could get Michael to a safe place to wait out his rage.

I sat there for ten full minutes as Michael’s screams went from full blast to slowly ebbing as he grew tired.  I tried to calm him down with soothing words that finally started to register as his throat grew raspy and his tears grew smaller.  I needed the time out just as much as Michael at that point, I was too upset, to angry at the out of control scene that had played out before me to speak.   I worried what Zach and Melinda must be thinking about it all and what my father might be saying to them.  It was clear that there was certainly something very wrong with Michael; there was a reason the people at the preschool had recommended a summer program for him at age three.  Who went to summer school before they’d even been to regular school?

Finally, we both were breathing at a regular rate and I took Michael’s chubby hand in my own as I opened the bathroom door.  We had splashed cold water on both of our faces, but still, angry red splotches covered both of us.  I slowly ascended the stairs to the cafe, wondering what I would say to my father, my children.   I had nothing left inside me.  Like Michael, we were both completely spent.

My father glanced up at me as I approached the table.  I looked at him to gauge what I was in for, but all I saw was sympathy there.  I exhaled, picked my son up, and balanced him on my lap as I watched my family enjoy their lunch.  Nothing was said, but we all knew that life would never been quite the same after that warm summer day at Ikea.


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