One of our children, referred to here as ‘The Child’, had a spectacular meltdown in the most busy and public place of all: the Forbidden City in Beijing.
As soon as we emerged from the subway on Tiananmen Square, The Child complained about being hungry and his complaints soon escalated to a full wail: “MAAA-MAAA, I AM H-U-N-G-R-Y”, tugging on my arm. Sure I wanted him to politely say “Can I please have a snack” instead of “FOOD NOW!”, but my mother taught me: “You raise your kids at home, not in public.” so we looked around and found a cart selling snacks. He settled on potato chips, which allowed us to take another few steps towards the entrance.
“I don’t like these”, he pushed the container back into my hands. “I am still HUNGRY”. We took him to a few more stalls, but he didn’t like any. I said firmly: “Let’s continue, we’ll find something.” Big mistake. The Forbidden City is very large. You can spend an entire day there. You enter from the South and can only exit by traversing the entire complex, from the North exit. Before we had crossed one courtyard the child was literally kicking and screaming: “You are the worst mom ever”, “You are stupid”, “I hate you”, “I’m going to punch you in the face”, and, unprovoked, he took a swing at one of his siblings.
I wrapped my arms around him, but his body immediately stiffened. He threw his head back, and screamed his loudest roar. “That is one …”, I tried our usual ‘One, two, three-magic’, which leads to loss of screen time. “I DON’T CARE ABOUT STUPID SCREEN TIME” and there it was: “I hate this trip, ALL OF IT”. I tried to stay calm, but had to swallow hard. I briefly closed my eyes. I counted my breaths and said: “We have to keep going”.
Then The Child broke down crying and plunked down flat on the floor.“I am giving up”, he snickered. “Please send me back home. I can’t do this trip anymore.” It was really hard to see The Child, any child, like this. All I wanted was to protect him from this terrible homesickness. After a half hour sitting like this, side by side, Chinese tourists streaming around us, he calmed down and agreed to be carried to the exit.
I can hear the nay-sayers: “This trip around the world was a bad idea, especially for a child, who so clearly needs structure.” I certainly said this to myself during the episode. But should we create a fantasy world for him, which is so predictable that nothing will set him off? Isn’t overcoming homesickness in itself a lesson worth teaching? Also, if we get two bad days out of every seven, should we forego the five good ones? I still think the good days far outweigh the bad.
The same evening of The Forbidden City incident, The Child asked me about Halloween in Japan. It turns out he is afraid to miss the holiday this year. A few clicks later I was able to report that some Japanese now celebrate Halloween for an entire week. “A whole week …”, The Child repeated incredulously and added after a brief pause: “Mommy, I am SO EXCITED for Japan! It’s going to be so much FUN.”