I am sitting in a coffee shop, trying to work on an anti-bullying presentation, but my attention has been captivated by a mischievous toddler who is causing his poor mom all sorts of distress.
The little guy shrieks and throws a package of cookies, and I gaze around, noting the range of emotions on the faces of others seated in the cafe. Some are bemused, others are irritated; a few smile indulgently; still others are throwing openly hostile glances at the child.
Me? I start to giggle, because I have a sudden desire to go through my day and act like a toddler. I lean away from my computer and fantasize about how it would look if toddler behaviors were the social norm for an adult . . .
* * * *
I wake up, and although my husband reminds me that I have an important meeting today, I do not feel comfortable wearing my business clothes. The tights are too scratchy. I rip them off and use my fingernails to tear holes in them for good measure, just in case anyone wants to suggest I give them another try tomorrow. I don’t care that there are nicely matched outfits hanging in my closet — I want the stained leggings I wore yesterday and my pajama top and a pink tutu, so that is what I will wear. I scream and yell and throw balled-up socks at my husband when he tries to steer me in another direction.
I’m tired and do not want to walk down the stairs for breakfast. I make my body rigid like a board and lie down across the top of the stairs so that nobody else can go down either. I wait until my husband picks me up and carries me down the stairs.
At breakfast, the bowl of cereal has too much milk. I tip it over and watch, mesmerized, as the milk spreads in a white puddle across the counter and then drips onto the floor. I touch the cool wet milk and draw patterns on the counter with a milky fingertip. Turning my head, I see a really cool sharpened pencil that has rolled under the couch. I climb down off my seat and retrieve it.
I wonder how hard I have to push the pencil tip into the cushion of the couch before it makes that funky popping sound and leaves a little hole. I try a few dozen times, working to perfect my technique. I cannot fathom why my husband is not proud of my efforts when he sees what I am doing. I’m just exploring my world.
I take the kids to school, and on the playground, I see my good friend J, who has a daughter in my daughter’s class. I run over and squeeze J in a bear hug. Oh, look, she has a shiny necklace that I want. I quickly clasp the pendant and pull on it until the chain snaps, and then I run in the other direction, clutching my new treasure and hoping no one stops me. As other parents come toward me, I shove the necklace in my pocket, determined to keep it, no matter what. I see J running after me, and I hop in my car and drive off before she can get to me. Ha!
I drive to my meeting, happily listening to the song Baby Beluga fourteen times in a row. When I reach my destination, I yell because I want to hear my song again. I kick the car door and bite the steering wheel in frustration. But then I decide to hop out of the car, because I am very excited to share my amazing new idea at work.
There is a platter of sandwiches on a table in the conference room. I carefully pick up one and take a bite. Then I put it back and take a bite out of the next one. And the next. Why are people making faces at the sandwiches that I have replaced? They were good. Here, have some! Gleefully, I try to push a piece of sandwich into the mouth of my manager, but he dodges me.
In the middle of the meeting, I stand on my chair, stretching my hand in the air, yelling, “I have an idea!!!” and when people don’t listen to me right away, I walk up to them and give them a swift kick in the shin. “You aren’t invited to my birthday party,” I tell the man who is talking. Then I stick my tongue out at him for emphasis.
“Carrie, apologize,” one of my colleagues orders, and I sullenly mumble, “sorry” but I’m NOT and I am going to make sure that everyone knows I am anything but sorry.
There is a neat stack of papers on the conference table that catches my attention, and I turn away from the person who is talking so that I can feel the smooth paper. The papers would actually look really interesting if each one could be folded in a funky way and laid on top of the carpet, so I get to work.
My colleagues pull me back to my seat. Why is everyone trying to impede my creativity? I start to moan, and when no one responds, I moan louder. Suddenly I feel the need for someone to comfort me. I climb into the lap of one of my good friends who is also at the meeting, pushing her notebook out of her arms and rubbing my snotty, tear-stained face against her clean shirt. As she tries to disentangle from me, I cling tighter, grabbing a fistful of her hair and burrowing my face in her neck, sobbing. Can’t she see that all I want is some love? “Snuggle me!” I howl.
Okay, FINE, I’ll get down, because she offers me a chocolate doughnut from the dessert platter. Mmmmmm, chocolate. I am distracted. My tears disappear; my face clears, and I sit contentedly through the meeting, snarfing down a chocolate doughnut. My hands are sticky, so I wipe them down the front of my pajama top. They are still sticky. I drag them across the suit pants of the man seated on my left side. He glares at me. I thought it was a good solution to sticky hands and cannot understand why he looks so mean.
I am quiet for a few moments, and the meeting progresses. Everyone is busy talking about stuff that sounds boring to me, and my eyes settle on the purse of one of my female colleagues. I slide under the table and crawl over to where her purse is lying, and I pry it open. Awesome! There are all sorts of goodies inside! I unwrap something plastic with a string hanging out of it. Then I pry the cap off of a cylindrical tube and smear the bright colored end all over my hands and face. It feels so funky- kind of oily and smooth and it leaves a rich color on everything it touches. I drag it across the rug and delight in the gorgeous line I have made.
Ooh, in one of the purse pockets, I find one of those rectangular things with buttons that make different pictures appear on a screen. I madly slide my finger around the screen, touching and pushing anything I can, eager to see what will happen. This is the BEST toy. It is mine now, and that lady will have to fight me for it if she wants it back. This thing is toddler crack.
The lady whose purse it is notices what I am doing and yanks everything out of my hands. Why oh why does everyone insist on interrupting my fun???? I am really really mad. If I scream long enough and loud enough, maybe she will give it back. I throw myself onto the floor. I pull off my shoes and hurl them at her one by one. I am a whirling dervish of fury.
I really have to pee, but when my manager offers to walk me to the bathroom, I swear that I do NOT have to go. Eventually, I have to go so badly that I am clutching my crotch with both hands, but I will not admit that I have to go. Never surrender. I am in control of this battle and you cannot make me go to the bathroom. Finally, my manager buys a package of M&M’s from the vending machine in the hall and promises that I can have some if I pee.
I insist on eating seven green ones ahead of time as a sign of his good faith. It is imperative that they must all be green. Unfortunately, this package only had six green M&M’s in it, so I scream. My manager is afraid I will pee on the floor, and he does not have a back-up outfit for me, so he frantically buys another pack of M&Ms and plucks out a seventh green one.
Aaah, sweet relief, I sit on the toilet, and I feel soooooo much better. Now, where are the rest of those M&M’s??
* * * *
Fresh yelps from the toddler in the coffee shop snap me out of my reverie. The mom is trying to pull a wallet out of her purse and keep the little boy from pulling all the sandwiches out of the cold display at the same time. I walk over to his mom with a smile and ask, “Is there anything I can do for you? I have a two-year-old too.”
“Distract him!” she pleads with a roll of her eyes and a laugh.
I kneel down. “Hey, buddy, I bet those containers look really interesting. Point to the one that you think looks the best for making a stacking tower, and then I’ll point to the one I think looks the best.”
As the mom finishes paying and leads the toddler out of the shop, I toss a wink at him. I feel like a kindred spirit.
Check out Carrie’s highly-reviewed book, Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear