Lewis and the Terrible 1.5s
I turn around quickly in response to the tingling in my spine that warns me Lewis is up to something and after taking a step back into the space I had just occupied, I realise that it’s been way too long since my last shower – two maybe three days – and there’s Lewis in front of the lollies by the cash register. He’s taking the Crunchie bars out of their box and placing them in a pile at his feet.
The impulse is there to run and repack the delicious, sparkly-wrapped chocolates as fast as possible, and then to do some scolding with all the wrath and indignation available to me by screaming, ‘Who displays lollies at the eye level of a toddler?’ to the blank-faced cashier ,but I have to be careful for two reasons: 1) I’ve found that people who work the registers of shopping centres can be quite catty about being told off for things they have no authority to change, and 2) because although Lewis is not quite old enough to technically qualify, he’s been strutting the terrible twos since he was eighteen months old, and if I don’t plan my approach right he might just decide to turn this minor spill into a major affair.
As usual, the reference point for my cautious approach comes from the first time I saw Lewis have a full-blown toddler meltdown. I had just confiscated a fork from him for the minor infraction of trying to stick it into a power point. After thirty seconds of sitting still, bulging in the face and making internal noises very similar to a large ice sculpture splintering under the warm breeze at a summer wedding, he flipped himself backwards and finally cracked.
I tried to calm him down by picking him up and so he cried a little harder and tried to distract him with a funny face and so he arched and flexed his back like a fish freaking on a pier and tried to soothe him by singing a little diddy and so he started kicking and screaming and drooling all over the place, and so I ran to the computer and Googled epilepsy and brain tumour and exorcism. He tantrumed his way across the lounge room floor, through the kitchen and into the study, and so I just sat there, eating fingernail as the minutes passed until he started to scream a little less and kick a little less and finally settled into a whiny, tired whimper.
After poking him with my foot to make sure I didn’t set him off again I picked him up and gave him a cuddle, and he smiled and laughed and waddled off with his nappy-covered duck-bum as if it had never happened.
But it had happened. I was there. And it has continued to happen at least twice a day, every day, ever since. And here we are again with another delicate situation . . .
A woman walks past with a child in the trolley, looks at my boy standing over the pile of Crunchies and gives me an understanding smile, which I can only counter with an expression of spook and fluster, because Lewis has seen us coming. He holds one of the Crunchie bars up as a confectionary shield and in his husky little butch-boy voice says, ‘I want dis!’ and even before I say no I accept that the Crunchie is dead.
As I run for him his rage intensifies to contract his entire body like a single bulging muscleand although I drop to my knees and skid the last metre to cut the time, I am unable to stop him from throwing the Crunchie to the floor, shattering it into a million mouth-watering shards.
‘Lewis!’ I say. ‘You’re not allowed –’
For a moment we look like two kids in a playground playing pat-a-cake as I’m frantically packing the bars back into their box on the rack while Lewis reaches in just as frantically to pull them out again, and as our hands clash and fumble around the same items part of me – the weak, embarrassed, scared me – says, Just give him a fucking Crunchie and get out of here, but another part of me – the tougher, resilient me who’s already been partially desensitised to the shame inherent in moments like these – says, There is no way that little tyrant is getting a delicious Crunchie, and for some unknown reason that’s the part of me that wins out on this particular occasion.
I give up on the Crunchie stacking and take Lewis by both elbows. ‘No!’ I say.
‘Yes!’ he says, fighting to free himself.
‘No!’ I say while another shopper pushes a full trolley past us to the check-out.
‘Yes!’ he says as Archie picks up a Crunchie, totally unfazed by Lewis’s tantrum, and hands it to me saying, ‘Here Dad’ with a twinkle in his eye that’s saying, Please buy me one.
‘Right!’ I say, totally over this witty debate.
I take Lewis by the waist with one arm and reach out for Archie’s hand and walk straight past the shoppers in the aisle for the sliding doors to freedom, and it’s as the doors slide open that I hear the crinkling and notice that Lewis has managed to snaffle one. A frickingCrunchie!
When I look back at the check-out chick another part of me surfaces – the angry, slightly evil, dishevelled me, which says, Take that mangled chocolate bar back in there, slam it down and tell her that you don’t want it anymore, that it’s too delicious and outrageously accessible, but instead I say, ‘Archie, could you take this in and put it on the counter?’ and thankfully, he does, walking back to me with a pout and looking over his shoulder twice, as if he expects the Crunchie to be following him.
Even though Lewis has come down a few notches by the time we get back to the car I’m still a roaring furnace of anger and humiliation and give in to my need to address the bad behaviour by saying through gritted teeth, ‘You were very naughty in the shop, Lewis.’
‘You were bery bum-bum in the bum-bum,’ he says, smirking at Archie.
‘Lewis! Listen!’ I say.
‘Lewis! Bum-bum!’ he says.
‘What! Are you –’ I spit, unable to from words. ‘Ipit . . . shnaz fut . . . right! You’re not getting any sweets after dinner.’
When he raises both hands and starts wiggling his fingers to respond to me with the tune of ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’, I can only watch through the rear-vision mirror, slack-jawed:
‘Yes I am, bum-bum-bum,
Yes I am, bum-bum-bum,
Up above the world so bum,
Like a bum-bum in the bum,
Bum-Bum Bum-Bum Bum-Bum Bum,
Bum-Bum Bum-Bum Bum-Bum Bum.’
Tania and I have tried everything to correct Lewis’s tantruming and so far we have failed. The naughty corner, threats, distractions, punishments, smacks on the bum, lathering him with love and attention, exposing my belly like a cowering dog – nothing works and we’re reaching a point of resignation where we simply have to manage our own response to it and wait for the storm to blow over.
As I plow through the streets of Reservoir for home the minutes pass and Lewis and Archie have settled into a back and forth playfulness of cute conversations and wild gestures and copious giggles, and it becomes pretty clear that there’s only one person in the car who’s still a little angry.
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A sharply funny, fresh and irreverent chronicler of real life in today’s parenting trenches, Reservoir Dad is a stay-at-home dad whose award-winning blog has already won hearts and minds all over Australia and beyond for telling it like it is and making us laugh out loud – and sometimes cry, but in a good way.