They begin when the baby is circa two, there's a reason they're called the Terrible Twos, after all. But no one told you this when you were popping pills to help you ovulate better, checking your basal temperature and yelling at the spouse to get home on the run because you were ovulating and by god, you needed to have Mr Sperm introduced to Ms Egg RIGHT NOW to make a lovely baby together. Yes, if you'd been exposed to a terrible twos tantrum at that point, I'm willing to bet my back teeth that you would have rushed out screaming and gotten your tubes tied, and made the spouse get a vasectomy done while you were at it. But the world is sneaky. It shows you baby soap and shampoo ads where the critters are sleeping and looking their 'you-could-just-eat-them-now' and 'uterine-contraction-inducing-levels-of-cute' best. And so, like the poor sods in those financial irregularities stories who sign away their pension for a hack scheme of vacation resorts comprising one shed in the middle of nowhere, you sign up for this parenting gig with absolutely no inkling of what lies ahead.
The first time The Brat threw a tantrum, he decided to throw it in public, and the experience left me so shaken, it instantly killed all nascent, burgeoning desires to create another little human, now that Exhibit A was out of diapers and into pull-ups. Where, I wailed to the grim, dark skies above, had the happy, adorable, sweet-faced little child I had birthed disappeared? And who was this mean-spirited doppelganger in his place? Who was this snarling, spiteful, wailing at pierce-the-eardrum-levels little hoodlum that gets every eye in the immediate vicinity to look at you, and not in an approving, sympathetic or concerned manner? Could I return him to the hospital and pick another one? As far as traumatic, life-changing memories go, the first public tantrum remains emblazoned in my memory, in Dolby Sound and Cinemascope colour, with background music, borrowed from a horror flick, inserted for added atmosphere. Quite fittingly, he chose to have it in a fast food outlet because the Happy Meal did not contain the toy he had his heart set on. Instead, it came with a toy that was inappropriately pink and girly, and I couldn't convince the harried person at the counter to exchange it for love or money (Of course, now I am older and wiser and he doesn't eat Happy Meals anymore, thus eliminating the root cause of the tantrum in the first place).
Within seconds he morphed into an evil version of himself; inspired, it would seem, from the little girl who spat out pea soup and turned her head completely at a swivel in that movie which didn't let me sleep with the lights off for a month after I watched it. As I watched in horror, and the rest of the patrons gingerly side-stepped the squalling ball of flesh on the floor, one thing became frightfully clear: this was no longer the little tyke who could be cheered with a, "There look, doggie." Not even King Kong stomping through the streets could have distracted The Brat from this letting-off of steam. No, the only reaction to this level of tantrumming was to take solace from the wise words that King Solomon had inscribed on that ring: This too shall pass.
I survived that tantrum. And have survived many others since, and worked out an effective Plan of Action to deal with these tantrums and have also, with time and experience, been able to time the onset of a tantrum with amazing precision, down to the exact second at which he would stop being fit for public consumption and would have to be scooped away and taken into a deserted alley where he could allow his emotions free rein without the fear of distressing sensitive elderly ladies in the immediate vicinity with no access to their nerve tonics. Most of these tantrums were, I realised, set off by hunger or tiredness. If I could, with stealth and cunning, deflect the onset of these tantrums by distracting him or getting the hunger pangs under control, I was safe. If not, I would let him play it out, only ensuring that I managed to get him in less public surroundings while he gets it out of the system. Once he's done with the rolling on the floor and thrashing around act, he is generally much calmer and more likely to listen to the stern voice of reason saying, "The next time you do that, pick a clean carpet."
As he grew and acquired more language and therefore was better equipped to tell me exactly what he thought of things and what he needed, like, "Now that we're finally here at the pizza place after having crawled through an hour of traffic, I'd rather have Chinese food", the temper tantrums decreased. Another valid contributory factor was his realisation that Mamma was going to sit on her hands till the tantrum lasted, and only let fly once the endorphins of his tantrum had died down, and that was infinitely more scary a prospect that allowing himself the luxury of a tantrum. And of course, he's never been lucky enough to get what he tantrums for, if it is in the toy or treat category, so the tantrums fast lost their appeal. He's a big boy now and looks on with concern as smaller kids do the thrashing on the floor act in public, even asking their mothers politely if they planned to take them away into less public spots.
I realised how far we'd come when, the other day, at a store, we were the recipients of appalling service and I threw a right hopping-on-the-ground tantrum and demanded to speak to the store manager NOW, in tones, I'm embarrassed to say, that were quite at Wake The Dead levels. The Brat tugged at my hand firmly, all the while looking at me with a stern glint in his eye, "Now Mom, let's go to the passage and finish getting angry. Then we'll talk."