Memorial Day and a Tantrum To Remember

I described my son’s tantrum in my last post, so it’s only fair that in this post I describe one of his sister’s—her first tantrum, in fact. It occurred on Memorial Day, when she was just two weeks old.

My husband and I took our family to see his parents over the holiday weekend. With us were our two children—three-year-old son and newborn daughter—and my mother, who had been visiting since the baby’s birth.

My in-laws lived in a town about 90 miles from our home. Usually, the trip was an easy journey. But all the paraphernalia needed for a baby and preschooler made the logistics a little more difficult.

Still, we had a fine weekend . . . until we started back home on the evening of Memorial Day. We left our son with his grandparents for an extended visit, so it was just my husband, my mother, my daughter, and me on the return trip.

The designs of our sedan (a Mercury Zephyr of about 1981 vintage) and of our infant car seat were not compatible. The only place we could buckle in the car seat was in the front passenger place in the vehicle.

Today that would be an anathema, and if the Department of Family Services found out, would probably land our children in foster care. But in the mid-1980s, any place a car seat fit was fine—just having a car seat was an indicator of strong parenting skills.

My husband drove, the baby was strapped in her car seat beside him, so my mother and I were relegated to the back seat.

Just as we left my in-laws’ house, a Midwest thunderstorm began cascading from the sky. Lightning flashed brighter than the headlights of oncoming traffic, and thunder crashed almost simultaneously with each bolt. The car’s wipers whipped back and forth as fast as they could, but rain still coated the windshield and pounded the car roof.

We adults were all tense. My mother, not used to Midwest storms, startled at every crash of thunder. “Oh!” she squeaked, and again, “Oh!”

About ten minutes into the trip, the baby started screaming. This wasn’t just newborn mewling. This was an enraged fiend. She probably didn’t yet weigh ten pounds, but in the enclosed space of the car, she yelled at the volume of a fire siren and about the same pitch.

“Can’t you get her to be quiet?” my husband asked between clenched teeth.

“She’s dry,” I said. “I checked just before we left. And I fed her.”

“I can’t concentrate on the road.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I don’t know what to do.” Of course, since I was the mother, the screaming was all my fault. And my problem to solve.

Over the back seat I tried everything short of taking her out of the car seat. I put a pacifier in her mouth. She spit it out and wailed.

I jiggled the car seat, trying for a soothing rhythm. No change in tone or volume.

My mother handed me a bottle of water from the diaper bag, and I stuck it in my daughter’s mouth. No dice.

“Click-clack, click-clack,” went the windshield wipers.

“WAANNGGHH!” howled the baby. “WAANNGGHH!”

“Oh!” said my mother. “Oh!”

“Should I take her out?” I finally asked in despair.

“No, it’s not safe,” my husband said, as we hurtled down I-70 toward Kansas City.

Now, this was our second child. You’d think he would have relaxed into fatherhood by now. But he refused to let me take her out of the car seat, so my options were limited.

I’ll say this, the girl had stamina. She caterwauled for the whole journey. The entire hour and a half. We were all exhausted when we reached our home, baby included.

Does this baby look like she could scream for 90 minutes?

Does this baby look like she could scream for 90 minutes?

Then she slept. Until her next feeding.

I didn’t blame my newborn daughter for her tantrum. I still have no idea what caused it, but you can’t really blame a two-week-old for anything.

There were many other tantrums that I did think she could have skipped. Until she reached the age of four, taking her to church or a restaurant was a risky business.

Over the years, she and I both developed more coping mechanisms. We no longer need to scream when trying to communicate with each other—a dirty look is sufficient on both sides.

What terrible travels do you remember with your family?

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  1. We had driven to St Louis for Memorial Day weekend(2000) with our three daughters, ages 7, 6 and 2 1/2 months. A portion of each day was dry but there was also the occasional thunderstorm that added to the adventure. On the way home we drove directly into something that had me nervous. The clouds were low, thick and gray. The surrounding sky was green. The rain began to come down in sheets, thunder crashed and lightning flashed around us. The older girls were not phased, the youngest daughter was screaming in her car seat. The screaming unnerved everyone. I hate to admit this but we took her out of her seat and my wife held her while I drove. Even now I shake my head in disbelief. The baby quieted right away. Here’s the really weird part of the story. My wife was eating a cupcake and she noticed the baby had become very still and was intensely staring, watching the cupcake.We were able to return her to her car seat and arrived safely at home. We laughed nervously about the look we both saw. Our daughter has retained the ability to conjure up this stare, now we just smile about it but it always takes us back to that Memorial Day weekend and the first time we saw what we would later refer to as her “cupcake” look.

    • Mark,
      Your story made me smile also. Was it a chocolate cupcake? I’d stare, too, if someone were eating a chocolate cupcake and not offering me a bite.
      Thanks for the comment.

  2. I can’t believe that sweet little baby would ever throw such a tantrum, Theresa. 🙂
    I remember when my sister and I were young we were traveling with my parents and got stuck in a major traffic jam on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Traffic wasn’t moving for several hours. My sister, who was around 8 years old, had to “tinkle” as she called it. I remember my mother gave her an empty Coca Cola bottle. I’ll just say, that her aim wasn’t very good. 🙂

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