If you gathered every single parent on the planet and put them in a huge room, then you started telling a story about how your child, or children, just had a "meltdown," every single one of them would know what you were talking about. The second you used the word "meltdown," assuming you had enough translators that know that word in every single language in the world, each parent would have a mental image of what you were talking about. Just mentioning this phenomenon stirs memories and emotions that even parents with grown children have suppressed for years. In order to fully understand this phenomenon, you must look closely at the Anatomy of a Meltdown. It starts with the Set-Up. A missed nap. A late night. An early morning. No morning snack. A change in the routine. Overstimulation. There are hundreds of factors that could create the perfect condition for a meltdown. It's kind of like the difference between a Tornado Watch and a Tornado Warning. The Watch just means the conditions are such that a tornado could happen, whereas a Warning means a tornado has been spotted. Since there are so many factors that could contribute to a meltdown, it is almost impossible to prevent one at this level.
The next stage in this process is The Blender. This is when you mix one of the factors from the Set-Up with another seemingly innocuous event in your daily life. This might include seeing something at the store that your child desperately wants. ("But we don't have THAT Lightning McQueeen!") Or leaving the park, or a party, or the toy store, or a friend's house, or the TV section of Walmart before your child is ready. Or it could be asking your child do perform some completely unreasonable task, like putting on shoes, or picking up toys, or finishing peas, or writing his or her name on a birthday card, or making the bed. And you claim to love your child. Because you don't know what the Set-Up is, you are oblivious that you are throwing this common, everyday event into the Blender with liquid nitrogen. But you are, and that brings us to the actual event: The Meltdown.
It usually hits so fast you don't even know what's going on until you are in the throes of the battle. Your first response is to put your foot down, be the authority figure. But it only takes about 2 seconds for you to realize there ain't no stopping this avalanche. You realize a crowd is starting to gather. You begin to reason with the child, but nothing you say -- no bribe, promise, nugget of parental wisdom -- will work. It's not long until you completely ignore your child and begin addressing the crowd, kind of like a park ranger giving a talk on animal behavior.
"You see, she didn't get her full 2 and a half hour nap today."
"This is how he gets when doesn't get his 100% organic jujucicle by 10:00 a.m."
Or my favorite, "I read her a story at bedtime last night about the social implications of underserved minorities' lack of access to healthcare, and she just figured out what 'disparity' means."
This is what it looks like if you graph it.
And this is when you realize, you are being judged. Hard. If the parenting police were there at that moment, you would go straight to jail with no dinner. You decide not to curse at the on-lookers or your child and you are completely out of pride and energy, so you reach down and grab the nearest thing you can find, which happens to be your child, and you head home. As you reach the car, you replay this epoch in your mind, strategizing how you can avoid this disaster next time. Just as you begin to regain some sense of hope, your young Macbeth looks up at you from his car seat and delivers the closing lines of this epic drama:
"Do I still get my treat?"