The Public Meltdown

This week there was a story in the press about a stranger in his 50s leaving a mother £5 with a note that she was a credit to her generation due to her son’s good behaviour on a busy train.

My initial thought was, that’s a nice man and great that a mum should get some recognition instead of the worn out stares that you sometimes get on public transport when they see you approaching with children. Good on them.

I can remember when Buster was just one being at a baby music class; mum’s babbling enthusiastically ‘We love this one don’t we?’ to the opening chords of ‘Wind the bobbin up’ while kid looks nonplussed and chews on a musical instrument. An older child of about four who obviously didn’t want to hang out with a load of babies went in to meltdown. Proper, lying on the floor kicking and wailing while mum got more red and harassed by the second, willing the child to get up with every bone in her body and aware she is being watched by 15 other mums so unable to drag said child to their feet and reel off the threats/bribes. In public you can suddenly feel you have to do your best Supernanny and as she crouched/lay at the flailing child’s eye level and talked slowly and deliberately as we all know we’re supposed to, I can remember thinking ‘that poor woman’. Then I looked at my darling boy drunkenly wobbling around and thought ‘thank goodness my little boy is such an angel’.

And then he turned two and I realised I was a moron.

Also this week, I got on a bus with Buster and Mabel. Now at two and four, climbing on a bus with the buggy and buggy board and both kids requires more than two arms. One of them inevitably doesn’t get on the bus and there’s a gasp of panic from both – and some passengers – that the double doors might shut and leave one behind. What you need is a kindly bus driver that will wait so you’re at least sat down. And there are some kindly bus drivers. There are also some bastards that tear off before any of you are sat down, leaving you to choose which kid to save and whether or not to leave the buggy free-wheeling down the bus and taking out a couple of pensioners while you perform an ungainly manoeuvre from pole to pole so you can deposit your kids in to seats.

On this particular day, our boarding of the bus was a shambles. The driver mouthed ‘Wait for the next bus’ because there were two buggies already aboard, but I did a desperate yell at the closed doors ‘We’ve already had two go by, I’ll put the pram down, I’ll put the pram DOWN’.

The doors begrudgingly opened and on we got. The bastard driver tore off. Buster started to scream in a desperate manner because the miniature ninja turtles and seven pieces of intricately put together Lego I promised he could hold on the bus (to get coats on) were being folded away in the bottom of the pram. As I crushed my own hand trying to retrieve said items from inside the folded pram and spilt the contents of my bag across the floor, I looked up to see Mabel had taken a seat on the steps to the back of the bus and people couldn’t get to seats. And she would not move. And Buster was still screaming about his Lego so very loudly while all the passengers looked on. The silence of the bus meant we were putting on a show that everyone could hear and see and most looked like they weren’t happy about this unexpected entertainment.

Once placated with his ninjas, Buster found a seat and was finally quiet. A kindly person stood up to let Mabel and I sit down. Except she wanted her cuddly dog Woofer to have the unoccupied seat next to her and she shrieked hysterically ‘GET OFF GET OFF GET OFF’ on repeat with all her might until I stood up. Every time I tried to sit down and reason with her, she did it again. I was being beaten and shamed by a two year old. Someone had moved so we could sit down and her mangy stuffed dog now had a seat to himself. With an audience of people watching and judging me and my shambolic state and total lack of control, I kind of half hovered over the seat feeling pathetic that a two year old was the boss of me. This was ridiculous. Then I started to laugh. And the woman in her 50s behind me leant forward and said ‘oh this takes me back, my daughter used to do that but to strangers’ and we laughed together and I looked around and a few other passengers were smiling and it was ok.


Some days I may have mis-timed naps or meals and that will be the reason for their wrath. Some days they’ll be vile and the next day wake up with a bug and I realise they were coming down with something and that was the reason. Other days, they just meltdown. There is no logic. Some days I may handle it like Jo Frost herself. Others I might lose my shit and instead of bending down and softly stating that this is unacceptable behaviour, I’ll hear a screaming voice coming out of me that I don’t even recognise. Or I say pathetically ‘I’m going to tell Dad about this’. Even worse, I pretend to cry in the hope they’ll behave on account of their pity for me.

My kids aren’t terrible and I’m not a terrible mother. Some days everyone is highly strung and tired and you’ve got to do what you can to get through the day and tomorrow will be a better one. Sometimes I could probably handle them more masterfully and I should dig deeper for the energy to do so. I’ve learned that some days kids will just be difficult. I can remember the first time Buster went apoplectic – I’d cut his toast in to squares and he wanted triangles. Except he’d asked for squares so even he was confused, which made him even madder. The ensuing hysteria made no sense and in that moment I felt terrified that I’d lost my darling boy forever. Then to totally throw you they’ll be exemplary on other days. You might even inwardly cringe as they politely say ‘oh yes please Mummy, I’d LOVE some more Brocolli’. It’s all a phase. Which doesn’t mean we give up and let them be rat bags, but we don’t need to beat ourselves up every time or worry about what everyone else thinks.

The next time I witness a mother flushed and anxious as her kids wreak havoc, maybe I’ll leave her a note and a fiver and tell her she’s doing a good job. She probably needs a slab of cake and a stiff drink more than anyone.

Go on – share your stories of your child’s meltdowns. It’ll be like therapy (and probably make the rest of us feel better)

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28 thoughts on “The Public Meltdown

  1. Thaisdel says:

    Well done Steph for yet again expertly describing another classic motherhood scenario. I was reading your post half laughing half whincing at the image of an octopus like mother desperately trying to control children, luggage and buggy in a moving public vehicle. My little boy is only 11months and while he can’t yet verbalise his frustrations, he is an expert at vocalising them. When he was 6 months and going through the universe’s most awful anti-nap phase he would get so overtired and cry so loudly in his buggy (which he has always despised) I would often have to get off about 7 stops earlier, as I felt so bad! Once I hoped on the bus mid torrential shower and he decided to wail so loudly he actually steamed up his raincover… The bus was heaving and I didn’t have room to pick him up, so I thought I’d grin and bear until a woman loudly asked her friend ‘what is that woman doing to her baby?’ I jumped out at the next stop, far from home and burst into tears! Looking back now I should have asked the woman if she had any advice or even children of her own! Since then, whenever I see a struggling mum I always ask if I can help, 9 times out of 10 the response is a ‘I think I can manage’ but a knowing look always shows a thank you for the sympathy.

    • Steph says:

      Oh god – yes, those moments when you just want to do whatever you can to make the situation stop, even getting off the bus in the rain! And yes to the knowing look. Nothing beats women supporting women x

  2. Becky | Spirited Puddle Jumper says:

    Oh Steph, I’m laughing but totally sympathising with your nightmare bus story- I think I would have cried! My nightmare story is when I took them both to Tesco to do a giant weekly food shop, thinking it would be ‘fun’ and kill a couple of hours (we usually get delivery, and there is definitely a reason for that!). Freddie was 2 1/2, and Sasha was 15 months. I had them both in the trolley, and they spent the whole time fighting, wailing and Sasha biting Freddie whilst they sat side by side. If I put F out of the trolley, he would wander off, they both wanted to eat anything they came into contact with, and by the end S was in full-on meltdown. I got to the checkout, unloaded all the shopping (both kids crying now), packed up the shopping, went to pay…and realised I’d left my bank card at home. I burst into big, fat, ugly tears, as I had to then go all the way home with both kids to get bank card, go all the way back again, pay for and load up shopping (and kids) and then sort it all out the other end. Never again!

    • Steph says:

      EXACTLY! I do it all online and every now and then think ‘oh let’s do it, it’ll be an adventure’. And it ISN’T! It’s embarrassing and exhausting and expensive as I ply them with stuff! That sounds like a bad bad day. Get in touch next time you’re thinking of trying it again and I’ll talk you down xx

  3. Nicola @ BelleNoirLoves says:

    Oh steph, this made me laugh so much!!! I love that you understand and summed it up perfectly in this post. The thought of Mabel shouting ‘get off’ as you tried to sit down is brilliant, although I’m sure it didn’t feel like it at the time. I often feel my 18 month old is the boss of me! Our first public tantrum was in Westfield last weekend, I felt like the whole shopping centre was looking at me thinking I was the worst mummy ever. But reading this has made me feel a whole lot better and ready to handle the many more that I’m sure are to come. X x

  4. Suzanne says:

    This little story has made quite an impact on many of us, hasn’t it? Why is it so hard to just smile and empathise? My middle one was a wretched toddler (she’s not changed much!) and once screamed at a lady behind us in the supermarket queue “Don’t even look at me lady!”. She wasn’t even 2. Imagine my embarrassment. I don’t even remember the lady’s reaction! Probably one of utter horror! I can now look back on it and laugh….as can my daughter. We’ve come a long way 🙂 x

    • Steph says:

      You definitely have! Supermarket queues are the WORST. Mine are feral by that point and have already eaten half the contents of the trolley so can’t keep them quiet with food. I love that you remember this x

  5. Eleanor says:

    I’m yet to experience the true pain of this but i absolutely sympathise more than ever before with you and all other trojans who march through it on a daily basis – because I know it’s coming! Somebody I know recently posted something about thinking the train guy was patronising, i couldn’t disagree more. Train guy made someone feel good about something that isn’t always natural or easy. He’s a legend!

  6. Jude says:

    I heard about that lovely gesture by that man on the radio yesterday, after very testing lunch/ foodfight with my two in Waitrose yesterday. If only there were more people like that about. The Public Meltdown is so humiliating … Good to know it happens to the best of us. You experience on the bus felt so familiar and real to me. Great post x

    • Steph says:

      WHAT did the good people of WAITROSE say?! And it definitely happens to the best of us. Anyone that says their kid never does it has it coming just around the corner I reckon. It’s what kids do.

  7. Emz says:

    My babe is only 10 mths but even her screaming when we’re out makes me embarrassed & flustered, so god knows what I’ll be like when the meltdowns come … A bus meltdown is possibly my ultimate nightmare .. all those people looking at you! You had to laugh really didn’t you ..otherwise it would be tears & that would’ve been awkward! x

    • Steph says:

      That’s also happened – I thought I’d ease in! Flustered is exactly the right word, but you survive it. Definitely gets easier as the kids get older and I’m more confident that I’m not a crap mother it’s just what they will sometimes do x

  8. Sam says:

    See this is why I never travel by bus – I leave that to my parents – they don’t even have to pay for it! They have been known to take the boys the entire route of the 281 – Tolworth to Hounslow! EJ saves his best meltdowns for supermarkets where I have to hang my head whilst ripping open yet to be purchased salt & sugar laden crap for a quiet life. My two actually managed to overturn a full trolley once! So embarrassing!! Xx

  9. Julia @ rainbeaubelle says:

    Oh the meltdowns, I am nearly over the eldest having them and not quite into the youngest getting there, so I am enjoying the relative breather. I remember feeling just the same when my son was a baby, thinking he would never do that, but they all do! I think now my tolerance level is much higher! I remember so many times having to pick my son up and carry him kicking and screaming from places, and now he still has a meltdown at home when he has to do his homework! Aahh!! X

  10. brummymummyof2 says:

    Oh bablar. My boy is in the full throws of dropping to the floor and going rigid and silent. Which I kinda prefer to my girl who screamed the house down. Tantrums is totes on my list for Don’t Beat Yourself up as all kids have them you just have to ride them out. They be cray cray. Fo shizzle x PS yay you blogged. Huzzah xxx

  11. Natalie Smithson says:

    Our worst to date was on a glamping trip last year. At the peak there was one child screaming (literally), another crying, two parents totally losing their cool, and a wailing baby. Lord knows what the family in the next tent thought of us as a combination of being over-excited, tired, wet through, and hungry resulted in all our emotions colliding at once. To make matters worse, we were all in fancy dress feeling even more ridiculous than we already sounded. However, we find that a rainbow routinely follows a storm. Meltdowns make us stronger as we build ourselves up with a deeper sense of understanding and, invariably, the next occasion results in Us meets the Waltons. Funny how it goes. If somebody patronised me with a fiver, I’d tell them to join us again the next week and see if we’re still in credit! My moto is also ‘it’s just a phase’ – the good and the bad 🙂

  12. Leah says:

    I love this!!! A meltdown is what seems like a daily occurrence in our house at the minute with a highly strung, independent, stroppy, screaming, shouting and crying 4 yr old… I never know what is her particular trigger of the day. Would it be I don’t need a coat, gloves or hat as I have sleeves and then 10 minutes later at the park she’s uncontrollably crying as she’s so cold (yes I did have to prove a point but I did bring them with me so not such a bad mother). Or the one that really causes the fireworks is a broken or squashed biscuit, banana, chocolate etc….which she refuses to even look at let alone it eat it!! Sometimes I don’t know who needs calming down more.

    • Steph says:

      Thanks Leah – yep, broken food causes major panic here. Sometimes it’s like it happens in slow motion and you’re watching it and you know the fall out is going to be BAD.

  13. hannah says:

    This made me laugh alot…..not sure if thats what was expected or not! im mainly laughing because most days have an element of this…..if 1 is being really good u cant bet the other is not! Im happy to hear that im going to tell dad is widely used….i also threaten to call the childminder on a regular basis with phone in hand pretending to dial…..sometime i would like to call her see what she suggests! X