It started because of a towel. The marathon screaming, yelling, hitting, hysterical fit that overcame my 3 year old's body. It had been awhile since we'd had a meltdown of this magnitude. In fact, it was about 7 months before when we were at Disney for my eldest daughter's birthday. That time it was over fireworks. And that time I didn't come out of it nearly as gracefully. There were too many eyes watching and too many opinions for me to have confidence in following my heart and doing what I should have done, what I've always done.
After a walk to Dunkin Donuts for breakfast, while cleaning the water table and pool tubes and swimming while the baby napped, hubby threw the girls in the shower so we could go get lunch and do some shopping. And that's when it happened. My 3 year old, Sugarplum, didn't want the towel hubby offered her. I came in to help and found her hysterical in the shower. She wanted the ducky towel but I explained that towel was all the way across the house in her linen closet and by the time she got there she would be too cold, her lips were already blue.
I offered her her bunny towel or her sister's green towel and even my pink towel and she refused. I calmly talked to her and told her she needed to wrap up and get warm so if she wasn't going to choose I would chose for her. I chose the green because it is the biggest and has a hood. I stepped in the shower and began to wrap her up. She screamed. She wanted the bunny towel and I told her to ask nicely, to which she refused so I continued with the green towel.
After wrestling her into the towel, I scooped her up and carried her to her room, singing her a love song as she screamed and flailed. She wanted the bunny towel! I sat on her bed with her and whispered in her ear. I stood up and swayed and bounced her "like I do with the baby when he's upset at me." I tried everything and it didn't work. I saw the overflowing laundry basket in the corner and put her on her bed. I told her I was going to start the laundry and when I was done whoever was ready was going to lunch. She screamed. And cried.
I put laundry in and went back to find her still on her bed, still naked, still screaming. I told her sister to put her shoes on and explained to hubby the deal and that the baby, Sugarplum and I would be staying behind. Sugarplum screamed more and hit me. I scolded her. She hit me again and hubby snapped at her. We walked away and I finally got hubby and our eldest out the door.
Sugarplum ran after them, standing naked at the garage door screaming. I shut the door, explaining she could not be outside naked and held it closed (and the baby precariously) while she struggled to open it. Twice we did this, she wanted to go too! Finally the car was gone and the garage door was down.
I started to look for something to have for lunch. Sugarplum slammed the freezer when I opened it. I went out the garage with the baby still in my arms to look for something in the chest freezer. Sugarplum climbed up on top of the freezer and tried the slam the lid down. My naked little monkey girl, dangling off the side of the freezer. I laughed. My laughter swelled my eyes with tears and those tears of laughter quickly turned to tears of sadness and frustration.
I thought: This sucks. This is when mommying is hard. This is when I want to give them back. This is when I want to run away. But that's as far as my thoughts got.
Sugarplum had thrown herself down on the garage floor and I had to intervene. "You can not sit naked on the dirty garage floor. You're going to get yuckies all up in your lady parts and get a vaginal infection and then you'll have to go to the doctor." I talked to her calmly. When she refused to get up, I grabbed her by one arm, the baby still in my other, and carried her inside, hitting the baby's head on the door jamb. He cried though my tears had cleared.
Sugarplum hit me again. I put the baby in his bed with a toy, in a "safe place" but what I really needed was a safe place for Sugarplum. A place where a 3 year old could be kept safely while she gained her composure. I took her back to her bed. The baby screamed. I shut her bedroom door behind me and the sliding door to their "wing" of the house as well. By the time I reached the baby's crib, Sugarplum was in the room with me.
I went to the kitchen and started lunch. Sugarplum screamed she wanted to go with Daddy and went to get her clothes, but it was too late. She came in with a shirt but needed help finding pants to match. I told her all the choices she had but she wanted pink. She had calmed a little and was no longer screaming and crying. I went into her room with her and showed her all her pants that had pink. She chose a white and purple skirt.
We checked on lunch and she asked for a cuddle. So we did. I cuddled her like nothing had ever happened. Except it had. And I was crying.
We've been through so much together in the past 3 ½ years. My tiny little, inconsolable baby had become a still tiny and still inconsolable 3 year old. She and I had been in this place so many times before. She and I have struggled through fits just like this more times than I can count, more times than I want to remember. And because of it, she and I have this thing, this bond. I know her. I know what she needs, I know what works. Because we've been here before.
We sat down to eat and it was like nothing ever happened as she uses her adult-size butter knife and kid-size fork proudly cutting her pierogies all by herself. I looked out the window, fighting back the tears. It's over and I'm relieved but it's still hard.
I think about how it all must have looked to an outsider. How some might think she was trying to manipulate me or get her way. But I knew better, I knew she was only 3 ½ and still tiny in so many ways. And I knew she still needed help with controlling herself. I knew that she relied on me for that. I knew it may have looked like I was giving in to her or that she was winning, but I knew it wasn't a battle to win or lost. I knew that what she needed was guidance, support, LOVE.
I know her better than anyone else ever can. Because we've been in this dance together, just her and me for almost 5 years now. She has grown and the fits of this magnitude have finally subsided but she still needs help controlling herself sometimes. She is still a little fireball that has extreme physical reactions to stress and needs to be supported while she calms down.
Her baby brother is now a toddler and he has screaming fits, too. But his are different: he can control them, stop when he wants to. Sugarplum never could and while I knew that, back then I couldn't explain it to other people. But now I know her even better and I can compare her to others and say "see, it's not her fault."
I am saddened by all the times I listened to other people's voices instead of Sugarplum's cries and my own mommying heart. By all the times I didn't do what I knew she needed because other opinions were guiding my choices. But now I know, I was right all along and while the path wasn't easy and mistakes were obviously made, Sugarplum and I came out the other end with a better understanding of each other and I know, together, we can tackle the world!
And all these moments that seemed too much to handle at the time are now tiny memories that have shaped our big, beautiful future together.
HuffPost Parents offers a daily dose of personal stories, helpful advice and comedic takes on what it’s like to raise kids today. Learn more