March 8, 2000

Preschool meltdown
___As a parent of preschoolers, you learn to use all kinds of technical language. Words like "potty," "blankey" and "binkey."
___ However, a good friend of ours has coined the most descriptive technical term we've encountered as parents:
___ There is no dictionary definition of meltdown, but if you ever experience it (and you will) you'll know exactly what it is. Meltdown is what happens after the 10th chocolate chip cookie has been eaten, after a group of children have played together all day long or after being over-stimulated by every ride at the amusement park.
___ Meltdown is the end of the line, and it is not a pretty sight.
___ Perhaps this story will illustrate. A few years ago when our twin boys were 3, my mother accompanied me and the boys to the mall. It already had been a long day, filled with lots of stimulation and activity. Nevertheless, we made the fateful decision to let the boys visit the toy store in the mall, the store with their favorite wooden railway set on display as an enticement for children to play and parents to pay.
___ When it came time to leave, the little engineers didn't want to head for the roundhouse. Several gentle appeals were made without response. Hands were held. Arms were tugged. Tears began to flow. Wailing pierced the air. Other shoppers began to stare.
___ In short, the boys refused to leave. Which left me with one option: pick both of them up and carry one under each arm to the car, which was farther away than I remembered at the time.
___ What a sight that must have been: one out-of-shape dad carrying a kicking-and-screaming preschooler under each arm, headed for the parking lot with the determination of a quarterback, with the shell-shocked grandmother in tow.
___ The crowds parted for us like the Red Sea. One man on the sidelines uttered the only words we heard on that long journey from store to car. "Goodness," he said. "You've got it in stereo."
___Mark and I have decided they should put a large sign above the maternity wing in very hospital: "Leave Your Brain Here."
___ Who would have thought that two educated, relatively intelligent people could be reduced to blithering idiots by two children?
___ I find it difficult to maintain my composurewhen one minute everything is fine, and the next minute a child is screaming at the top of his lungs because I put his milk in the wrong cup, or his brother took a favorite toy, or things are just not going his way.
___ Dealing with a child in the midst of a meltdown can throw me into my own meltdown. I read about a mother of young twins who had a meltdown of sorts herself and decided to get in the kids' playpen by herself so the children would leave her alone for a minute. I know the feeling.
___ One key in keeping meltdown at a minimum is to follow the maxim "no surprises." When we go into a store or restaurant, it helps to lay down the law ahead of time: "No fussing or crying when we say it is time to leave." "Stay close to Mommy or Daddy." Children need these boundaries.
___ Maybe if we paid more attention to the boundaries God has set for us in the Bible, we wouldn't find ourselves in spiritual meltdown so often.

Mark Wingfield is managing editor of the Standard. Alison Wingfield is a freelance writer. The Wingfields moved to Texas from Louisville, Ky., where Mark had been editor of the Western Recorder, in which this column appeared weekly.

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