Every time I pass a small child absolutely losing it on the street or in a store or restaurant I think, a la Lou Grant, “You’ve got spunk kid.” But unlike my cranky predecessor of spunk-diagnosis, I love spunk. I really do. I cannot stop myself from smiling admiringly at the little kid who is thrashing his legs and arms against the sidewalk and screaming, “I hate you, I HATE you!!!!” at his caregiver, especially if he’s using really good form of clinging onto a mailbox or parking meter. I always want to give the little demon a fist-bump of camaraderie, but adults seem to resent that.
I’ve retired my limp body and my kicking legs, like any champ in the prime of her game. Adults get so many privileges as we age but we give up just as much. Every little kid with good parents learns that other people do not like temper tantrums. Other little kids don’t like temper tantrums; it makes them feel weird. Parents really don’t like temper tantrums. Nannies don’t like them. My every temper tantrum was followed by a period of isolation, which was a powerful punishment to a tiny rage-filled ham like myself.
There are adults who never learn this lesson. I don’t know if these were disciplined children who’ve drastically devolved since puberty or people whose parents didn’t have the heart to give their kids every adult’s dream and every little kid’s nightmare of a time-out. I’ve seen a grown man lose it over a casual joke about football. I’ve seen a woman spit fire over having to wait five minutes to use a conference room. Rick Santorum throws a literal hissy fit every time a male child anywhere uses a pink bowling ball. We often reward adults with no emotional filter with reality television gigs and paparazzi bonanzas. Though I personally applaud these individuals’ abilities to follow primal instincts into absolute meltdowns, they should know it is not a good look. Temper tantrums on adults are like pleather miniskirts on little girls: en vogue right now, but overall inappropriate and likely to be remembered and judged far longer than the fashion lasts. If you are a grownup who feels on the edge of losing it, my advice is to go somewhere private, like a bathroom or your home or the streets of New York City; a place away from sharp edges and sharper looks. For unless you are a powerful white male featured prominently on Fox News or a member of The Bad Girls’ Club, society is not ready to let you be great.