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December 30, 2010
Wyatt wanted his chair pushed up against the kitchen counter. Bahw, he kept saying. Bahw? Ball, maybe? But why go to the kitchen for a ball, when there are so many of them in the toybox?

Bahw, I said back, hoping he would correct me, and he did: Oh, you want a bar!

he said with a satisfied nod. There's a glass jar full of granola bars up there. But once at eye level with the jar, he spied something even better. Lollipop!

Well, finish your bar first.

A rare tantrum ensued. It was mild, really -- a one-tear tantrum, scarcely worthy of the name. Not a virtuoso performance, not for Mamo: he saves those for his parents, and even for them, they are mild. But it sufficed: in the end, he had a bar, a piece of fruit leather and a lollipop.

His cousin Kayla lives in California and has never seen snow. She had a warm jacket and a holiday hat-and-mitten set, but no snow boots. Several pairs of socks and her bedroom slippers did the trick for a turn in the front yard. She loved it, her grandma told me. She yelled bloody murder when we made her go back inside.

I had seen Kayla yell bloody murder once during this holiday. She lay on the floor, kicking and screaming, when her mother asked her to do something she didn't want to do. Our instructions were to ignore this, and this seemed to work: in less than a minute, she wandered back out to join the rest of us around the Christmas tree and play with her new animals and Baby Jesus.

There is a direct relationship between degree of intimacy and tantrum intensity. Parents get both barrels. Those of us whose presence is less constant don't -- kids aren't sure what the market will bear with us, I guess. Or maybe it's just that we don't carry the magic parents carry, that miraculous ability to solve every problem and make everything all right. It lives for decades, that perfect trust in us -- I remember feeling that life just couldn't go on when my mother died. But of course it could: I was a young adult, perfectly capable of managing life on my own. I hadn't thought my mother was magic, not for years. Still, underneath all my thinking, I must still have felt she was.

We see the same trust in the psalmists, and the same outrage when things don't go well -- fully a third of the psalms are complaints. They shake their fists at heaven, the psalmists do, and this is precisely because they trust God so completely. What's going on here!?! they want to know. I demand an answer!!!

Funny: even our tantrums are based on the certainty of being loved.
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