What do you do if your child throws a tantrum ... make it an internet hit
Mortified when his son threw a public strop, Greg Pembroke took a picture and posted it online. It went viral. Ed Power reports
A child's public tantrum is a rite of passage for every parent. Typically, such an event will strike out of the clear blue sky, a tear-streaked, snot-smeared bolt of lightning.
One moment all is well with the world, the next some apparently random event has pushed your child toward a Krakatoa-proportioned meltdown.
Whatever you do seems only to worsen the situation – your stress levels not helped by all the people stopping to stare, with expressions that suggest they've never before seen a three-year-old bawling their tiny lungs out.
The father of two little boys, Greg Pembroke (33), a radio advertising writer living in Rochester, in upstate New York, was already intimately familiar with the big noises small people can make when his eldest William threw an epic strop at a museum six months ago.
Greg had just announced that, with only one piece of cheese left, three-year-old William would have to share it with his 18-month-old younger brother, Charlie.
Both agreed – the cheese was duly halved... and William proceeded to give a pint-sized impression of Edvard Munch's Scream.
Like any harassed parent, Pembroke of course wanted the crying to stop immediately.
However, he was long enough in the game to see the funny side too.
"I snapped a quick picture on my cellphone, and posted it on Facebook and captioned it 'Reasons My Son Is Crying'. My friends shared it and someone suggested I start a Tumblr [blog]. As soon as I did that the pictures went around the world. A week later I was on Good Morning America."
Soon parents were sending Greg pictures of their toddlers and young children losing it in public (with permission to reproduce the images on his blog).
In a single month he received five million hits, from every country in the world except North Korea (where wailing kids are, you suspect, the least of people's worries).
Completely by accident a phenomenon had been born.
"It's so relatable," says Greg, who has just published a book of the best of the blog posts entitled, Reasons My Kid is Crying. "Anyone who has children or has ever been around children will know what it's like when this happens.
"In fact, a lot of the people sharing my pictures say 'well, this is why I DON'T want to have kids'. I think the lesson is that no matter how hard you try you are never going to be able to head off these emotional meltdowns all the time. It is best to find some humour in what can be a frustrating situation."
He also suspects adults may have a sneaking regard for the way children act out their emotions in public. How many of us have, at one point or another, wanted to throw ourselves on the floor and shriek at the top of our lungs?
We can't because people would rightly judge that we had blown a circuit and should be dragged off to somewhere dark and padded. Children, however, are free to behave that why – so why wouldn't they? They are doing something no adult could: truthfully displaying their emotions.
If those emotions are sometimes illogical and contradictory – well, are we any different?
Greg had always doted on his kids. However, he saw a different side to parenthood when his wife, Charity, returned to her job as a psychotherapist and he became a part-time homemaker, caring for the children for a chunk of the working week. It was, he confesses, an eye opener. "Suddenly I was home with two young boys. That is when I knew the true meaning of fear," he laughs. "It has been a lot of fun – I just hope I'm not messing them up TOO much."
H e understands why the blog has struck a chord. Childhood meltdowns are something most of us have witnessed at close quarters. Nonetheless he is stunned by the scale of the public response. The day after he appeared on Good Morning America his phone lit up.
"I was approached by publishers and literary agents," he says, " They thought it would translate well. And indeed, I get messages from all over the world from people telling how much they love the book and explaining that it really speaks to them. It's such a shock. I never expected any of this." The website and the book speak a truth that every parent instinctively understands: kids and adults follow wildly different patterns of logic. What makes sense to a grown up does not necessarily add up for a three-year-old. Greg's son wasn't being willfully difficult when he saw that precious slice of cheese broken in two – from his perspective a tantrum was a perfectly sensible response. The fact that he had, a moment earlier, AGREED to share the cheese was irrelevant. Kids' brains just don't work that way.
"They have a logic all their own," says Greg. "That is what makes it so fun and interesting."
There has been some criticism of the blog, to the effect that Pembroke is exploiting his kids. However, Greg believes that he is merely sharing tiny snapshots from the lives of his children, who are perfectly happy 99% of the time. When they've grown up he is sure they will take great delight in looking back at pictures of themselves.
Indeed if there is a bittersweet aspect to the project it is that Pembroke understands William and Charlie won't be this age forever.
Many of the parents who email him tell him that the pictures remind them of when their now grown up children when young and adorable.
It makes them pine for that time and also, strangely, to feel closer to sons and daughters who have often moved to another town or, in many cases, other continents.
"I think it is a celebration of this stage of their lives," says Pembroke. "I know that, years from now, I will remember these moments and laugh.
"Whatever they are going through today, it won't be anything compared to stuff in the future. I'm sure if my son is suffering heartbreak or is dumped by his first girlfriend, we will glance back and wish he was crying about broken cheese."
Book and blog speak to another truth too – that there are moments when every mother and father expects someone official looking to knock at the door and announce that they are entirely unqualified to care for their children.
What Greg's website reminds us is that there is no such thing as the perfect parent.
Most of us are muddling through as best we can. Yes our children will have meltdowns, and yes we'll all come out the other side, our sanity dented but essentially intact.
What do his kids think of their stardom? Not much, it turns out. "I showed my son the book. I was like 'hey, you're on the cover'.
He shrugged it off. In fact, he ran into the other room and came back with a stapled together pamphlet of him and his classmates which he made in preschool. He was far more impressed by that."