I got my three-year-old, T., out of the car and had her put her hands on the car and wait for me while I got my 15-month-old, M., out of her car seat. (Yes, I make T. put her hands on the car while she waits for me to get the baby out of the car... if it works for criminals, it'll work for toddlers!) Just as I got them both out, M. on my hip, T. holding my hand, a tall, bedraggled-looking, mostly-toothless middle-aged man came storming out of a pickup truck a few spaces away and launched into a salvo of rage and profanity. He ranted to the sky, yelling "G.D. bleeping bleeper blankers!" Only you can replace that with the most profane of all profanity, all of George Carlin's 7 forbidden words. "Fantastic," I thought, my adrenaline pumping while I figured out whether or not this guy was a threat. I carried M. and dragged a fascinated, riveted T. toward the store as fast as I could, wanting to get away from him.
As he walked several feet behind us, he continued to rant, yelling loud enough for the entire parking lot to hear. "The second you turn around, they'll BLEEP you right in the BLANK!!"
At that point, T. stopped and pointed at him, saying, "Mommy, that dude is really mad!" This snapped him out of his fit of rage and he looked at her, then at the baby, then at me and said, "Oh, no. I'm sorry. I didn't know there were babies around."
"Right, dude," I thought, "there are never babies at a grocery store." He continued, "I just got fired. I'm sorry, little baby. I tip my hat to you." He took off his hat, exposing his bald dome and messy red hair. As I continued to hurriedly usher my kids toward the store, I replied, "Thank you, sir, that's understandable." Before we got to the door, he looked at T. once again and apologized, "I'm sorry, little baby. I didn't mean for you to hear that. That hurts my heart."
Finally, we reached the store and scurried off to get a cart while he, thankfully, headed in the opposite direction. T. was truly frightened by the whole thing and insisted that I carry her on my hip while I pushed the baby in the cart. As we moved through the store getting our milk and mini-bagels, she kept repeating, "That dude was really mad." My body was still purging adrenaline, so all I could say was, "Yes, he was, honey."
As we got to the checkout I looked around to make sure he was gone, and he was. We paid for our stuff and went back to the car. Once we got in, I was calm enough to try to explain what had happened to T.
I said, "Honey, do you remember that episode of "Ni Hao, Kai Lan" where Hoho was really mad, but he didn't talk about his feelings, so he threw a fit? That's what that guy was doing. He was throwing a tantrum instead of using his words. Well, uh... he was using words, just totally the wrong ones. He should have calmed down and talked about his feelings instead of throwing a big tantrum. That's not an appropriate way for adults to behave."
T., seeming to understand, said, "Yeah. He went back home to his angry-house... with his new friends!" That really impressed me, that she hoped he had some new friends to talk to at his "angry-house." She's a sweet, tender-hearted child, and I was glad that this guy's fit of parking lot rage hadn't affected that.
Before we left the store, while I was struggling for a way to explain this grown man's tantrum, I went through several possible things to say. I thought of telling T. that the man was mentally ill, but then I didn't want her to think that's what all mental illness looks like or that all mentally ill people behave that way. As I juggled the pros and cons of the various explanations a three-year-old could understand, I was grateful that I'd seen that episode of "Ni Hao, Kai Lan" and could relate it to that.
How do you explain inexplicable adult behavior to your kids?