The rage started when I didn't let him open the front door and built to wild fury when I buckled his seat belt.
"I do! I do! I do!"
Tobias kicked and shouted and wailed and I closed the automatic door, walked six paces from the car and breathed.
In. Then out.
In. And out.
I turned toward the car, rubbed the throbbing spot between my eyebrows, then approached reluctantly. The bloodcurdling screams of the tantrum within were muffled, but only marginally, by the walls of the car. I loitered outside the driver's door, stalling for more time. Trying to quiet the interior storm swelling within my own head.
I saw the hot, young, dark-haired neighbor across the street out of the corner of my eye. He was at the front door, gathering his things to leave for work. His young, perfectly presented, blonde wife is pregnant with their first baby and every day new packages arrive on their porch. A crib, a car seat, pretty linens and adorable toys, I imagine.
I thought about dashing their naive excitement with a reality dose and snide remark about the screaming hellion - "Are you sure you want one of these?" I considered. Instead, I opened the door, fastened my belt and cranked the radio to drown the cries of not one but now two children.
"It's the end of the world as we know it!"
I raised my eyebrows at the coincidence of stumbling on the R.E.M. song.
In the face of competition, Tobias ratcheted up his volume and I reacted in kind, met met his tantrum with my own. The fast-paced chants were deafening as I danced angrily in my seat, held the steering wheel and thrashed to the chords.
"It's the end of the world as we know it. And I feel fine."
For the first time, I considered the lyrics differently. He doesn't feel fine so much as "fine." Like when you're angry with your partner but don't have the energy to fight. "How are you?" they say. "Fine," you answer through clenched teeth.
Or, maybe he feels fine in a detached sense. Eye of the hurricane is coming, earthquakes, fires, combat zones, population overflow, the Rapture, internal churn. It's all too much, so cataclysmic, that he feels nothing.
The song ended as we pulled into the preschool parking lot but the toddler explosion still raged. I found a spot then rounded the car to open the children's door. Tobias' shoes and socks were strewn across the floor. I considered leaving him there while I walked Josephine and Desmond inside but he was so loud, so angry, so crazed I thought someone might call the cops.
I jammed his shoes on and tucked him under my arms in a football hold. He flailed his legs and arms, kicked the car next to us and freaked out.
"Go--oood morning," the preschool director chirped as we neared the door. "Or maybe not," she added as we passed.
The dramatics continued as we walked past each classroom, all the way to the back where the Sunshine class meets. Parents averted their eyes politely or looked at me directly with a knowing weariness. "Been there. Done that. Hang in there."
Josephine dropped her backpack to the floor, gulped for air and choked with sobs. Desmond, for once, stopped talking.
"Oh dear," the teacher said.
Another 4-year-old poked her face an inch from Josephine's. "What's wrong?" she said.
And then, I don't know what happened or who intervened but Josephine sat down to play with a basket of toys and Tobias stopped screaming. He dropped his head on my shoulder and melted his body onto my chest and cried: a mournful, exhausted snivel, not the raw, unbridled wail.
I carried my baby back to the car and we drove home.
We felt fine.