I looked up, slightly startled and replied "19 months ... and a bit ..." and I smiled. They looked at each other and then at me and said "Wow, our little girl is nearly 18 months and she would NEVER sit like that, colouring and concentrating ... she's always on the go and so demanding. He's so well behaved!"
I looked at them for a moment enjoying the praise of my son and could have just thanked them, shrugged modestly and said I'm sure their little girl would do the same soon but still fresh in my mind was an incident from just two days before.
My son has always been an early riser, 4-5am being a fairly standard morning with anything approaching 6am being a miraculous achievement and considered a lie-in. Now, as a result of this he can quite unexpectedly nod-off just before or during playgroup or toddler class and trying to find times that suit his sporadic and changeable sleep patterns just doesn't work so he and I navigate around it as best as we can.
On the day in question I had an 11am toddler group to get to so left the house at 9.30am to ensure he got a little buggy-sleep in before class, thus allowing quick transportation to the venue.
On this particular occasion he fell asleep almost immediately on leaving the house despite the heavy rain and having a complete aversion to the water-proof cover. It was a no make-up kind of day so I ducked into a well known fast food chain for my daily caffeine fix rather than our usual soft-sofa'd coffee haunt as I was feeling decidedly more slummy than yummy on this drizzly late winter's day.
25 minutes into my 'coffee break' and my son woke up quite unexpectedly and started crying. Whether the horror of the strip lighting and plastic seating was too much to bear or the teething and constant snotty nose had finally got too much - but he would not stop screaming, he would not calm down.
He would neither be held, or stand up; no free balloons would pacify him, the offer of juice and a snack from the changing bag merely plunged him into greater distress and prompted cries of "No, NO, NOOOO!!!", as if I'd threatened to cut the head off his beloved Upsy Daisy or Iggle Piggle toys.
Eventually, when I couldn't hold him any longer, I attempted to put him in his buggy but he arched his back and, still screaming, slumped down onto the floor. The toddler tantrum. No doubt in this instance, as it happened spontaneously on waking, brought on by teething, cold, fear or a combination of the three, but a tantrum nonetheless.
Finally I managed to get him into his buggy and wheeled him still wailing from the restaurant, a father with two young children smirked in my direction, others looked on sympathetically or gawped with detached voyeurism. I was mortified.
The meltdown didn't end there. He was obviously in no mood for the class so I thought I'd better take him home for a while and calm him down. Once released from his buggy he started ricocheting around the hallway shouting 'out out out' and stamping his feet. I had never seen him like this before, the odd mini-rant but nothing like this in scale or longevity.
I decided to take him to the nearby arts centre for a run around but he wouldn't put his coat on. I compromised with two cardigans and a gilet and strapped him back into his buggy. By this time I was on the verge of tears myself and the rain outside was getting heavier. Once at the arts centre soft play area my son calmed down, I dried off ... the storm had passed.
Two days later I am heading to my favourite coffee shop, toddler in tow, hoping for a seat in the coveted corner sofa near the toy-box. As it was busy late morning I had preempted my sons crankiness at not being able to play with 'truck' and bought him a new colouring book and some pencils.
We found an inferior window seat and when he looked and pointed over at the corner table where some other lucky children were playing with the beloved toy-box I swiftly whipped out the book and pencils and set him up with them, a snack and his juice in the window seat. Just a few minutes later a couple approached us ...
And, so there I was, with the compliment to my toddler hanging in the air, took a deep breath and said to them "Thank you, he is being a very good boy today, but honestly he wouldn't have sat for even a minute like this a month ago, it's all quite new and two days ago he was having a tantrum on the floor of Mcdonalds, so don't worry about your little girl, they change every day." We all laughed, had a chat about their daughter, local nursery schools, work and other grown-up stuff and they went on their way.
Having children is a wonderful thing, sometimes they are delightful little characters full of charm and whimsy, sometimes they're not. Maybe we just need to be a bit more honest about it all because parents rely on the kindness of strangers and behind the Facebook facade we all have our bad days, and so do our kids.