Public Temper Tantrums: How Do You Deal?

My three-year-old son Mason is obsessed with the 4 train. He even sleeps with a miniature toy version of it.

If you live in New York City (like us) you know that the 4 train, which is part of the city's subway system, is virtually the same as the 5 train–they share many of the same stops, they're both express, and they're both on the green line–but for some reason Mason refuses to ride the 5 train. Only the 4. And that's a big problem in the morning when I need to get him to school and get to a meeting by 9:30.

The 4/5 trains alternate at our subway stop and both of them take us to where we need to go. Yesterday morning the 5 train arrived before the 4 train, so we boarded it…and Mason fell apart. "No 5, mommy. NOOOOOO 5!!!!!" His body went stiff, he screamed at the top of his lungs. It was all I could do to get us both on the train before the doors closed. A woman directly in front of us jumped out of her seat so I could sit him down. And he continued to shriek. And shriek.

It was 8:30 a.m. and I could feel everyone staring, totally pissed off that we had boarded that train at that moment. I could feel the row of grandmothers sitting across from us staring, judging. I was convinced they thought I was an awful mom. I imagined that I could hear their thoughts: Why had I forced my son to ride the 5 train when he so clearly preferred the 4? Why was I such a mean mom? Clearly a good mom would just wait the extra 5 minutes and let the poor child ride the train he wanted to ride.

I finally calmed Mason down by giving him my phone so he could scroll through photos. The entire meltdown lasted for two stops and the rest of the trip went smoothly…but I felt anxious the whole time, totally paranoid of the grannies, even after one of them told me that my now-gigging, giddy toddler was adorable. I was also weirded out. How could someone could go from so hysterical to so deliriously happy in less than five minutes?

Mason's normally pretty good…but he definitely subscribes to the "go big or go home" philosophy when it comes to falling apart in public. This time I chose to stay calm and distract him with the classic parent bribe. But was that the right move? How do you deal with public tantrums? Do you worry that other moms are judging you when your kid freaks out in public?