I will start by saying that today wasn’t the worst day we have ever had. But it was far from the best.
Last week I waxed poetic about my little boy’s graduation from kindergarten. It was a week in Utopia. . . and you know what happens to all Utopian societies.
As with any major transition in his life, Jack is going through the end of kindergarten and beginning of summer in balls-to-the-wall disruptive behavior mode.
On Mondays, I stay home with the kids. Up until this week, Jack had spent six gorgeous hours of Monday in kindergarten. Now, with school done, he is home with me and Emily all day. I’m not going to lie; I was dreading it. I just knew the change was going to rock his socks and thereby cause us collateral damage.
If I were my own client, I would tell myself stay positive, expect the best of your kid so he doesn’t live up to your expectations for him to be naughty, remain in control, yadda, yadda, yadda. If I were my own client, I would also tell myself to shut the hell up, because I know my kid.
To keep things cool and under control, I planned the day with structure– some fun activities mixed with meals, snacks, and a couple TV breaks. The day was to end with birthday dinner for me at my mother’s house, a cool, air conditioned respite after a hot day.
It was hotter here today than I could have imagined. 99 degrees in the shade. We don’t have central air, and our air conditioners were not in our bed rooms yet. So it was really freaking hot. For this reason, I planned a water feature for our day which proved to be my downfall.
But let’s start at the very beginning, at the children’s museum where it was cool, not too crowded and my children were wonderful. Jack was charming, patient, and indulgent with Emily. We came home, had lunch, and Emily went down for her nap. Jack had a “rest” in front of the TV, allowing me to catch my breath.
Despite the heat, I was pleased everything was going well! We hit our first speed bump of the day when Jack wanted to make freeze pops, but I couldn’t find the funnel. When I told him that I was not going to make them right that moment, he became immediately triggered, slapped and then pinched me repeatedly. I kept my shit together and let him know, very calmly, that he wouldn’t be going to birthday cake dinner at his grandparents’ house if he didn’t pull it together and go take some space. That worked, and we got back on track.
When Em got up from her nap, we went outside to play in the kiddie pool. I was not opposed to getting wet, but I was opposed to getting sprayed in the face by Jack’s water bottle. When I asked him not to do it again, he promptly did it again. I got with Em, and he followed after me, amping up the spraying to opening up the bottle and dumping it on me.
I brought Em inside to change her and he followed, kicking my shins and dumping an entire bottle of water (which he had refilled since the first dumping) on me right where I stood, in front of the changing table.
“Are you kidding me?” I snapped at him, grabbing the water bottle and tossing it up on the highest shelf in the kitchen. He proceeded to pinch and kick and slap while I attempted to install a diaper on the now crying Emily.
I called my mom and told her Jack could not be rewarded for this kind of behavior with family party dinner, thereby shooting myself in the foot. What the eff was I going to cook for dinner in this effing heat?!
I took Emily into my bedroom and shut the door. Jack banged on it. I stood against it to keep him from coming in. Despite the flood of adrenaline making my heart race and my head float, I kept my shit together. I did not raise my voice. I did not spank or threaten or freak out, much as I wanted to.
Instead, I got my histrionics out by calling my husband and telling him, “I’m going to call the cops on Jack.”
“I’ll be home in 20,” he said.
I think he might have been home in 15. I’ve never been so relieved to see him walk in the door.
By the time he got home, Jack realized he was in deep doo-doo and had gone into his room to “take space.” This is a really positive thing, as last year, he would have still been in full throttle tantrum.
Despite the full-body sweat I was rocking my husband held me as I cried, “I just want to be a happy family.” He set to work putting in our air conditioners and went out to get some salads for dinner. My hero.
It is really hard for me to write this, to admit that I am such a miserable failure as a mom, to describe how dysregulated my kid gets, and how I am seemingly powerless to stop it.
It is humiliating.
It makes me feel fraudulent to think that tomorrow I start my work week trying to help people with their dysregulated children. Who the crap am I to give advice to anyone?
I have a shred of pride knowing I handled this tantrum better than the last, and I will handle the next one better than I handled this one. I am working crazy hard at staying mindful during these moments.
I get so triggered and panicked when Jack has a tantrum, especially after we have had a wonderful start to the day. During his last big tantrum before today, which was really and truly awful, I did some really hard tuning in to my thoughts and urges to find out why I was taking his behavior so personally. One of the internal thoughts I had, “How dare he ruin my perfect day?”
When I realized this thought was at the epicenter of my rage and crazy-mommy-head, I was able to look at the day and realize that his tantrum really only lasted 30 minutes, and why did I have to trash the other 23.5 hours of the “perfect” day for that one tantrum?
It also helps to realize Jack is evolving. Although he still has tantrums and aggressions, they are not nearly as frequent or ferocious as when he was younger. Tonight, Jack was remorseful and spent the remainder of the evening trying to be extra loving and calm.
My behavior affects Jack as well. He is a strong-willed kid, prone to anxiety who gets easily triggered. Something today about my telling him I didn’t want him to spray me in the face triggered him. It is like he took it personally, fired off some behaviors, which I took personally, and there you have the symbiosis of our relationship. I wonder how things would have gone if I had more of a sense of humor about getting sprayed in the face. . .
I’ve worked really hard to keep my self-composure, because if he feels for one second that I am out of control, then it makes his spiral even worse.
Mindfulness does not come easily or naturally for me during these times, but this is when it is most important.
I sit writing this out on my porch. I think we are about to get a big thunder storm. There is a lovely breeze, the wind chimes are lazily singing, and I can’t help but keep looking over at our fat patch of marigolds. The saying, All’s well that ends well, comes to mind.
And now the two gifts:
A while back I was talking with a friend about my son. She is an expert in child development and has ten times the grace and patience I could ever hope for. I remember saying I don’t know why I became a mom because I have know clue how to parent this kid. She smiled so kindly, and told me that I got Jack for a reason. That he is the kid I was meant to get because I will figure out how to parent him.
When I whined about feeling like a total fraud coming to work after bumbling through one of his tantrums, she said. “You are not a fraud. What makes you good at this work is that you know first-hand how hard it is to be a mom.”
Armed with those two gifts, I think I can hug my kid and go to work tomorrow with my head held high.