You’re probably making the Debbie Downer “whamp whaaaah” noise in your head and rolling your eyes at me right now, but you’ve never had to deal with Jack the week after school vacation, as he transitions back to school and all of its many joys– early rising, turning off the TV to go to the bus stop, holding it together behavior-wise for six hours, and homework.
He came home happy enough, and I was pleasantly surprised. I made a big bowl of fruit salad for his after-school snack, and we chatted about Sponge Bob and belt testing at karate tonight. For about a half hour, I treasured the lovely illusion that I was totally “bringing it” as a mom.
Things were cool and upbeat. . . until spelling homework.
My first grader is already spelling at a third grade level. So, the work is not hard for him. Honestly, I think the challenge of racing all day on the academic treadmill just wears the poor guy down. Really. And homework in first grade? What happened to kids running around outside and exploring the world in their free time? Now they get to sit for another hour as they fight their brains to do juuuusssst a bit more work.
Eff you homework. I effing hate you. I hate you even more than Jack does. And you don’t care one bit that we have karate tonight and are already rushing around and that my kid hates to be rushed, that it triggers his anxiety and mine. You could give a flying hoo-hah, couldn’t you, homework?
The meltdown started because his hand wouldn’t “stop laughing”. He said it was numb, as he gripped the pencil like a caveman and scribbled his words about as neatly as a doctor writing me a prescription for the ativan of which I was dreaming.
“Hold the pencil right, Jack,” I said. My heart rate sped up as we inched up the rails towards the peak of the tantrum coaster. And then we were over the edge, screaming all the way down the steep plunge. I effing hate roller coasters.
Jack started screaming, calling me stupid, calling his teacher stupid and threatening to write her a note telling her how awful she is and how she should be fired for giving him homework. I managed not to take the bait and mention that he would have to hold his pencil correctly to write such a note.
We struggled for about 45 minutes. Time out has never worked with Jack, but I tried it anyway. I picked him up and put him in his room. He immediately popped out to swing at me, throw his pencil, tip over a chair, and throw himself screaming and crying on the floor.
We are not spankers, but oh man, oh man, it sometimes takes every ounce of self control. I’ve always fancied myself a pretty peaceful hippie chick. I never had a violent urge or aggressive bone in my body. . . until having children. Something about my child blatantly disrespecting and aggressing upon me makes me feel helpless and scared. And feeling helpless and scared makes me angry. And while I logically know matching his aggression with my own will not help, I still have to sit on my hands a little bit in my mind.
Fast forward an hour. The ride was over. I stepped off the roller coaster, but my pulse still raced, my adrenaline still surged, my legs still shook, and my stomach still lurched.
He finished his homework and moved on. His consequence for disrupting the peace was “community service.” He had to do my least favorite chore and swiffer the kitchen floor.
Life moved on.
He fixed himself a cheese and guacamole “burrito” and sat happily drumming away on the table and humming as he ate it, but I was still pissed.
Why was I such a crappy mom that I couldn’t shepherd my kid through an afternoon without a tantrum? What life lesson had I missed? What the eff was wrong with me that I was still so enraged with the little punk who was changing into his karate uniform? Aren’t moms supposed to love unconditionally? What kind of terrible mother wants to smack her kid and then sits down to blog about it?
After I finished berating my character, morality, and parenting skills, I put my face in my hands and cried.
My husband came home and there was no dinner because I had been at the theme park of spelling homework disaster with my six and a half year old. So, that made me a crappy home maker too.
My husband took Jack to karate so I could cool off and go for a walk with Emily, who seemed just as chipper as a stuffed Hello Kitty and who giggled when I squeezed her. So, I can’t be doing everything wrong if she is happy, right?
As we walked, I thought about how much growth we’ve seen in Jack this past year. A year ago we really struggled with the rigors of kindergarten, which was such a huge transitional year for Jack. This year he started reading like gangbusters, and writes a stories in a journal just for fun. He is interested in Reiki and craves cuddling while he watches Nijja Turtles. He practices his karate forms on the playground, or in the middle of aisles when we are out shopping.
He’s a cool kid.
He’s a complex and sensitive little human I grew from scratch in my tummy.
During a tantrum, I completely lose sight of these things. It is so hard to stay present, to feel love and connection through the rage and anxiety– both his and mine.
Part of being a parent is being a good role model. I want to model rolling with the punches (uh literally) for Jack, and that when life knocks us down we get back up and start fresh. I also want to model empathy, compassion, forgiveness, and unconditional love.
I don’t want to hold a grudge with my six year old.
But sometimes it is really hard.
Being a parent evokes the most insanely intense feelings I’ve ever felt. Most of the time love and pride fill me to the point of bursting at the seams, but other times the feelings are dark and despairing– confusion, guilt, terror.
Even after the tantrum, when I look at his blotchy face, it’s hard to remember he is so small, so young, and that the feelings in his little body must be just awful. When he comes up to me with his arms open, wanting to hug me and cover my face in kisses, it is hard not to recoil. Kids move on pretty quickly. It is an adult thing to hold on to that kind of anger and frustration. It is hard not to take it personally because it feels like a personal affront to my parenting. There is nothing I want so much as to be a good parent.
Good parents do not hold grudges.
I suppose part of “bringing it” as a good parent is learning how to be present and grounded during the tough times, not just when you’re sitting around eating fruit.
Are you always able to rise above when your child misbehaves? How does it make you feel? Do you ever take it personally?