Monday, June 17, 2013

The Tantrum Tango

About a month ago, a friend of mine mentioned that this blog is just "so happy".  It's becoming like the mommy blogs that annoy me because their kids are darling, their problems are minescual, and their days all sunny.  And so my friend, I give you this post.  Don't worry, we're all good and normal and tantrum-ey here in Spahnville too.

While C is perhaps the most darling of darling children, he is also basically a shyster.  This is difficult for us because he's incredibly well behaved-- to the point where when we see other kids his age doing normal three year old stuff our jaws drop.  He doesn't poop on the floor or hit or bite or run out in the street.  He wouldn't take things from the fridge without asking or climb something without getting permission.  He waits to be excused at dinner.  He doesn't pour water out of the bathtub or spill his milk or cut his hair.  So what does he do?

He cries.  He cries a lot.

And he doesn't usually cry from about 7:00 am to 9:00 pm.  No, he chooses to cry before the coffee has kicked in and after the daily patience has worn off.

Let me paint you a few pictures to illustrate the point.

Last week:
Bedtime.  Bath, books, bed.  Something we have done consistently for 3 1/2 years.  And while bedtime was basically a breeze from about 6 months to 24 months, crying at bedtime became an issue again last summer and has continued to be a battle.  C will be a darling child right up until the moment where I exit his bedroom-- in which, he pours on the tears.  He cries, he screams, he asks for water.  He really wants me to cuddle him-- which, I would love to if he was a cuddly kid.  Unfortunately, he winds down like a kick boxer, and I'm the bag lying next to him.  "Cuddling" with Charlie is not exactly fun.  Last week when M was gone, I let C sleep in my bed.  (Note to self:  BIG HUGE MISTAKE.  What I thought would be "fun/ special/ vacation time" turned into us nearly killing each other.  Wait to attempt this again when the kid is at least ten.) Long story short-- bedtime was around 8:45 and around 10:15 I was tossing him (literally?) into his own bed.  By 10:30 we both were crying and around 11:00 we both had apologized and passed out in my bed.  Fun times, Karah.  Great idea.  Great mommy moment.

This morning:
I went for a walk while Mason was in the shower.  Roughly 40 minutes later, I came up our driveway and heard wailing from inside our house.  I walked in the front door, to discover C sitting on the couch with his puppy and blanket, sobbing.  M explained that he woke up in a great mood, then asked for Mommy.  When M couldn't produce Mommy on the spot, C started wailing-- and didn't stop.  He had been crying for about 25 minutes.  Once Mommy was there, things were better but not perfect.  He cried when I sat in his spot.  He cried when I didn't hold him during breakfast.  He cried when Daddy helped him in the bathroom instead of Mommy.  He cried and cried and cried.

And the grand finale example.  A few months ago:
A letter to Charlie from me:


Dear Charlie,

I'm not exactly sure where to begin this letter to you so I'll start right in with the epic tantrum that you threw yesterday and the terrible mom-fail that I had in response. 

First of all, I know that we've both apologized and said "I love you" a thousand times since "the incident" but I keep replaying it, knowing that I should try to learn and grow from it somehow. But I say that every time I screw up at parenting, and isn’t it getting old? I keep promising myself I'll do better and then keep not doing better.  Some days I try to remember that I have grown; I've taken little baby steps like not shouting as much but am I really passing if I keep failing?

Yesterday, when you cried incessantly for 25 minutes-- starting the moment we left Nicole's house-- I tried to rev up my Rational Brain.  Really, I did.  I know you were tired.  Honey, I was tired too.  Rationally, I understand that you're three and have just barely begun to sort out this huge wide world.  Hell, I'm the grown up and I still haven't sorted out much of this world thing. I did my best to channel my inner June Cleaver and say "Now Charlie...." and busy myself with tidying up the kitchen (all while wearing a fashionable dress with pumps).  But instead all I could muster was a deep breath on the way to my bedroom.  Once inside, I swiftly closed the door and snapped the lock into place.  My heart throbbed as you beat your little fists on the door, screaming something incomprehensible.  (It had to do with cereal?)  I pulled on my yoga pants and sweatshirt and went into the bathroom to wash my face (can you imagine June in yoga pants?).  

It would have been so easy to shout at you through that closed door.  I could have rattled off a hundred hurtful words in the blink of an eye.  But sweetie, I see the results of verbal abuse every day.  If school counseling has taught me anything about what to do as a parent, it’s keep your mouth shut when you're frustrated. I dried off my face, slid on my slippers, and unlatched the door.  You tumbled into my bedroom, still kicking the door and screaming.  I took your hand, and silently marched you out to the kitchen.  You were howling about the cereal being empty-- I had figured out that much—and I assured you that half a box is plenty remaining for a snack.  When you continued to tantrum, I stared back at you.  I focused on my breathing.  Inhale. Exhale.  Inhale.  I glanced out the window, wondering how hard it really could be to send children off to college.  You wailed another ear-piercing wail about that damn empty cereal box.  Now Honey, I'm not a fighter.  I'm a passive-aggressive-er.  So in that moment, I knew I wasn't going to fight with you.  Rather, I took the Chex box off the counter and silently, without saying a word, poured it out—right on top of you.  The box is not empty.  Point proven.  Boom.  

You howled like I had burned you with a match.  You screamed and went into hysterics, gasping for breath, flailing around on the floor.  Suddenly, at that moment, I was stunned into the present—what had I just done?  I had kept my mouth shut--but what was I doing?  I was joining in on the tantrum.  Who was the grown up?  Realizing what I had done, I silently picked you up and took you back to your room, where I explained that I just made a mess and needed to clean it up.  At that moment, my brain was getting fuzzy and blurry with frustration.  We were going on 25 minutes of continual screaming--full-blown-tantrum, and despite my deep breathing, I was nearing the end of my rope.  Where was my June Cleaver?  I'm sure she never poured cereal on Wally or Beaver.  

Eventually, the floor was spotless and I had grown weary.   My thoughts tumbled around my brains-- Rational Brain was thinking about the antecedent to this behavior and any possible patterns in frequency and duration.  Emotional Brain was thinking about how crazy hard this parent love stuff is.   As I rounded the corner into your bedroom and saw four little books piled neatly on your bed, my spirits soared.  I folded you into my lap, wordlessly rocking you and inhaling the scent of your sweaty hair.  You struggled to catch your breath and we talked about getting mad and sometimes not getting what we want.  We talked about how hard it is to live together as a family, especially when we make bad decisions-- like the cereal thing (for which I apologized).  We read the book “Marvin gets Mad” and I was again blown away by your comprehension of abstract topics.  When I asked you if you have something you could think about to make you happy, you looked up at me and said, “I could think about when someone gives me a hug.”  Oh my goodness buddy, you’ve so got this. 

For me, emotions are one of the trickiest parts of being human.  They have had a firm grip on my personality since I was a little tyke like you.  I can’t even count the number of times I’ve wished that I wasn’t so emotional.  At times, having strong emotions can be a positive attribute, but many times they just get in the way.  They muddy perceptions and make everything personal. They make ordinary life experiences hard and heartbreaking and devastating.  They make me apt to cry in front of people and I hate that.

And here’s the kicker.  I already can tell that you and I are so much alike.  The emotional roller-coaster is one thing.  The crazy book-nerdiness is another.  The questioning of authority and changing the rules to make things better for you is something I understand all too well.  Oh baby, that is so me.  (Just ask Ama & Papa)  I have a feeling that our relationship is going to ebb and flow, some moments feeling like we are bound tighter than a steel coil, and other moments feeling like we share nothing more than a last name. But regardless of which moment we happen to be in, I promise you that I'll continue trying to keep my Emotional Brain in check and I'll try to use my Rational Brain a bit too.  And regardless of where you are in your Emotional roller coaster ride, I promise you that I'll  listen to you, I'll try to understand, and I'll try to act like the grown-up. I can't promise that I'll never screw up and I also can't promise that I'll ever look or sound like June Cleaver.


And there you have it folks.  Nice, normal (?), happy unhappiness here in Spahnville.  Enjoy the sunshine today friends.  It makes everything better if you ask me.  

1 comment:

  1. I'm sorry, but I think that pouring cereal on him is sort of brilliant. But yeah, I get why it might not have gone over so well with him. Oh Kari, you could do SO MUCH worse - do NOT beat yourself up over this.

    In my experience, the 'terrible 2's' don't exist. It's that third year that is so SO HARD.