Yesterday, I lost it. Today was better.

You know what’s crazy about living? That in a single 24 hour period you can go from feeling utterly broken and ashamed to being completely at ease and in your own skin, eating with your family on a golden evening.

This time yesterday I could feel it coming. My frayed edges flaring out like the fuse of a cartoon bomb, my energy and patience dwindling. With every whine issuing from Jo’s annoying little mouth, I felt closer to breakdown. I knew it was coming, and still, I went there.

I screamed so loud that my throat hurt. And then Jo and Cal and I all dissolved into tears.

Here’s a lemur screaming in much the same way that I did yesterday. Photo by Tom Ciriello.

This, apparently, is my Achilles heel: watching my older son hurt my youngest. It doesn’t really matter that they were fighting over a caboose. Or that Jo asked for it the first time really nicely. Or that Cal head-butted Jo after he had the caboose ripped out of his hand. What matters, apparently, to my brain chemistry, is watching my 6-year-old bang on my 3-year-old’s back with his fist really hard 3 or 4 times.

That is the thing that floods me with so much feeling that the only choice is to scream at the top of my lungs and scare the shit out of my two kids. After that, I push Jo further away. As if to prove a point: you are not here with us. You did a really bad thing.

In our teary aftermath, I apologized while staring at a gritty crack in our tile floor. “I’m not going to yell again. I know it’s not okay. And I’m not going to do it anymore.”

I told Jo that I needed his help, that he needed to come up with some ideas for what to do when he feels like hitting his brother. His answer cut deep:

“That’s a really hard thing to think of, Mom. Because it all happens so fast. Just like it happens to you when you yell.”

Touché, you smart little creature. If you could just use that sort of reasoning in the midst of a fight over a caboose, we’d all be sitting pretty. But that’s just it. You literally can’t reason when you’re in a rage. And neither can I.

So last night, after my boys fell asleep, I did all I could think of: I cried, and I texted a friend, and I read a book in the bathtub about how our children are our spiritual gifts. (The book is effing fascinating by the way, so much so that I dreamed all night that I was communing with the woman who wrote it).

Today, thanks to my part time job, I got a much needed break from parenting. I also got to Google chat AJ about the whole yelling incident, since it felt too shameful to talk to his actual living, breathing self about it last night.

In the safety of a computer window, I confessed it all. And he was kind. And told me how he tends to deal with those moments with Jo.

AJ’s natural patience and skill in parenting our strange, alien children is continually infuriating and inspiring to me. He simply gets our boys in a way I don’t; he has a composure and deliberateness in his parenting that I don’t. As he mentioned once, in critique of my style, “You get too mad too fast.” A truer word was never spoke.
AJ does not do that. Ever. I have no effing idea how he pulls it off.

So he gave me some tips: If Jo’s not listening, go stand in front of him and say it again, if he’s still not, get down low and look him in the eye, then get really close and raise your voice, then grab his ear or his shoulder a little bit hard. If all that fails, physically remove him.

Done and done.

Perhaps to some, this step by step escalation is not revelatory. But to me–the one who toggles between (1) an endless sea of patience and calm and (2) a blind rage–it represents a huge chasm of options in the middle that I typically leap over in less than a moment.

I got another chance tonight at dinner. It doesn’t really matter that it was about a purple car with white flames painted on it. It doesn’t really matter that Jo asked nicely for a turn and that then Cal said MINE and taunted Jo with the car. Here’s what does matter:

I slowly escalated. I sat up from my chair and walked between the boys. I told Jo again to stop growling at Cal. Then I grabbed his ear a little bit hard. And put a hand on Cal’s back and told him that he could finish his turn with the car. Cal made car engine noises that I’ve never learned how to make. Jo stopped growling. And then I went back to my chair and we all started talking about something else. I think we even laughed.

9 thoughts on “Yesterday, I lost it. Today was better.

  1. Your comment about being in the “endless sea of patience and calm then a blind rage” hits so close to home. Finding that balance, allowing ourselves to react without raging is SO difficult. This is my number one struggle with my 3 and 6 year old. You’re not a lone. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Loved this! Don’t beat yourself up too much, though…it happens to all of us…and we all live through it, both mothers and children!

  3. You’re a good mom. You probably don’t give yourself enough credit for all the things you do beautifully, because it doesn’t even occur to you that you’re doing a beautiful job.

  4. Don’t over think this thing called parenting. I raised four kids, admittedly in a different era. And reality is that kids fight and I allowed them to work it out which included a certain amount of old fashioned “school yard justice”….if you’re mean you get punched by your siblings or whatever retaliation they chose (within reason). Pretty simple. My sister in law, mother of 6, told me Long ago that if I never let them fight they would hate each other. I took her advice. To be clear I intervened if it got out of hand. But they need to figure out how to get along without an adult mediating all the time.

    As an aside one of my favorite strategies with squabbling children was to put them in the big easy chair together and they could not get out until they got along. To be sure there was plenty of pushing and shoving etc. but after a little bit they were usually giggling.

    My kids have turned out rather nicely I think. (they are all in their twenties now) and they like each other. I realize this all may seem rather foreign these days. But it works. Kids are simple, and not very cerebral, especially boys. Cause and effect are amazing teachers. Otherwise the bully never learns. Tidbits from an old lady. ??

    Love reading your blog.
    Aunt Carroll

  5. This hits SO close to home for me too- and I only have ONE! I lose it when she turns helpless and regresses to toddler/babyhood (she’s four). It is so brave and takes so much work to get to know our triggers- whether or not you dig deep into where they came from. I don’t love ALL of Dr Shefali Tsabary’s ideas, but she writes a lot of good stuff about knowing ourselves and not just blaming our children for setting us off. So good to have a calm co-parent to help too. Mine also can react with perspective in a way I can’t. I just wish he was around more. My daughter told me she hated me yesterday, and it’s not the first time. The emotional battle of motherhood is real.

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