Yesterday morning I couldn't get my kid to 1) put on his shoes 2) put on his sweatshirt 3) put away the Legos 4) put away ANYTHING 5) come here so I could comb his hair or 6) do anything I told him to do. He wouldn't look at me when I was talking to him. And when he DID deign to respond to one of my demands, it was with a, "No, I just BLAH BLAH BLAH" which, as you know, was driving me out of my everloving MIND. I was getting louder and louder, shorter and sharper and finally I was all out yelling. Shouting instructions and if he didn't respond, if he didn't look at me, if the first thing he said was, "No - ", if he didn't immediately jump up from his mess of Legos and do EXACTLY what I said, he was going to have to stay home, alone, in his room while his sister and I went out and had fun. Oh yes. I threatened my three-year-old with Willful Abandonment.
So I should tell you what Jack does when I get all scary and yelly and that is cry. Which makes me MORE angry. It's hard, because I think half the time he's just crying because he knows I can't deal with it. I really do. He's a black belt manipulator and that's WHY I get angry. I KNOW I'm being manipulated and but I still can't deal with the crying. On the other hand, sometimes it's real. Sometimes it takes me a while to make the distinction.
He's crying and I'm furious and everything that comes out of my mouth now is a basic training instructor bark and both kids are fumbling with their shoes, all nervous-like and holy grilled CHEESE people I just wanted to take them to play at the lake with their aunt and uncle! It's not like I wanted to drag them off to the orphanage. Finally I get Molly into her jacket which is cake because my friend gave her a Hello Kitty fleece for her birthday and Molly is a huge fan of 'Kitty'. Jack, on the other hand, did not want to wear his sweatshirt. I told him fine, just hold it. I was already carrying a few bags, I didn't need his stupid sweatshirt that he'd inevitably whine to have in the stroller because "it's too wiiiiindy Mommy."
Well. HOLD IT? Oh no. He couldn't possibly HOLD HIS SWEATSHIRT. And I'd had it. HAD IT. I was not going to hold it for him. OH NO I WASN'T. And so we had a nice ten-minute standoff in the laundry room, inches from outside, because he wouldn't hold his sweatshirt and I wouldn't hold it for him and he was going to whine me to death and I was going to try my best not to pitch him out the window.
It was pretty bad.
I won, I'll have you know. Mostly because I just turned around and went outside and did not care whether he followed me or not. I was shaking I was so mad at him.
He did follow me, eventually. He seemed much smaller than Three. His face was this contorted mess of What Happened Here and How Did I End Up With THIS Mommy and he clutched his sweatshirt to his chest and didn't look at me as I held the car door open for him. He laid his sweatshirt down very gently on the car floor, ambled into his seat and sat still so I could buckle him in.
I felt very guilty.
I felt guilty all the way to my sister's house. I AM the grown up. I AM in charge. I DO know how to handle misbehavior in ways other than yelling. (Do I?) And I know, I know I know I know, that every time I screech and rail and get in his face, my kid feels it. And not necessarily in the, "Gee, I better shape up!" way I'm hoping for.
We've been doing the Super Nanny thing for a few weeks now, to half decent effect. By which I mean I'm not sure that Jack behaves any better, but it's given me a SYSTEM that I can ADHERE TO and can agree on with my husband. We have a new time out spot, we agree on how long to leave him there, we know how to get him out. We always talk/reason a bit when time is up - I'm not sure if that does anything, but it makes us feel a little better, which isn't unimportant I think - and then we hug and then he gets to go play.
The hardest part, often, is the hug. A lot of times I'm still angry. And there's this part of me that thinks if I hug him, if I'm nice to him, then I'm negating all the anger. I'm telling him that I'm NOT upset with him anymore, which means whatever he did wasn't THAT big a deal. It cancels out the time out. It means I'm okay with him acting like a little twerp.
Now is that logical? I don't think so, though it's hard for me to come to that conclusion. I know a lot of you probably think that's a horrible thing to say. I am nervous to write it. But it's true. I don't want to stop being angry.
But for Jack, that hug is... lifesaving. Somehow. And if I don't immediately offer it, if I don't mention it, he will. "Hug, Mommy," he reminds me. And it melts both of us. I don't want to melt. I want to be mad. But he melts me, softens me, reminds me that he is Three, that I am the Grown Up, that not holding his sweatshirt and not eating his lunch and not picking up his toys and not coming here when I tell him to does not own me, does not steal my joy.
I tried to remind myself of these things in the car. I hadn't followed protocol. There was no time out, no hug. Jack was obviously chastened. I was still angry. But I looked at him in the rearview mirror and I said, "Jack, I'm sorry I was so angry with you." I told him that I get upset when he doesn't listen to me, but I shouldn't have yelled at him like that. I was sorry. He didn't say anything. I thought: why are you talking to a three-year-old like he's thirty-three?
We had a great morning. My sister was awesome. Sometimes I feel like I'm the only one taking care of everyone else, but she and her husband totally entertained the kids, and afterwards we went to their apartment where she made the kids lunch while I discussed a post-Christmas siblings Vegas trip with my BIL. We went home, Molly took her nap and Jack played a little computer and then took his own nap. When he woke up, earlier than Molly which is unusual these days, I went into his room and held him for a little while in the rocker. "I love you, Jack," I said. "Even when I'm angry I still love you."
And he said, "But it's okay Mommy, you said you sorry in the car."
Oh you guys, sometimes I think he's this big kid who's only out to get to me, ruin nap time, make me miserable by the time his dad gets home. He only wants to do what he wants to do. So many times I try to get him to answer a stupid question and he responds with, "I talking to YOU" meaning, I better answer HIS question. And I'm all, excuse me, YOU ARE THREE. How in the world do you have control over ME?
But I'm the one with the hugs and kisses and I love yous and when I offer these in abundance I receive in abundance. I do. Sometimes it's even the fastest, best way to stop the sassy bratty talk-backy twerpiness - if only I wasn't too angry to offer it. At night after his dad puts him to bed he often whines until, completely frustrated, I march into his room and demand to know what his deal is. And he just wants me to lie down with him for a little bit.
Sometimes I argue with him. He just doesn't want to go to bed. He can't manipulate ME.
Other times I'm too tired. I lay down.
I rub his back, kiss his forehead, tell him how sweet and handsome he is, tell him he is my favorite boy. A few minutes of this and I say, "Okay, Mommy's going to go now" and he'll sit up and throw his arms around me, kiss me, say "I love you Mommy, you're the best Mommy" and go right to sleep.