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Work, worth, value and I ate Cheerios for dinner at 11:25 PM

Winning vs. losing

Long long ago, long before I got married, I had this horrible, awful dream. I was fighting with Phillip, and not just shouty screamy fighting. No, in addition to the shouting and screaming I was on top of him, pinning him to the ground, slamming my fists into his chest. Have I told you this story before? It was just horrible. The worst thing about it was his expression. He didn't fight back, he just looked at me with the most profound sadness, the most confused confusion. And I wouldn't stop. 

When I woke up I felt sick. I had this voice in my head: this is what you do to him and I listened to that voice, I took it extra super seriouslySo that was the day I resolved to start fighting better. 

See, I was out to win, and I was very good at it. My husband likes to keep things at a very even keel. He doesn't get too sad or too happy. He doesn't get too depressed or too excited. Raising his voice is a near physical impossibility, and I'm being serious. And when we argued, he was trying to figure out what he was upset about, and I was out to win. Whatever he said I found a way to throw it back at him in a way that benefited my case. I could twist anything to serve my purpose. I was furious, but I was cool and logical and unflappable and he couldn't beat me. I was loud, I was mean, I didn't care that he didn't follow me. In fact, I would get mad that he didn't try to beat ME. I considered it an insult. That's what happens when you are proud of your ability to verbally dismantle people. 

I stopped doing that. Literally, the day I woke up from that dream I stopped trying to win. It was one of those moments where you realize you love someone else more than you love... well, for me it was travelling for months at a time or not having a real job or my independence or, say, the lifelong need to win. 

ANYWAY.

This post is not really about a fight with Phillip. It's about a fight with Jack.

He would not clean up the crayons and markers that HE and ONLY HE had thrown, willy nilly, all over his bedroom. It was time to put on pajamas and brush teeth and get ready for bed, but he needed to clean up his room first and hell would freeze over before I did it for him.

He wouldn't clean up. He wanted Mollymoo to help. His stomach hurt. He wanted to lay down.

And I yelled. I threatened. I spoke under my breath like my dad used to do (and scare the crap out of us.) I put him in time out.

He sat in time out until I got tired of hearing him cry and sent him to his room. He still wouldn't clean up. By that time Molly had figured out that Mommy was nearing her last straw and was sidling up to me like a kitten, stroking my arms, putting her cheek next to mine. I'm not sure if she's trying to cheer me up or make sure she's not the object of my wrath when she does this. It'd be sweet if I wasn't so furious.  

Every so often I would open Jack's door, interrupt the sobbing, and ask if he was ready to clean up his room. Every single stinking time he told me he just wanted to lay down. 

Phillip was annoyed with me but I didn't care. I was not going to lose this battle. Was! Not! And you guys, I did everything. I tried everything. All it did was reassure me, for the millionth time, that certain types of discipline have little to no effect on my kid, and other types just make things worse. 

Much much MUCH later I got him to clean up. Not everything. And I had to help. But he cleaned up his stupid crayons and markers and was treated to a loud angry lecture the entire time and THEN the child had the gall to ask me for a treat. Because he cleaned up! Like I asked him to! 

Rather than dropkicking him into the street, I sent myself downstairs and Phillip took over. There was crying - that awful hyperventilating kind of crying - and I was just happy that Phillip was doing it instead of me. I brought Molly upstairs to say goodnight to Phillip (so much for the bedtime routine) where I was informed that Jack wanted ME. He wanted ME to hold him. He wanted ME to read him stories and put him to bed. 

And that was the moment. I stared at my three-year-old and thought: NO. I do not want to hold you. I do not want to read you stories. I am so angry with you I could spit. I don't understand you. I don't know to manage you. I can't control you. I can't do ANYTHING with you. I am so freaking tired of hearing you say NO every time I ask you to do something. I am so freaking tired of trying to discipline you to absolutely no effect. So NO. I AM NOT GOING TO HOLD YOU. 

I said all these things with my eyes, of course. I felt so hard and angry and done. I was stone. I would not be moved by that swollen puffy face. I would not feel bad. I would tell him I wasn't going to hold him and then I would win. 

Except... what would winning get me? I handed Molly off. And I sat down in the chair and I barked at Jack to find a book and then I barked at him to get his blanket and his teddy bear and then I barked at him to get in my lap and I said, "ONLY ONE BOOK" and "NO DRINK OF WATER" and then I held the book closed for a really long time because I would have to use my nice normal Mommy voice to read it and I wasn't ready to be nice and normal. 

He told me he was sorry, which helped. Then he snuggled into my shoulder. And gripped his teddy bear. And I opened the book and started reading. It was very cute, a new library book about a lost penguin. I let him pick out a second book, about elephants. We sang a fabulous rendition of 'I've Been Working On The Railroad'. And then we said our prayers, and he recited the whole thing right along with me, and added every one of our friends to our litany of family members. 

I told him I loved him and he told me he loved me and he got right under the covers and gave me a huge kiss and I haven't heard from him since. 

I'm pretty sure I lost. But when I think about how I would feel now, sitting at the computer, an hour after the kids have fallen asleep, having won - would I feel as settled about the end of our day?

Sometimes I think what stands between me and a much wiser mother is a simple redefinition of what it means to win. 

Comments

Hillary

I am almost crying reading this. This is me. Me. Almost this exact scenario happened in our house last night between me and The Boy. It's so hard.

I hate that feeling of being stone, as you put it. Of being so angry everything only feeds the fiery rock in your stomach.

And the fact that my kiddo still, always, despite that, wants me -- wants to be held and cuddled and loved by me -- that never fails to amaze me.

Life of a Doctor's Wife

This is... well, it's one of the most honest and beautiful pieces of writing I've read in a long time. It makes me afraid of being a parent someday. But it also gives me hope that everything will be okay.

Alyssa

I'm almost crying too. This has happened a couple of time with me and my 3.5 yr old. He can make me so, so angry and I yell too much and yet he wants only me for bedtime. Sometimes I wish he would just say he wanted daddy so at least we could both be mad. But no, he wants mommy and it takes me a while to soften to him. And I just want to keep talking to him in that stern voice about listening and responsibility, blah, blah, blah. Slowly I'm learning that we both need to move on from the incident and just cuddle and say we're sorry. Both of us.

Christiana

Wow. Yeah. I've been there. Like the other day when Fuss painted my new couch w/ nail polish and I told her to go to her room and sit on the bed and STAY there and I did it for her protection, despite her wails that she wanted to hug me, etc. But somehow they know they have to reinstate that loving relationship w/ us after a fight like that and...

I think you did great. The ultimate goal was to get him to clean up and for you both to not hate each other in the end. I think it worked. I think you won, even if it wasn't in the way you had intended.

HereWeGoAJen

I think you did win. There are some times when it is important to win and some times when it is important to remember that these little things don't have full control over their behavior yet. It sounds like he was pushing your buttons and you beat him at that game, but then you loved him when he needed the love, when he took his little game farther than he meant to take it.

You are doing a good job and you have great kids.

Becca V

It seems like all moms go through this. You did an awesome job of putting feelings and the experience into words. Thank-you!

Jen @ The Short Years

Absolutely. You DID win, because he did obey you. That's something kids need to learn, no matter how hard it is for both parties. And I have SO been there, with not wanting to let go of the anger inside. But after-the-fact withholding of love isn't going to be a win for anyone, and it's to your credit that you were a wise enough mama to realize that.

Charlotte

All this and a fly Virginia Woolfed itself in your wine? Surely you had a better today than yesterday?

I have a problem with The Rage. Anger? It sucks. Hard. I suppose that's why we have wine and the Internet. Preferably both, at once, with a chocolate chaser, yes?

jackie

We have all been there. Way to be a good mom, Maggie. Your kids love you!

Emily

You're a great mom, Maggie. Remember that. And remember Jack is three and you are SO SO NORMAL. It is so hard to determine when a fight is worth winning. I never feel like I make the right decision. My mom always says to me, "If no one is BLEEDING, then..." and I feel like she's sort of right, in a pick-your-battles kind of way. But! I also have limitations. Like, if I ask you to pick up your markers? And you don't want to? Your choices are either DO IT, or ASK ME NICELY TO HELP. I will help! But you have to ask nicely! And most times, neither is a choice he chooses, but I'm working on it. It sucks sometimes, mothering these stubborn children.

*** ADVICE FOLLOWS ***

So I read this parenting book a while back that everyone swears by, and one of the examples they gave was of a little girl who wouldn't clean up what her mom asked her to. So the mom said, "Child, do you want to clean up your stuff or do you want me to do it for you?" and of course the kid says she wants the mom to do it. And so the mom says, "OK!" and picks up the toys and puts them away. Like, away in a closet or an attic away, where the kid is not going to be able to play with them, like, ever. (Well, you know, EVENTUALLY, but the kid doesn't know that.) The whole thing is done cheerily and like it is no bother to the parent, but the point the parent gets across is that if you don't pick up/take responsibility for your own stuff, it is GONE. (for the time being, of course.) And then if Jack asked for his markers the next day, he could be reminded that he didn't wnat to clean them up, so Mommy gets them for a while.

I really don't know if this really works at their young age, but I am trying it with Asher a little. And it helps me not to get so angry. And I am VERY ANGRY sometimes. (Ok, a lot of the time.)

katie

And perhaps this explains why I am so worn out at the end of each day. Could it be from the BATTLES I am waging with my 4-(going on 16) year old daughter? Why must everything be a battle!?!?
With all due respect, YOU are my HERO.

Christina

Oh my. I'm very glad I took the time to click back the last six posts and read this. (how have I been too busy for the last week to read your blog? That's just wrong.)
I do this too. The needing to win - with my husband and my kids. Frankly, it started with my mother. It's so totally just... unChristlike, really. And I think you DID win - because despite your battle of wits, he still wanted that time with you. I think that really says something.

Laura

I couldn't write it half as well, but I've sooooo been there, Maggie. My kids and I have now survived all of them being three and I just have to say: I HATE three. It is a freaking miracle we didn't kill each other. BUT! One day you will ask your newly-four-year-old to do something, and--get this--he won't say no! He will smile and say, "Sure, Mommy! I love you." And that is a beautiful, beautiful day.

Erica

I never knew the anger that I would feel during parenting but on the flip side of course, the love. Thank you for sharing all that you went through. Looking forward to meeting you at the Blathering and thanks for all your work planning it too!

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