Dear Ruby: A good mama is.

Dearest Ruby,

Somewhere along the way, you’re going to contruct an idea about what a ‘good mama’ is.  It may be because of me, and it may be in spite of me.  It may come from television, or magazines, or movies.  It may come from your friends.  If your life is anything like mine, it will likely come from social media.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what a good mama is.  What MY idea of a good mama looks like.  I’m not sure where all of them came from, but I’m going to share them with you.

In my mind, rolling around in my head, is an “ideal mommy.”  The one that I strive to be like.  Let me tell you about the ‘good mama’ in my head.

A good mama always speaks kindly.

A good mama doesn’t get mad.

A good mama has clean kitchen counters, and nothing under her couches.

A good mama always responds with empathy, never spite.

A good mama always has a nutritious meal prepared for dinner.

A good mama is just as happy to see you as she tucks you in to bed as she is to see you wake.

A good mama doesn’t say mean things.

A good mama never says no.

A good mama doesn’t need alone time.

A good mama doesn’t hate being a mama sometimes.

I hope you realized something when you read this, Ruby.  I hope you saw all the red flags – the ‘nevers’ and the ‘always’s.  I hope you realized that this mama doesn’t exist.  She was not me, and she is not you, and she is an unattainable perfection that is simply not reality.  Because being a mama is HARD work, and being a GOOD mama doesn’t mean you have to be perfect.

It’s okay to say no sometimes when you should say yes.  And it’s okay to give everyone cereal for dinner once in a while.  Or twice a week.  You aren’t a bad mom if your floors are dirty again.  And again.  Sometimes, you’re not going to like your kids.  And sometimes you are going to wish you weren’t a mama for just a few minutes.

It doesn’t mean you don’t love your beautiful babies like crazy.  I LOVE you beautiful babies with all of my heart.

It DOES mean that you need to take care of yourself.  You need to find moments that are yours to fill your heart and soul with love; love for you, so you can give love to them.  It DOES mean that you have to check in with your expectations – your house might be messy, and clothes wont get folded, and toilets wont always be scrubbed.  But you are still a good mom.

You will kiss booboos, and you will yell more than you like, and you wont always have all the answers…

…and Ruby.  I promise.  You are a good mom.  (I am too.)

I love you,
~Mom.
3/23/16
(I am 32.  Ronan is 7, you are 5, Ryder is 3 and Rory is 8 months old.)

Dear Ruby Letters.

I’ve been wanting to do this for a while now…  I’m going to start writing letters to Ruby.

Why Ruby?  Well, she’s my only daughter.  And as such, she is going to likely be the only one that comes to me when she has issues with her own kids.  Not that daughters-in-law will not one day come to me – if they do, I will give these letters to them as well.  A little about the struggle, a little about to shine.  A little about how it feels to be in the trenches.  I don’t know that I will write regularly, but I will write when it needs to come out.  So here goes.


Dearest Ruby,

You just recently turned five years old.  Ronan is seven, Ryder is three, Rory is 8 months, and I am 32.

This is my first letter to you.  I wish I had thought to start them sooner, but better than not at all.  I am a mama of four.  I’m trying to write this as I sit here with three littles playing loudly on the floor.  I’ve already been interrupted three times, and yet I will power on – because this matters.

I hope you are reading these because you have a baby or two.  I hope you see me every few days.  I hope we are close, and talk every day.  I hope you ask me questions and I have pointed you to these letters because I’m in a different season, and I can’t remember how to answer the questions you have.

There are so many wonderful cliches that describe parenting.  So many quips and one-liners that reduce it all down.  “This too shall pass.”  “The days are long, but the years are short.”  But they don’t really explain what it’s like.  They don’t capture the highest highs and the lowest lows.  There is nothing like being in the middle of it.  I have already forgotten the blur of the newborn days, the sleepless nights.  I know I will forget this.

You are a treasure at five years old, Ruby.  You love to be helpful.  You ask, “What can I do to help you, mama?”  Especially when I am struggling.  You clean up rooms without anyone asking you to.  You are undeniably sensitive, just like me.  You can’t handle big emotions of others.  Ryder is awful to you.  Ronan is in school most days, you miss him dearly.  And you love Rory with EVERY OUNCE of your being.  I ask you a thousand times every day to give Rory some space.  If you could, I think you would merge your body with his to never be without him.  Your love for your dada is so huge.  Jump-hugs are your favorite thing.  You adore singing and dancing.  You are a wonderful painter.  Right now, you enjoy telling “once upon a time” stories, and they are always captivating.  You are SURE you want to be a princess, which means wearing pretty dresses.  I hope somewhere along the way, you learn that you ARE a princess, regardless of what you wear or how you look.

My days are a blur right now.  A blur of meeting needs and wiping bottoms and feeding bellies.  The absolutely brilliant beauty of giggles and hugs, games and songs;  the oppressing darkness of tantrums and yelling, hitting and rage – both from children and from myself.  I go to therapy, now, because I feel like I’m not the kind of mother you beautiful children deserve.  I’m see my therapist once a week in order to learn how to be calm and peaceful.  How to tame the anger that keeps finding its way to the surface so easily.  I hope that, as a mother, I have raised you to be better, more mindful.  I hope that, if I haven’t, and you are struggling… you never feel alone as you walk the path to peace.

A jumble of park days and pool days and play dates and screen time.  Sometimes we do crafts and sometimes we spend the entire day on the couch.  We have dance parties and pity parties and lots of grocery shopping trips.  I take a million pictures, because every moment is a moment I want to look back on.  I love you with all of my heart.  I love your father with all of my being.  I love myself too, because that is REALLY important.  I struggle to find the balance between being excited for what the future brings, and living as fully present in this moment as I can – where you and Ryder are playing, Rory is standing next to you, and I’m sitting on the couch writing this letter.

Life is just as beautiful as it is hard.

“The lowest of her lows must match the high of her highs.”

I love you, dearest Ruby.
Your loving mother,
Mandy.
3/2/2016

Who am I, if not mad?

I am mad.

I have been mad for about six years now.

Really mad for at least three.

The birth of my third child was a turning point for me.  Car seat screaming, two toddlers under three with a newborn, and life was really hard.  I was really mad that it was hard.

It didn’t happen overnight, but eventually I stopped just getting mad, and starting becoming mad.  I know the difference is subtle, but it’s also very distinct.  I stopped FEELING mad, and started thinking of myself as a mad person.

Over the course of the next three years, I very unintentionally continued to reinforce the idea that I was a mad person by being mad more often than I wasn’t.  The list of things that made me mad was long and quite exhausting.  Having to wake up, having to go to bed, having to deal with problems, having to clean messes.  It made me mad when there was no coffee.  It made me mad when I had to make dinner AND clean dinner.  It made me mad when I didn’t make dinner, and we had to eat out.

Are you seeing a trend here?  When I stop and put my mind to it, when I really think about it, there really wasn’t anything that DIDN’T make me mad.

It was exhausting, and not a nice way to live.

Today, Saturday morning, on one of my very rare chances to sleep in, my three year old came upstairs and pounded on the door for me to wake up.  I was IMMEDIATELY mad.  Where is his father?  Why is he letting him do this?  Why can’t he just let me sleep?  I JUST want to sleep in ONE TIME.  He’s going to wake up the baby!  My inner dialogue was JUST so angry.

I laid there, kind of detached, and observed my brain spinning out in anger.  One part of my brain was just so mad, and another was asking why.  Why?  Why am I so mad?  What if I just… wasn’t?

And then I suddenly wondered… who am I if I’m not mad?

And then I realized, quite painfully, that I have made anger part of my identity.  I have become so deeply identified with being angry all the time that I don’t know who I am if I am not mad.

One of the consequences  of this realization was that it completely diffused my anger.  I was immediately calm.  However, it begs the question:  “Who do I want to be instead?”

If I can become angry Mandy by deciding that I am mad all the time, I can become someone else.

I can become calm Mandy.

I can become energetic Mandy.

I can become peaceful Mandy.

I can become tidy Mandy.

I can become all of these things.  I can become any of these things.  All I have to do is decide that I’m going to become them, and decide that I’m NOT going to be angry and mad anymore.

I know that sounds like it would be really easy.  I have a feeling it’s not going to be easy at all.  But the realization and actualization is there – I know that I decided (perhaps unconsciously) that I was going to become mad.  Now I have decided VERY consciously, that I’m not going to be that way anymore.

I wonder who I can be instead.  I’m excited to see how awesome she will be.  I can’t wait to meet her.
  

The Little Scientist Effect

I just called Sarah, asking for a strategy.

I explained to her that my tiny terrorist kept asking me to play with him, and despite the need to get a bunch of laundry folded and put away, I actually decided to play instead. I don’t do this often.

I went upstairs to play with our “magnets” with him, and we were building cool things. Every time I would build something neat, he would knock it down, gleefully, but he would never let me knock his down. I asked him not to several times, telling him that it made me sad when he knocked down my cool stuff.  He continued to smash my magnets. Eventually, I got up and walked away, telling him that I didn’t want to play with someone who would keep breaking my toys.

I came downstairs and sat on the couch and realized that I was REALLY hurt that he was being so unkind to me while I was playing with him. I took it REALLY personally. So I called the Toddler Whisperer.

Sarah is right on top of it.  I told her what happened, and we talked a little bit about what to do in the future. She told me that as soon as he starts breaking down my (or someone else’s) magnets, he should be ‘interrupted’ – removed from the situation. I can choose to sit with him or leave him while he is understandably upset that he has been removed from playing, but once he is calm, I am to explain that it is not okay for him to break MY magnets. I shall tell him that he is free to crash his own as much as he likes, but only his own. He would then be allowed to play with the magnets again, so long as he followed those instructions. If he were to crash my (or anothers) magnets again, the magnets would be put away.

“It looks like you can’t play nicely with the magnets. We will have to put them away. We can try again tomorrow.”

There will likely be another period of upset while he protests that his magnets have been taken away, but sticking to the consequence is paramount.

It was then that Sarah dropped this parenting DIAMOND of advice upon me.

She said:

“Children are like little scientists. They are doing experiments to see what kinds of reactions they will get.”

(This, I was familiar with.)

“The thing is, every time they get a DIFFERENT reaction, it gives them more data to work with, which increases the length of the experiment. The more consistent you can be with your reactions, the less data they are given, the quicker they will move on.”

Mind = blown.

I mean, really, I knew that you want to be consistent, and I knew that you need to have firm boundaries. But the whole idea of making sure that you are giving them the same results every time? So that the experiment can be concluded and they can put that one to rest? I hadn’t heard it phrased in those terms before. It makes perfect sense.

So there you have it. I will be putting this into effect immediately, and see how quickly we can get some of these challenging behaviors to extinguish themselves.

Perhaps it would be helpful for mama to rearrange her thinking of Ryder as a “tiny Scientist” instead of a “tiny terrorist.”

 

Positive and Grateful

I’ve experienced such a huge change in the last several weeks. Not only in my parenting and my dealings with Ryder, but in the whole wholeness of my life. My outlook, my attitude, my experience of every single day has lightened.

What caused it? How did this happen?

I don’t really know. Perhaps one thing, perhaps a combination of many things. I can’t say for sure. I’ve changed enough things all at once and had such a fantastic result that I can’t pinpoint which one it was that made the difference or.. if it was the perfect combination of all of them. Believe me, I have tried so many things in the past, I would have told you that a change of this magnitude wasn’t possible.

So what did I change?

First, I started corralling my negative thoughts. I realized that once I had a single negative thought, I tended to dwell on it, and drive myself deeper and deeper into anger, frustration and negativity. It was like the negative energy multiplied itself within my mind. What I started doing was noticing every time I had a negative thought, or something bad happened I would acknowledge it, the negative thought or the bad thing, and then let it go. If it was a particularly stubborn thought or mood, I would physically visualize myself stepping off of a dark, negative path and walking back on a bright and positive one. The visulization seemed to really help. Don’t stay stuck in the negativity – go back to positive.

Next, my husband read me an article about the power of placebo, and how it has been proven that in most studies of anti-depressants, placebo was just as effective or more than the actual medicine. This was pretty astounding to me, and I thought about that – the power of placebo. I thought and thought about what that meant, and came to the conclusion that our belief that we will get better must be the actual impetus to get better. So I started making everything into a placebo. “Because I’m going to therapy, I will get better.” “Because I’m wearing this new necklace, I will get better.” “Because I’m yelling less, I will get better.”

Anything and everything I could imagine became a placebo. “This new almond milk coffee creamer is going to help me to get better.” The combination of banishing negativity and making everything into a placebo helped me to fend off any ideas of staying mentally unwell, even if I had momentary relapses into anger or yelling. Even if I had a terrible day.

I recently read the book “Rising Strong” by Brene Brown. What an eye opener on some really key points, for me. I don’t really feel like I’ve ‘fixed’ anything that she talks about – but I most definitely am more aware. She mentions that all human emotions must be felt and processed, and that instead we like to avoid them – to push them down or numb them. Our reaction to those unprocessed emotions can be, among other things, something called “chandeliering” – reacting to any sort of emotional stimuli as though it’s incredibly painful – so much so that you ‘jump as high as the chandelier.’ As soon as I read it, I recognized this as the perfect description for what happens when I ‘lose my shit’ at my kids. I don’t really know yet what it is that I have been pushing down and repressing. I haven’t gotten that far yet. Perhaps that’s a job for Therapy. But simply being aware that it is happening has helped.

Then there is the therapy itself. It’s funny, because I continue to feel like I’m not DOING ANYTHING when I go to therapy. We talk, and we laugh, and I cry a little bit, and she says things that make a whole lot of sense… and then I leave feeling a little lighter, and a little happier. But that’s about it. Nothing earth shattering, no deep delving into my past or my childhood or my darkest fears. It’s really not like you see on TV at all – for me anyways. It’s kind of like sitting and talking to a buddy of mine over coffee (Oh! Next time I should bring coffee!) while we talk about how hard it is to be a mom. And she’s totally on my side.

Staying calm, and keeping my emotions out of the tantrums I face with my children. That seems to go hand in hand with feeling better, happier and less weighty. I don’t know if one causes the other, or if they are just so intermingled that they can’t be separated, but I don’t get sucked into the maw of crazy when my kids start to go nuts. I feel like a raft, floating on top of it. I feel like I’m able to pull them out when they calm. I feel like I am centering in the middle of their storm, and that is such a powerful feeling – it helps me to stay there.

Another big one? I stopped looking at my kids like blank bodies, faceless little people that needed, wanted, demanded and exhausted me. I started looking into their eyes again. I started drinking up their personalities and reminding myself all of the little things I love about them. I started telling them those things. I’ve been relishing in the joy that is being their mother, and the genuine gift it is to have children such as these. Even in their struggles, they are gifts.

In the end, I’m not really sure what did it, but it feels like this is a good plan: get positive. Get grateful. Get joyful and excited. Do whatever it takes to get that way. It doesn’t have to be big, or exhausting, or physical. It’s just a matter of putting your brain there over and over and over until you find what works. Exercise? Fresh air? Great music? Perhaps, like me, it’s therapy, and mental training, and new almond milk creamer. Perhaps it’s realizing that you ARE enough, you ARE good at this, and you WILL get better.

I feel so much better. I feel so much lighter. I feel shiny again. I want to help you feel that way too <3

  

A Beautiful Resolution.

It was 5:00pm. We had eaten an early dinner, and the kids were sitting on the couch watching Pete’s Dragon. Ryder was acting up and I knew it was because he was tired – he hadn’t had a nap, and his crazies were coming out.

After jumping on me several times, and hinting that he would like “boob-couch” – to nurse – I told him that he wasn’t going to get ‘boob’ again until it was bed time. He immediately went into urgent, melt-down mode, insisting that it WAS bed time, and he wanted boob-bed immediately.

Brock and I had a quick, hushed conversation about the dangers of letting him go to bed for the night when it was only 5 o’clock, and decided that it was too early. I told Ryder that he could have boob-bed in 30 minutes, and we could go to bed if he waited. The baby gate was blocking the upstairs, so he wasn’t able to just head up the stairs. I told him several times to play, or sit and watch the show until 5:30, and we would go upstairs together.

In traditional Ryder fashion, he decided to PUSH ALL OF THE BUTTONS. Because Rory was sleeping upstairs, I didn’t want to let him go up and play/jump around to pass the time. Instead of listening to my suggestion, he went and got a small chair and climbed over the baby gate. On his way up the stairs, he laughed tauntingly, “I over the baaaaaby gaaaaate.”

In order to keep Rory from being woken up, I went with him. At this point, it was probably 5:10. I kept reminded him that he only had x number of minutes until we could go to sleep.

I suppose, in retrospect, there was no harm in letting him go to bed early, but the principal of him getting to do something just because he throws a giant fit is really what we are trying to avoid here.

Upstairs, I sat by the entrance to his bedroom and told him I would come lay in bed with him as soon as it was 5:30. He was jumping around and acting like a maniac – well beyond any sort of normal level of maniac. He kept yelling at me, “I. WANT. BOOB. BED.” I ignored most of his behavior. Eventually, I went into the bedroom with him to keep the noise sequestered to his room (again, trying to stop him from waking Rory) and sat by the door. Jumping and flipping around in bed, it didn’t seem like it was should be that difficult to wait the remaining 7 minutes to 5:30.

I guess at that point, Ryder decided it was time to up his game again. Screaming at the top of his lungs, he demanded I give him boob-bed. I reminded him, calmly, that I don’t give him ANYTHING when he speaks to me that way, and that he needed to calm down. He took a deep breath, and assured me he was calm. I told him there were 5 more minutes before we could go to sleep… and he lost his shit. He picked up the fan that was sitting next to the bed, and threw it at me. In the very dim light of the bedroom, I didn’t see it coming, only heard it.

When it hit me, I immediately went to level 10 rage. In a monumental demonstration of self control, I didn’t immediately beat the shit out of him, which was the very real, very physical urge. I stood up, and walked over to the bed, and sat down next to him. Voice cold as ice, I told him, “NOW, you will not be getting boob. It’s time to lie down and go to sleep.”

Not one to be dismissed, Ryder launched into a full on physical and auditory assault. He screamed, he punched, he flipped and kicked. He alternated between, “I WANT BOOB” and “I WANT TO GO BACK DOWNSTAIRS.”  He promised me, “I will not do that again!” and in the next breath told me, “I’M GOING TO BITE YOU.”

I was deeply entrenched in my rage, and not giving an inch. I held his hands and didn’t let him hit me. I stopped him from biting me. I resisted every urge to punish him physically, and sat stoically as he threw the most epic fit I have ever witnessed. I kept telling myself to hold space for his calm to come back, kept swallowing my rage and disgust.

At one point, when he became physically frightening, I pinned him down on the bed. He was screaming and throwing his body around, and I let the weight of my body keep him from hurting himself or me. It was a matter of minutes, but finally his screaming quieted and his breath slowed down. He was still demanding that I give him boob bed, or let him go back downstairs. I was still insisting that neither was going to happen, and we were embroiled in a full-on power-struggle.

I rolled off of him, resolute that he was NOT going to be leaving this room, NOR was he going to get to have boob, and it SERVES HIM RIGHT for being such a JACKASS.

He scrambled away from me, out of breath and talking harshly. I knew that he was talking, but I wasn’t really listening. I was still deep in my anger.

“I. WANT. GO. DOWNSTAIRS. COME. BACK. UP. START. OVER.”

He said it through clenched teeth, and it didn’t immediately register what he was asking. And then it did.

For the last several weeks, I have been using the technique of escaping a power struggle that allows both of us to get what we want: when we are in the middle of a fight for something, I offer him the choice of ‘starting over.’  For example, when I am tired of waiting for him to get in his car seat, and I want to scream at him, instead I suggest, “Let’s go back to the beginning, and I will ask you to get in your car seat, then you can show me how you SHOULD get in your car seat, and everyone will be happy.”

He was asking for a do-over.

My rage was immediately gone, and I took a deep breath.

“You want to start over, Ryder? You want to try again?”

Real tears this time, instead of the angry rage tears. “Yes. I want to try again.”

So together, Ryder and I held hands and went downstairs. We sat on the couch for a minute, and I told him to ask again. He said, “Mama, may I have boob bed please?”

I nodded and said, “Okay buddy. Go upstairs and get in bed and I will come lay with you.”

He excitedly got up, ran upstairs and jumped into bed. He was smiling as he waited for me, and I laid down next to him. I let him nurse himself to sleep at 5:47pm, and it took mere minutes.

I honestly did not expect that beautiful resolution. I didn’t expect the solution to come from him. I have never been more proud. And I never, ever, cease to be amazed by what my children can teach me about being generous, forgiving, and kind.

The Changes I’ve Seen

I haven’t had a blow up in days.

When I feel myself get mad, I’m able to recognize it, and (sometimes) let it go.

My level of calm has been reflected in my kids.  I’ve seen fewer meltdowns, less yelling, and more patience with each other.

My level of calm has been able to diffuse situations when my husband is upset.

Upon finding that Ryder had destroyed a set of my bamboo double-pointed knitting needles, I was able to tell him calmly that damaging mama’s stuff hurts my heart. He put his hands on my cheeks and looked in my eyes and said, “I’m so sorry, mama.” and we hugged. There was no anger involved. I didn’t even feel the flash of it.

Last night, at bed time, I laid with my kids and talked to them. I told each of them, privately, my favorite things about them. I whispered secretly to them what I see as their greatest strengths, what I find beautiful. I loved to hear what they loved about themselves. And then they went to sleep – with no yelling, and no anger.

This morning, I was able to successfully tell my husband something he was doing that was bothering me, without making him upset. I communicated my emotions, and my needs, without making him feel blamed or at fault. It was fucking fantastic, and I felt heard.

Today, I had a realization based on a book that I am reading that asserts, “In general, everyone is doing the best that they can.” In the past, I have believed it to be true, and always think it about myself, but haven’t always applied it to others. Today, I applied it to Continue reading

To Lose It.

This morning, I was laying in bed after Brock and the kids had gotten up. Snuggled up against Rory, who was sound asleep, I was drifting back off for an extra hour of sleep provided by my generous husband.

I heard the growing thump, thump, thump of Ryder’s feet coming up the stairs. In his usual fashion, he busted into my bedroom and ran over to my side of the bed. Without modulating his voice, he asked, “Mama? I have boob bed?”

Following our daily script, I told him, “No buddy. You have boob couch when Mama gets up. Please go back downstairs.”

On a typical day, Ryder would immediately run back out of the room and pound back down the stairs until I woke up… or until he got impatient again and we would repeat the entire ordeal.

Today, for some reason, he decided to shout, “NO!”

I stayed calm and told him that he doesn’t get boob bed in the mornings, but he can have boob when I get downstairs. It just so happens that I was sleeping shirtless and didn’t have my bra pulled up, so there was actually an exposed boob present. He crawled over to me on the bed and started begging, “Please mum. Please I want boob bed. Please?”

At this point, Rory was stirring. I told Ryder very firmly, “We don’t have boob bed in the morning. Go down to the couch.”

As I was speaking, he lowered his head down to my breast and latched on despite my words.

It was like touching a hot burner. Like when something sweet contacts a sore spot on a sick tooth. Like when you step on a lego. INSTANT. Without any sort of build up or warning, my brain went from tired and sleepy to MAD.

I immediately threw him off of me and yelled. There seems to be no self control, no regulation in this state of anger. I can’t convince myself that I’m waking the baby more, or hurting the feelings of the child that is acting like a child. There is no rationality and no moderation.

“GET OUT OF HERE. YOU MAY NOT DO THAT. THIS IS MY BODY, AND YOU DO NOT GET TO TOUCH ME WITHOUT PERMISSION.”

Ryder immediately starts crying, a mixture of sorrow and fear.  Some small part of my brain tells me to grow up, he’s two and he wants boob. But the angry part of my brain is louder and shouty-er. I tell him to stop crying and go downstairs.

“Mama, I just want a hug,” he sniffles through his big tears.

Empathy still can’t break through the anger. “I don’t want to hug you. I’m very mad.”

He leans over to me and hugs me anyways. “Mama,” his broken voice implores, “You’re breaking my heart.”

“Yeah well,” my anger snaps back, “mine’s already broken.”

Crack. The anger cracks. Finally, regular Mandy comes back and empathy is present. I hug him back, and smell his hair. I stroke his arm, and tell him I’m sorry.

“I shouldn’t have yelled, Ryder. I’m sorry I made you cry.”

“I just want you to be a nice mama,” he tells me sadly.

“I know buddy. I’m trying to be a nice mama.” Regret and sadness. Immediate painful remorse. “Please go downstairs,” I request sadly, “and we can have boob couch when I get up.”

Ryder struts back downstairs, seemingly none the worse for wear, but I can’t help it – I wonder if I have put yet another notch in the armor of his psyche. I wonder what small damage I have caused this time. I wonder how hard it’s going to be for him to recover from a childhood where his mother is like a live-wire, and the unpredictably of her response is a minefield.

That instant hot second, the one where the anger goes live and takes over… I need to find a way to interrupt that. To block it. To pause before the rage, and insert some compassion. Some peace. Some ANYTHING. Because I have to be better than this. I have to be bigger than this.

A birthing affirmation comes to mind about contractions – how they are not stronger than me because they ARE me? My anger is not stronger than me because it is me. My rage cannot control me because it IS me. I can fix this because I can. It is me. And I will.

Why this seems so hard.

You know, it is really difficult enough to deal with ONE child and his issues.  It is plenty challenging to keep yourself, the parent, calm long enough to get through one tantrum, or a single meltdown, or a lone momentary trouble.  It is more than hard enough to make this journey seem hard.  When the reality is so much harder.

The reality is the accumulation of every single problem coming at you from every single person along the whole course of the day, with no time to breathe.

The reality is that you don’t have a chance to have an unterrupted thought. That you can’t start something important (or even unimportant) and get to the end of it without being sidetracked. Every single chance you get to do something that needs to be done, there is another immediate emergency to tend to. Child-centered emergencies.  Do it right now emergencies.

Wipe someone’s butt.

Deal with peanut butter on the wall.

Change a diaper.

Feed a human.

Help look for a lost lovey.

Remind someone we don’t throw toys.

Break up an argument that has devolved into screaming.

Tidy up the mess that is driving you nuts.

Feed another human.

Ask a child to please leave the baby alone again.

Take a deep breath. Deeeeeep breath.

Tidy up again.

Advise a brave soul that the stool on top of the ladder is a poor idea.

Be ignored.

Swallow the resentment that you have to console a screaming child that chose to ignore your warning, as they are now hurt.

Wipe another butt.

Feed another human.

Remember that you need to feed yourself, and attempt that.

End up feeding half of your food to all of the other humans.

Check on the suspicious quiet.

Another deep breath, and try not to snap.

It’s so hard. Guys, it’s so damn hard. Because the peace can be there for SO long. And the patience is so loving. But eventually, even on my best days, I am just SO DRAINED of empathy and patience and peace and kindness. Eventually I just hit the WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU wall, because seriously – SERIOUSLY – how can this many things be this hard in one day?

One child is hard. One difficult child is really hard. Four children, each of whom considers him or herself to be the whole center of the universe, with immediacy and urgency and emergency behind EVERY need is absolutely exhausting.

So I sit and write it out, and then I try to re-set by focusing on gratitude.  I write a list of all of the things I am thankful for and that helps.  Now I’m going to knit for a minute, and drink coffee while my kids dance around to Pandora on the TV.   Maybe the baby will take a nap, and I can focus on micro-breaks.  Little re-sets.  A bit of respite.  Anything to help on days that just seem so hard.

Returning to Normal

Here we go.

What is this, and why am I sharing it?

It started out as the desire to change. Change me, change him, change our damaged relationship – we need to change the struggle between us.

So, I entered therapy. My therapist and I started talking about how the dynamic between me and Ryder right now is accepted as normal: we struggle because that is the pattern that has been set. Because of this pattern, it is normal for his two year old brain to expect his mother to yell, get mad, and hit. It’s NORMAL to him. That is his basic level of existence: a mean mom who yells at him. What I want to do is change that.

Every time we go a few hours or a day or two without any yelling, freaking out or hitting… he starts to feel like something is missing. His little psyche is expecting his normal mom, and she isn’t acting normal. Therein lies our problem – he wants to return his little world to normal. So he starts acting out! Negative attention seeking! Button pushing! BRING BACK MY NORMAL.

Every time I feel like I start to make headway with my emotional health, and my ability to maintain a calm, loving relationship… he tries to bring back his normal.

What is the goal? The goal is for me to maintain calm and loving and zen long enough to re-write his normal. And that means doing whatever I need to manage MY volatile and difficult emotions through and despite his meltdowns, remembering that the longer I stay calm, the more he’s going to up his ante to bring back his normal.

I enlisted the help of my friend Sarah, and my therapist, to give me strategies to deal with the worst of the meltdowns. One of the biggest pieces of advice from my therapist was to forego correction/discipline for a short time. “Don’t make the mistake of thinking that, if you don’t punish him, he’s going to turn into some sort of miscreant or hoodlum. It isn’t that he doesn’t know right from wrong – he knows. That’s why he’s doing it. Right now, it’s more important for you to /not react/ than it is to make sure he has learned some sort of lesson.”

I took a video of one of our meltdowns the other day, and engaged in a text-message conversation with Sarah for support. I could feel my brain going to the emotional, frustrated, angry side, and it was really important for me to snap out of that. The video is kind of hard to watch, but a really bold example of how bad the worst of Ryder’s meltdowns can get. (I think it’s also important for me to include that this meltdown occurred after many, many hours of calm, yell-free time and was much bigger than a typical eruption between us.) Immediately prior to the video, Ryder was watching a show on my phone. I had given him his five minute warning, and then took the phone away. The meltdown began because he wanted the phone back.

Untitled from TempestBeauty on Vimeo.

As soon as the meltdown started, I texted Sarah the video. Her response was immediate:

“Walk away now.”

Revelation. I have never just walked away from a tantrum before. When Ryder invites me to the table of his crazy, I always accept. This time, I declined the invitation. For the first time, I stood up and walked away.

I asked her what to do if he followed… because he did.

“Clean the house. Tidy with purpose!”

It made sense. I took all of my focus off of him and his tantrum. He followed me around, screaming at me. Yelling. Begging. Crying.  “I WANT YOUR PHONE BACK.”

Sarah tells me, “You have things to do. He can’t affect you.”

His tantrum wasn’t working because I just kept cleaning. I realized, very few minutes in, that my anger was GONE. Completely gone. Not only that, instead of finding his behavior enraging, I actually found it to be mildly humorous. The day before, Sarah and I had had a conversation about the value of allowing a child to begin, experience, and come out of a tantrum, to explore and learn the entire range of emotions, and be able to accept the lesson, “I can’t have what I want, and that is okay.”

As I walked around the kitchen, putting things away, I was okay with the fact that he was yelling at me. I was present to the fact that we were in a learning opportunity, and we were both going to be okay. He wasn’t being a small asshole, he was figuring things out. I told her, “Dude. When you frame it like this… it’s almost funny. I’m totally above it.”

Above it. That’s big. Above the tantrum instead of in it with him.

I was still cleaning, and screaming wasn’t working, so he started bargaining. “Please mom? Please just five minutes? Just one more show? Please? I won’t scream or yell! I won’t be bad! Please mum?”

Sarah reminds me, “Too much bargaining equals not calm. [He’s not ready to learn when he’s not calm.] Tell him, ‘That’s done, but we can talk about something else.'”

She instructs, “When he re-escalates, you respond ‘Oh! I thought you were ready! I am here when you are calm.”

He re-escalated, and started becoming dangerous to himself. Throwing his body around, and picking up items he threatened to throw. Just as I asked if it would be safe to put him in his room, (it was), he sat down.

Out of the blue, he said, “Mama, I am calm.”

I paused. “You’re calm now?”

“Yes,” he responded, and took a deep breath to show me how calm. “I not mad anymore.” Then we hugged.

At this point, I asked Sarah if we needed to talk about the tantrum, or if we just move forward?

“Move on!” she replied, “Brain forward!”

We hugged, and I thanked him for being calm. I asked him if there was something he would like to do together, and he said he would like to go lay in bed and cuddle. So we did. We chatted a little bit, and laid together and he fell asleep. We moved through his turbulence together, and I didn’t have to explode. I didn’t even feel the pressure to explode build up. It was a truly incredible experience.

I texted Sarah again,

“Huge win! Thank you so, so, so much. I would not have stayed calm without you.”

“Now you see success,” she texts back, “That was fast, too. He has the skills, he just needs the motivation to use them.”

And one GIANT success helps with MY motivation to continue down this path. From first meltdown until his proclamation of calm, 11 minutes elapsed.

Together, he and I will get through this – and my whole family will benefit in the end.