Powerless. That’s the word that I held in my mind as today started. Powerless as Aedan revs up, pulling the cushions off the couch before I’d gotten halfway through my first cup of tea. Powerless, as he dumps the box of Duplo on the floor and runs away laughing. Powerless, as he throws pillows across the room. Powerless.
It’s not a very positive mantra, and I let it do its work on me.
“Don’t throw your toys in the house,” and a block sails past my head.
“Stop bugging your brother,” and he tackles him on the couch.
“Leave your sister alone,” and he grabs her face and kisses her as she cries.
Can you see where this is going? I’d like to say I was Calm, Cool, Collected Mama. But when your mantra is “powerless,” you start to really believe it. To really feel it in your bones. I was still holding on to a thread of self-control. He wouldn’t stop. It’s like he wants to hurt people. That’s a a script I need to rewrite, though. He couldn’t stop, because his brain is still developing, because the connections haven’t been made between his lizard brain (dragon brain might be more appropriate for this kid) and his centers of impulse control. He doesn’t want to hurt people. It’s just all he knows right now. He’s fumbling in the dark, and I need to guide him.
So I sit down with him, hold him facing away from me, hold his hands so he can’t hit me, and I tell him we would sit there until he felt calm and ready to treat other bodies with respect.
“Idiot! You’re an idiot, Mom!” I feel that last thread slipping out of my grasp. He swings his head back, hard, and butts me in the chest. I know he feels trapped. I let him go, step away, but not before he turns and kicks me in the face, knocking my glasses askew.
I think he can’t handle all the big feelings in his head, the stress he must be feeling over the move, the winter outhouse, the faraway family. I think when he’s hurting, he tries to make everyone else hurt, too. I know it, because it’s what I did next. That little thread of self-control slipped through my fingers and I lost it.
I push him away from me. He picks up a book and hurls it at me. I grab his shoulders, yelling. Propel him into the kitchen, plunk him on a chair, tell him to stay there until he could be more respectful. I half expect him to grab the bowl off the table and throw that at me, too. I’ve never understood how kids can be put in a time out and just stay there. But he does.
“Idiot!” he throws at me. I throw it right back.
Crying now, he screams: “I want you to go away and never come back!”
“I’d love to!” I respond. “I’d love to just get in the truck alone and drive and keep driving until I’m far away from you!” Now we’re both crying. The fog of anger is lifting, replaced by deep shame. I’m supposed to be the adult. My sweet middle child, Colm, wanders over and informs us that we are having a fight. Yes, we are, baby. Thank you.
The oven timer beeps (did I mention we somehow managed to get muffins made before shit hit the fan?) Aedan sniffles, asks if he can have a muffin. I tell him they need to cool down. I tell him we all need to cool down. Charlotte is toddling over with a book. “Read? Read?” I sit down with her, but I can’t read because I’m crying. Aedan is crying. Colm is confused because I’m crying. I put the book down, I put the baby down. I go to Aedan, and ask him if I can give him a hug. He nods and collapses into my lap.
We hug each other tight, and I tell him I’m sorry. That I lost my temper. Why? he wants to know. I think, because I told myself I was powerless. And I hate feeling powerless. Instead, I tell him that he hurt me, so I tried to hurt him back. I remind him that he does that sometimes, too. I tell him I will do better; we both need to do better. We hug a few minutes more, and then we all eat warm chocolate banana muffins.
If not daily, then at least a few times a week, I feel certain that I have fucked this up beyond repair. I feel certain that I should not be in charge of these children. Surely, there is someone more qualified than me. But this is it. They’re dependent on me. Aedan is me, basically. Maybe that’s why I feel so powerless against him. Because it reminds me of how powerless I sometimes am to my own faults.
I need to let go of this desire to control everything. But what the hell am I supposed to do on the days where they just won’t listen? I try to change things up, get us outside or otherwise distract them from destruction, but sometimes it’s just not possible. Sometimes I’m too tired, things move too quickly, they refuse to be distracted. Sometimes it feels inevitable that I’m going to snap. That’s the same as telling myself I’m powerless though, right? And we’ve seen how that turns out. Maybe it’s not inevitable. I keep writing about staying present, being mindful. That’s my key, I think. It’s just really fucking hard, in practice.
I’ll reset my mantra for today, I’ll pick a new word. Connect. With myself. With my kids. With the present moment.
Image via Flickr user Dino Giordano