Sitting in the little ones’ room waiting for three year old Rogue to fall asleep, my impatience grows and I check my phone clock again. I have been behind all week and won’t ever catch up this way. Rogue chatters on about anything his little mind falls upon as it tries to power off for sleep. I breathe out slowly to quell a “just hush and go to sleep” that is on the verge of rushing out. Finally, he rolls over and snuggles into his covers, yawning. He reaches up the way he does to sleepily trace his surgery scar the way I used to when it was new and bothersome, itching but too fresh to scratch. That simple memory makes me pause for a moment. I lean over and cover his small hand with mine. His drops and I take over the tracing. I glance over at Mazzen, who at age 5 still sleeps like a little cherub in a Renaissance painting; rounded cheeks sweetly laid on hands -how did I not notice how much slimmer they’d gotten- lips pursed, and curls spread on her pillow. Two hours past bedtime, tired but with too much to do before I can join them in sleep, it’s so easy to forget to cherish these moments. One day, this bedtime scene will only be a memory to me, not an annoyance or a time-sucker. I’ll get ready for bed without any waiting chores I was too busy to tend to during the day, no little hands passing me “just one more book,” no little voices revealing every single thought. No small, warm bodies insistently pressing against mine, sideways and spread out, forcing me to the edge of the mattress after stealing all the covers. My presence will no longer be the one they crave as they drift off to sleep. Our bond will be different than it is now. In some ways, it will be sad and strange, but also beautiful. Those rare seconds I get between hearing my name called — “Mama” — will stretch into days, maybe weeks.
This might not look like much, but it is somewhat of a breakthrough for us.
The kid sitting at that table alone is 3. And wow, is he a busy guy! He is loud, fast, silly, and curious. He climbs, jumps, runs, and plays hard and intense. Out of all my kids, this one alone keeps me on my toes more than the others put together. And I love that personality!
But lately, his intensity has turned to aggression toward other kids in my care. He hits. He kicks. He whacks kids with toys. He has even bitten, twice. And even when he shows restraint, he screeches and gets in the kids’ faces with grimaces, growls, and jaw gnashing.
It seems silly that it took me so long to realize this, but as I was trying to word a different post, the term “introvert” popped into my mind.
It was a total facepalm moment. He’s not shy by any means, but Rogue is an introvert. He is a social guy who likes people…when he wants to be around them. And when he doesn’t, he DOES NOT. And he lives in a house with six (soon to be seven) people, plus four to six other kids who attend my daycare, and the three after school kids who come in the afternoon.
And nowhere to be alone.
So today, as I prepared lunch for the preschoolers, I got the small table from the porch and asked if he’d like to have his own table. His face lit up as he nodded yes, and I asked him to show me where to put it. He walked close to the table at which he usually sits, and then took four big steps away.
“Here,” he declared. “I like here.”
He happily munched away, interacting with the other kids a few times by laughing at their antics, but mostly he hummed to himself, watched the mocking bird who was eyeing his lunch, and danced to a song in his own head. After a while, he took his applesauce cup and stood near the table where the other kids sat, joining their conversation.
It’s been two and a half hours since, and he hasn’t had one aggressive incident. He has played with the other kids some, played alone a lot, and come back to sit at his “alone time” chair a few times.
Every single thing a person does communicates something to us. Let’s take the time to listen. Breathe through the frustration and ask yourself “what is this person’s behavior telling me? What need do they have going unfulfilled? How can I help ease that burden?”
And ask the same questions about yourself. When you start to lash out, get angry, yell, spank, or feel overwhelmed; how can you address your own needs so that you are prepared to handle others’?
My three year old sat, arm outstretched, holding his glass of milk out to me. He demanded for me to take it and put it down for him. Not just anywhere; he wanted it in an exact spot on the opposite side of his plate from where I was sitting. To do so, I would have to get up and walk all the way around him; to do it himself, he would have to…put his arm down.
It was a stand-off. I empathized, “I know you want me to do it for you. I’m not going to do that. I am eating my own dinner, and I know you can do it yourself.”
As I watched his brow set, his glare unwavering, I thought about how many of my boundaries seem just as ridiculous and arbitrary to him as this demand seems to me. Like how I insist he wear pants in the grocery store. And when I make him brush his teeth, stay close in a crowded public place, use a quiet voice in the library.
I won’t give in; that won’t help him learn when it is and isn’t appropriate to insist on his way.
But I can empathize. I can understand. I can reason with him. And after a few moments, he decides he’d rather finish his meal than hold his arm out waiting for me.
On another day, he might have decided he wanted to really establish his authority and dump the milk or scream at me.
Just like sometimes I get irritated and yell or gripe or become physically tense.
I’m not three, so it doesn’t look the same on me. But it is the same emotions that fuel both of our tantrums.
And when we are agitated to the point we lose control, we need a calm voice and steady hands to soothe us.
On another night, I’ll need to be that voice; those hands. But today, as I watch his little hands carefully scoop up more veggies while he giggles at his silly brother’s jokes, I smile. I see his growth. His maturity.
He craves control; and that’s a good thing. He is three, and will continue to experiment with gaining it in different ways. Sometimes he will handle it well, sometimes he won’t. Sometimes I’ll react well. Sometimes I won’t.
He’ll get there. One “ridiculous” demand at a time.
Excuse me while I have a totally human moment and admit that today sucked! And yesterday sucked, too. And that I am dreading tomorrow so much it literally brought me to tears thinking about it.
Parenting isn’t easy. Sometimes it is incredibly hard. Some days leave you wondering how you’ll ever make it through their childhoods. Some days end with you feeling like you were just not cut out for this gig.
Today, I wanted to quit. I wanted to hang up the Mom hat. The three year old is practicing asserting his control and independence, every. Chance. He. Gets. I’ve heard him say “no” more times over the last few days than in his whole life before this.
And I know! I have studied early childhood development, and I know why he’s doing it; I know it’s an important step in his growth and development, and I know it won’t last. I know to stay calm and empathetic, allowing him control when feasible and being understanding yet firm on the boundaries when I cannot let him be in charge.
I know his tantrums aren’t about me, they are about him. His growth. His learning. His need to push boundaries and figure out where the lines are drawn. But when he’s screaming at me because I got the wrong surprise treat or because I won’t pick up the item he dropped on purpose RIGHT BY HIS FEET and therefore commences to do the Possessed Worm in the middle of the grocery store, all the knowledge in the world doesn’t stop me from feeling stressed. I don’t feel knowledgeable and capable.
I feel angry. Hurt. Overwhelmed.
I’m embarrassed, indecisive, fragile.
*I* want someone to put their arms around *me* and tell me “You are having such a rough day! I know that doesn’t feel good inside. What can we do to make this better?”
But, of course, no one does. In this scenario, that’s my job. And so that’s what I do. I wrap him up tight and tell him I wish that I had enough arms to carry him, pull the grocery cart AND push the cart the baby is riding in. I wish I could pick him up and never let him go until he was ready. I remind him that when we get home, I can snuggle with him. And that we can go home as soon as we are done with our shopping.
And it works. For a moment. But only a moment. Because he’s three.
And I’m 28. I’m the adult. Mom of 4, soon to be 5. Caregiver to 8, 9, 10 kids at any given time. It’s up to me to reframe this moment and turn the week around.
And I will do my best to do that. But for now, I’ll also take time to simply be human and feel. Breathe, and cry, and indulge myself; allow myself to process my frustration and hurt and discouragement.
Because I am human. And that’s okay.
So small. So defenseless. If some great calamity struck today, something horrific and disastrous; something so awful and wrong and damaging that he stands no chance against…he would turn to me, wrap his arms around my neck, and fully trust me to save him. He might still be afraid, but he would have no doubt that I would be his hero. Continue reading
I’m awake for no reason I can find; my littlest ones are with their Granny tonight, I should be making the most of the bed space and sleeping well…instead I find myself missing those fuzzy headed tickles and warm bodies against my back and my belly.
I hear the bigger kids shift as they near the end of sleep, and I pray their dreams are sweet and peaceful. I hope I can be the mom today that they need.
I hold my hands on my belly, trace lightly over faint lines that mark how I grew and stretched as we anticipated the births of our children. I picture it in three, six months, when this new life stirring inside is showing for the world to see, and I almost think maybe I feel the slightest hint of a flutter. An awakening. Hello, little one. Are you up, too, with imaginings about who we are?
I think about the babies who never made it to my arms, and let myself sit with the grief a moment; something I have had to teach myself is okay, even necessary.
I won’t sleep tonight. The children will wake soon, hungry and eager to regale me with tales from their adventures in slumberland. There will be laughter, and likely some tears. They won’t do everything right, and neither will I. We will forgive, we will move on. We will love.
Tomorrow is a new day, and I’m ready to begin.
This time of year tends to be fairly difficult for most families. Kids are home from school, but parents aren’t getting a break from work or family duties. Even for families who don’t celebrate the season’s holidays, the energy that surrounds this time of year is everywhere. Stores are bustling, playgrounds packed, traffic is high, and toy and game ads are in super-gear. Every channel is running programs full of festive “cheer” which usually focuses on some form of the gimmes, or exaggerated familial conflicts, and other holiday themed struggle.
We, as adults, get stressed out. Finances might be tight. Time almost always is. So many people to see, and so little patience for them all. Old arguments crop back up, feelings get hurt, boundaries are pushed and broken. Grandparents disrespect Mom and Dad’s wishes for their children, children embarrass parents in front of their grandparents, and many families with different approaches to child raising come together and feel awkward.
So in this season that is supposed to remind us to be generous, selfless, compassionate, and forgiving- don’t forget to include yourself.
Being generous doesn’t mean to give so much you have nothing left of yourself.
Being selfless doesn’t mean to sacrifice your ideals and boundaries to keep everyone else happy.
Being compassionate toward others is a lot easier when you practice on yourself.
Forgiveness is just as important to express when YOU make a mistake as it is when someone else crosses a line.
Lower your expectations.
Remember what it was like this time of year as a child.
Be observant. Step in and find a way to remove an excitable kid before they get overwhelmed.
Don’t overschedule. If your holiday schedule makes YOU stressed, imagine the anxiety a child who has no control over the timetable feels.
Don’t let anyone make you feel guilty for taking care of you and your family’s needs.
I want to thank my son for allowing me to share this. It’s hard to share personal, vulnerable, emotional moments. <3
As the day we celebrated his brother's third birthday wore on, 7.5yo Paby became progressively more controlling and irritable. He began lashing out verbally at his siblings and at me, and it all came to a peak when our borrowed baby's mom came to pick up her daughter and a neighbor friend came.
My youngest, who will be 3 in December, said something a few weeks ago that really impacted me. In an effort to explain why he hit, he finally burst out “Pany is big big big and I am small small small. That’s why I hit him.”
“Rogue! I know you are angry. Paby is playing with your faaavorite outdoor toy. You want him to get off, so you pushed him down, is that right?”
“No, Mama! He get on mine wiggle rider and I want get on mine wiggle rider, so…so….I got andry and….I…
“It’s okay, take a deep breath and think. I’m ready to listen and help figure this out.”