Monday, January 31, 2011

Day 29: So This is a Tantrum

I will choose to find a positive perspective under even the most negative circumstances.
I will choose acceptance over resistance.
I will choose to focus on the things I value about my children, not the things that drive me nuts.
I will choose to extend the same grace, love and forgiveness to myself that I try to lavish on my husband and children each day.

Holy. Crap. I thought we had seen Jackson's first tantrums, but apparently that was just child's play. This was the real thing. There was no gentle fall to the floor in protest, no loud complaints, no statement of his need. Instead it was like he was possessed; nothing coming from his mouth was coherent, the screams were louder and more violent than anything I have ever heard from a human being, and he physically fought me so hard I finally had to throw him over my shoulder with no jacket and trudge through the wind and snow to the car just to save everyone in the chiropractor's office from enduring the rest of it.

Here's the kicker: It was all my fault.

This isn't just the mommy guilt talking. This is the reality. I started us down the path toward this tantrum before breakfast, and instead of hitting the breaks, I accelerated through it, causing even more damage. Here's what happened:

I gave myself a free pass on the detox diet Saturday because we had friends over for food and drinks, and I've been exhausted and irritable since. Today was no exception, and on top of it Jackson decided to get up an hour early. I managed to keep Max asleep which meant the living room was off-limits for the morning. Of course that means it's the only place Jackson wanted to be. So I spent the morning hushing and herding him and, I'm sure, making him feel unable to do anything "right." I had set the tone for the day and it reeked of resistance.

We decided to go to a friend's house before our chiropractic appointment, which may sound like a positive turn to the day, but actually made things worse. I should have been realistic about how long it would take to get ready and not scheduled anything in between. I'm not capable of being calm, patient or responsive when I'm rushing to get us out of the house; I know this about myself and should just avoid putting myself in the situation.

We had a power struggle over going potty before we left and with each minute that ticked by I got more aggravated. In hindsight, I think Jackson was showing me with his refusal to pee and incessant request to play with me upstairs that he needed a calm day at home with no appointments, but I ignored it. Instead I got mad and read him the riot act about "not listening" (aka not doing exactly as I told him with no questions asked regardless of his current feelings or needs or how unloving I was in my request). Let's just say it was a bad morning full of things I'm not proud of. We didn't get going fast enough to fit in the play date, so we headed straight for our appointment.

The car ride provided me with enough "alone time" to calm down and compose myself. I apologized and told him how much I love him, but was met with silence, which was really strange. So when we got there I reiterated those things as I was getting him out of the car seat and gave him a kiss, but he still seemed pretty quiet. I saw a problem and didn't take the time to address it.

When we got in he went to the toy box like usual and chose a basket of pretend food to bring in while we all got adjusted. But he wasn't moving fast enough for my liking (God forbid anyone have to wait a minute or two because I allowed my child some transition time) so I grabbed his hand and started toward the room. He protested loudly and said he needed the bread. Fortunately he found it right away because I had no intention of waiting - that's how far out of my mind his needs and feelings were today.

As our chiropractor opened the door for us Jack started saying something about squash (can you tell how closely I was paying attention?), shook his food basket and finally threw it on the floor and started yelling and crying when I turned and brought Max into the adjustment room. He knew I wasn't connected, he knew I had been resisting him all morning and treating him with disrespect, now I wasn't even listening to what he was saying and even walking away from him and he had had enough. 

He cried and yelled as Max and I were adjusted and refused to come into the room. All I could think about was what the other person in the room was thinking about my "lack of discipline" (strange passers by are one thing, but when you know the philosophy of your audience it becomes exponentially harder to ignore them and focus on what you know your child needs). I nursed him for a minute in the changing room to try to calm him down, but for some reason felt like we just needed to go. Again, not taking into account what he needed at that moment. I threw all the fruit back into the basket and shoved him out of the room crying. When I tried to get his jacket on things really escalated. By this point I was so far beyond frazzled I didn't know what to do, so over my shoulder he went.

At the car he wouldn't get into his car seat so I tried to physically force him. He got angrier than I've ever seen a person get and made sounds I've never heard before. All the while poor Max had been along for the ride, but now he was starting to get scared and cry. I was feeling absolutely desperate to stop the tantrum, but somehow I was totally disconnected from all the things I know and believe and I kept grasping for ways to externally control him instead of meeting his needs. 

Was I ever going to get him home? Was he going to freeze to death before I could get a handle on the situation? Was the screaming ever going to end? Were people passing us in the parking lot going to call the police? In an almost out of body experience I found myself trying to force him into his seat with my hand over his mouth, his eyes wide with fear and rage. Oh no! How did we get here!? I finally woke up. I took him in my arms and started bawling. We sat in the front seat together while he calmed down enough to get a few words out. I asked what he was so angry about and he replied, "Because Mommy wasn't treating me very nice today." Devastated doesn't begin to describe how I felt then or how I feel now. This isn't one of those times I can chalk it up to a learning experience; there's no bright side. I flat out failed all of us. And I am completely ashamed of myself.

His every movement had been critiqued and controlled from the moment he woke up, and I had been short, impatient, and disrespectful all morning, meanwhile expecting the opposite from him. I was putting all that on his little two-year-old shoulders and it was too much weight for him to carry. On top of that, I ignored all the signs of distress along the way and even failed to "show up" for his tantrum. It was not his fault, it was mine.

Rather than feeling a desire to meet the need he was showing me, I was feeling angry that I couldn't stop him and mortified because everyone in the office had a front row seat. Rather than loving him, comforting him and helping him through his intense feelings, I tried to smother the symptoms while I fueled the fire. In every way, I was more concerned about the people around us than I was about us - more importantly him.

In hindsight I know the severity of the situation was because of his own detox process and probably my cheating on Saturday. For the second day in a row he woke up from his nap drenched in sweat and his mood and self control are definitely tied closely to what's happening in his body. But none of that changes the seriousness of my poor choices. 

So if you want authenticity, here it is! You've just been invited into the worst day of our two and a half years. I'm trying to be gentle with myself (and I hope you will be too!), but I figure I might as well ride the failure train into self-beating station for the night. Breathe in...breathe out...It's over and I can't change it. I can only move on and thank God for a new day up ahead.


  1. Sometimes.... it's just hard. It just is.

    I'll never forget sitting down with a friend and her little girl after I had Carl and Cecilia was with me. I had to leave halfway through the meal. My friend was lovely and really great about it, but the thing is- I had two little kids who were freaking out; there wasn't exactly a 'backup' person to call-there were two of them and one of me and I couldn't make everybody happy. I just had to pretty much do what you did and walk out. Grind my teeth and go home.

    I don't think I've ever thought through things as much as you do, so it never (ok, rarely) occurs to me that *I* might have more responsibility in the whole thing.... I just try to calm down, let it go and adjust. "Huh, that didn't work out very well...."

    Cecilia had (um still has, just more hidden now) these crazy texture/feeling issues that meant she screamed and cried in her 5 point harness for about 5 years. So, we really didn't go many places and sometimes I just had to grind my teeth when we did and she wanted to strip down before sitting in her seat. Sometimes I could flex and we'd skirt the battle, other times she just lost and then, lost it.

    Jack was having a breakdown for a totally different reason, but sometimes the kids just need to do what we need them to.... even though it may result in a screaming awful car ride home. I cry too, but mainly because I feel sorry for myself!!

    Perhaps I should reflect on this whole comment and wonder if I am a bad mother?!! Lol, who doesn't?

    All I can say when I review our bad days is 'thank God children are so resilient.' Even when we have a tough time, I can always slow our pace down and we'll get back on track with our relationship. Kids are sweet like that.


  2. Again, I'm right with you !
    Hopefully, a bad day is a sign of lots of good days to come.

    You don't seem to have any "mothering issues" (that is not a real good way to call it but my mind is sort of blank after another night of Sophie nursing a lot and Nina having diarrhea) with Maxwell. Do you think it is because you've already been on that path with Jackson, so you know the tricks and the traps ? That is my feeling with my children, my first-born has it not as easy as his siblings. It is a tough place to be a first-born.

    Oh, and I loved your post about how you love your husband. It took me 8 years to have my heart keep the same beating rate when my partner was in sight :-)

  3. I just found out what was Scott Noelle's today's wisdom, and it is so appropriate !

  4. I just wanted to say that I remember from my own upbringing there were days when everything got too much. I also remember those days so clearly not because they were so traumatic but because my parents ALWAYS apologised for making a mistake. It helped me as a child realise that adults arent all powerful and do make mistakes. I have an amazing relationship with my parents thanks to them being able to offer an apology and being able to let it go when they made mistakes.

    I guess what I am saying is that we are all human and that we make mistakes. No doubt when he is older Jackson will respect you all the more for being able to apologise to him. So, I say breathe in deep and let it go. If I am half as good with my soon-to-be-born little one then I will be a very happy mother. :)

  5. Megan, you're so right. And fortunately, kids are sweet like that :)

    Murielle, I laughed when I saw the daily groove in my inbox this morning! How appropriate. I do think that having experience is part of why mothering Max is so different, but it's also because he is a completely different kid. Couldn't be more opposite than Jackson. So I'm afraid I'm going to be like a first-timer again when it comes time to face his toddlerhood, just because none of the same strategies will be helpful for him.

    SK, thank you. That does make me feel a little better. Although I start to feel like my apologies are a little empty when they have to come too often. But that's why I'm here trying to grow and make lasting changes, I guess. I appreciate your kindness ;)

  6. I like your definition of not listening. I have caught us in that trap before, too, thinking listening is doing what I want.

    Tantrums can be fierce and strange and hard to manage. I can't tell you how many tantrums it has taken me to get to the point where I just go into a zen state, putting all of my emotions aside and focusing just on his until he is back within himself.

    That is what tantrums look like: a child outside of himself.

    We can't be perfectly accessible to our children all the time, striving to be is the best we can do. You are doing that.

    You made it through the tantrum and you will make it through others. You are a great mom.