Monday, March 21, 2011

March 21, 2011 ~ Day 102
Big Step Backward
(...tiptoeing ahead)

It takes a lot to make my husband angry. He is just not the angry type. Sure, there are days when he *really* needs his coffee and other times when I notice that a bike ride might improve the general atmosphere ~ but overall he's got a very mellow, gentle heart and isn't one to become 'all fired up'.

This is why, when I entered our home last night after my first Pilates Therapy session, I knew something must really have gone wrong. My sweet tempered husband was furious, in a very controlled way.

"Our son is in his room. He will not be joining us for dinner," he snapped. "He is in a world of trouble with me."

"What happened?"

"While we were driving to the bike store he threw a LARGE ROCK at (our smaller son)'s head which made IMPACT! then bounced off and hit the windshield. He could have gotten us into a major car accident. He is VERY lucky that the windshield didn't break."

"Oh no. How is the little guy doing?"
I asked, rushing toward the kitchen where the smaller children were eating.

"He's okay. It was a real shock to him though to get hit by that rock, he cried for a while."

Having made certain that there were no lumps, dents or cuts left over from the rock attack, I turned back to my husband.

"So, what did you do with the older one? Throwing rocks in the car is definitely unacceptable. Did he do it on purpose? Has he had a consequence?"

"Yes, it was definitely thrown on purpose. And yes, he got into BIG trouble with me in the car. I told him this was unacceptable and there would be a serious consequence. I'm not sure yet what that should be. He says he isn't hungry and doesn't want any dinner, so I gave him a shower and he's in bed now."

"Oh dear. Honey, he has to eat."

"I know! Maybe you can talk to him."

Sighing, I edged toward the bedroom that our three children share. Since the other two were still eating homemade kale and white bean soup, I hoped this would give the eldest boy and me the opportunity to have a private heart-to-heart.

KnockKnockKnock. "Honey? Can mommy come in?"

There was a muffled reply. Gingerly I opened the door and saw that my son had wrapped himself in all of his covers so that only his eyes and nose were showing. Despite the darkness in the room, I could see the tears welling in his eyes.

It was easy to see that he felt very badly about what had happened - both hurting his brother AND getting in trouble with his daddy, who he worships. This son truly does have a warm and caring heart; it's impulse control that we're working on.

Sitting quietly next to him, I gave his sobbing little body a big hug. It was easy to see that this child needed love more than a lecture at that moment. "Little man," I gently asked. "Can you tell me what happened?"

After a few moments spent trying to convince me that he hadn't done anything and it was all his brother's fault, the truth came out. "But mommy," he added, once he had finished telling me about the rock, "You don't give me enough lunch and that sandwich wasn't big enough and I'M HUNGRY!!!! And I don't know why but I do bad things when I'm hungry." He snuffled into his arm, "I can't control myself."

I smiled in the dark; actually a bit impressed that my son could be this self-aware. Hypoglycemia runs in my side of the family and my husband learned very early on in our relationship not to let me get too hungry ~ because when my blood sugar drops I become either heinously grouchy or ridiculously indecisive.

Counting back, I realized that my son probably hadn't eaten anything more than a handful of potato chips in eight hours. Hunger really could have played a significant part in his lack of self control, this time around.

"Buddy," I consoled. "I think there is something we can do about all of this, to help you make better choices. I know you know *how* to control your behavior because you do it all of the time so well. You control your anger at school, on sports teams, on playdates, with your grandparents and even at the doctor's office. It is only with your brother that you seem to really let it fly.

I understand that you need a safe space in which to release your feelings when you feel sad, mad or frustrated. You just need to understand that your brother is NOT that safe space. We can find other ways for you to release that energy."

Together we then came up with three ways in which he could get a safe outlet for his pent-up emotions: eating, exercising or working on his journal (the notebook 'blog' he's been laboring over every day) in privacy.

"This is what grownups do, when they have a hard day or a frustration," I explained. "It is totally normal to have lots of feelings, some of which are grumpy. Everyone feels happy, sad, excited, angry, hopeful or annoyed sometimes. Grownups find the way that works for them to release those feelings so that they don't hurt anyone. And everyone has their own way of doing it."

"Do you feel mad sometimes mommy? What do you do to get better?" he asked.

"Well honey, when I'm feeling lousy I write. I write in my journal, or a letter to a friend, or I work on the blog I am putting together for you and your brother and sister. I release my emotions through writing."

"I like to write, too!"

"That's great honey. And there are many other ways to let go of mad feelings too. Your daddy gets out his emotions on the bicycle. Your uncle goes surfing. Your Mima prays. Everyone finds their own way to get back into balance. Also, you may find out that on one day eating makes you feel better but on another day, you might want to dance around or even take a nap."

We talked a little longer and agreed that his job is to work on becoming aware of the moments when he feels like he is about to lash out at his brother. When he feels this coming on, I encouraged him to call out to me - "Mommy, I need a safe space!"

"I promise that I will listen to you if you say this to me,"
I added. "And I will act quickly to help you prevent any fights from happening."

He then agreed to join us at the dinner table and at the table we explained to his daddy and brother the new plan. "If you feel like your brother may be about to get angry with you," I said to the little one, "You need to call out - "Mommy! Brother needs a safe space RIGHT NOW!""

"How about just calling out - 'Safe Space!'" my husband asked. "That seems faster and more to the point."

"Sure, perfect."

We ended family time directly after dinner, with the boys still a bit cautious around each other. One son didn't want to get hurt again and the other didn't want to get in trouble again. My husband suggested that I contact our new play therapist to see if she had any advice for an appropriate consequence. "I don't know what to do here," he said. "If I had thrown a rock at someone in the car when my father was driving, I would have gotten spanked."

I agreed to contact her, and did so with a fairly heavy heart before going to bed.

This morning I vowed to stay on top of my parenting game, as I knew my husband would be out of town and the buck stopped with me to head off any sibling friction. I was uber-organized, staying up well past midnight to make sandwiches and pack lunches; have the bowls and spoons ready for oatmeal, laying out their clothing in advance. I made sure to leave plenty of time for the school run, knowing full well that there would be at least one morning tantrum thrown by at least one child.

More importantly, I really stayed on top of checking in with my son emotionally all day. "How are you doing?" I asked. "How are you feeling?"

Every time I could hear in his voice that he was edging toward whiny or frustrated I immediately asked, "Do you need a safe space right now?"

In this way I intercepted a fight over who got to ride the scooter; who got to sit in the middle of the couch for "Caillou" and who got served a second helping of dinner first. It was not a perfect day ~ twice I caught him hurting his brother. Still, there was one great moment when he shouted "Mommy, Safe Space!" and headed off his own potential conflict.

Another wonderful moment - when the little brother called out "Safe Space, Safe space!" and I rushed in to find the older one with fist clenched and drawn back, not having hit yet.

"Are you hungry?" I asked - and the fight was averted.

I'm not sure yet whether this new strategy will pay off in the long term, or even what our therapist actually thinks of it. She kindly wrote me back today and suggested that I pick up a copy of a book called "Wheel of Choice" and then co-create a unique Wheel of Choice with our son giving him multiple options for how to solve the stresses or frustrations that he is experiencing... using the "Get a Snack", "Exercise", or "Private Journaling Time" as three of his choices on the wheel.

I haven't had much time to look into the Wheel of Choice she mentioned yet but it seems very interesting. Once again I am so impressed with this therapist who clearly knows a great deal about positive discipline and parenting. I'm so grateful to have found her, and glad I came to the conclusion that it didn't matter that she lives in our neighborhood. Help is help - and we need help.

Tonight when I put the kids to bed, I gave each son a high-five for managing to make it through the entire day fairly peacefully. "Nice work guys!" I hugged them. "I'm so proud of you both."

I know it is only one day; but even a single day without the stress of emotional conflict is a good day for me. I'm grateful for the respite from battle. I'm grateful for the opportunity my boys have to become better friends when they actually manage to spend time together without friction. I'm especially grateful for the fact that they're always willing to try out the wacky ideas I come up with to try to resolve our family problems... and that I'm still optimistic enough to keep coming up with new solutions to try out.

So... one giant step backward, but still persistently (stubbornly!) inching forward in the best way we know how.

Onward and upward :-)

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