Friday, July 1, 2011

July 1, 2011 ~ Day 203
Over the River and Thru the Woods

At the moment my older son shoved my younger son and inadvertently smashed two wine glasses on the shelf at the thrift store, glass shards exploding every which way, I knew that things had gotten out of hand.

I didn't know though at that moment, somewhere around 2:00pm, how much worse our day would get before bedtime.

Right now I am typing this in a glazed over state, just cogent enough to find words to roughly approximate my sense of defeat.

My husband, equally exhausted and defeated, has retreated for the night to bed with a sour stomach.

I remember telling him at some point tonight that I wished more than anything we could just leave all of the stress behind and go smother our sorrows with Chinese food and cheesecake. He laughed appreciatively. Neither of us were joking.

I'm not really sure why today turned out as it did. You never really know, as a parent, which days are going to be beautiful and precious - and which days are going to humble you.

There are so many variables at play in the emotions and daily experiences of a single human child. We've discovered the hard way that when you mix the unique needs, experiences and sensitivities of three disparate children, it is almost impossible to predict how the wave will break.

Will our children love each other today? Will we come upon them giggling furtively together as they hatch a plan to build a fort or steal snacks from the kitchen?

Will our children hate each other today? Will we come upon them biting, scratching and screaming at each other ~ or worse, with one of them attacking the other as he cowers and sobs?

Some days are so beautiful as a parent, I feel that my heart could explode from the sheer joy of spending time in the company of such dear little people. Tonight my daughter handed her father a pretzel. "Thank you, honey," he smiled.

"You wellocom Dada, I LUyooo," she beamed from ear to ear.

That was one of the joyful times.

Other parenting moments crush me down from the memory of the mother I once thought I would be to the reality of the flawed and often failing mother that I am.

This afternoon, after offering to pay for the glasses and then leaving the thrift store, I took my brood home. As we drove toward our neighborhood, I remembered that I needed to stop by a local swimming school to sign my kiddos up for lessons, since the first swim program this Summer didn't work out.

"This will just take a minute," I said, as I herded the three of them toward the front desk of the swim school.

But of course, it didn't take just a minute. Signing three kids up for swimming lessons requires filling out three separate forms, all of which have the exact same information with the exception of the student's name.

"Do you really need our home address three times?" I asked.

"Yes, I'm afraid so."

"Oh, okay."

As I raced through the forms, and whipped out my credit card, I could tell that tensions were rising between my boys. Their banter had gotten louder; their laughter and shrieking more strident. They were hanging upside down off of a metal hand railing.

"I'm so sorry about that," I apologized to the woman registering us.

"It's okay, we're used to it."

At last, I'd signed off on the final dotted line and worked out their schedule. It seemed as though we'd be on our way relatively unscathed. "Thanks for your time and help," I said to the woman and went to hoist my daughter into my arms to carry her back to the car...

...when I turned the corner of the counter to find my elder son punching my younger son forcefully onto the ground.

Punching. Not a shove, or a light love tap. A solid hit to the cheekbone strong enough to knock a sturdy 36 lb boy to the ground. Where he hit his head on the cement floor. Hard.

There isn't any way to sugar coat it.
That's just what happened.

By the time I could say either son's name, the damage had been done. My younger son lay on the ground dizzy, with one very pink cheek and tears streaming out of his eyes.

"Please wait for me out front," I almost whispered to the elder son.

"Oh wow, does your little boy need ice for his head?" The front desk woman asked.

"No thank you. I appreciate it though."

And that was that. It took over a minute for my younger son to stand up. Ten minutes for me to drive us home. Much longer to figure out what the heck to do about it.

At first I tried hard to frame the situation from the perspective of our play therapist. "Maybe he was hungry," I reasoned with myself. "He could have been tired or overstimulated."

"It was still violent behavior!"
came back the reply from my inner Mother Bear. "Violence is unacceptable!"

"I need to take responsibility for my own participation in our dynamic,"
I asserted. "I should have paid better attention to their cues. I should have seen that coming."

"How can you simultaneously anticipate violent misbehavior AND look for the best in your children?"
said the Mother Bear. "If you're looking for the best in the people you love, you're going to assume that they are capable of being loving, peaceful and controlling their anger."

"But he's only five!"

Mother Bear lost that round. "What kind of a human being do I hope to raise..." I asked myself. "I want to raise a man who knows his own triggers and can take good care of himself physically and emotionally so that he can be independent and happy."

With that in mind, I chose to take the route of instruction rather than punishment. I spoke seriously to my son about the grave nature of what he had done, and let him know that his father and I would be discussing an appropriate consequence... but still made him a sandwich. Then when he had finished eating, I sent him (yes, a five year old) to nap.

"You're going to feel so much better once you've had a little rest, buddy," I assured him. "In the future, we're going to try to stay more aware of whether you're hungry, tired, have a lot of energy to get out, or aren't feeling that great. The more we know what triggers you to feel aggressive, the better we'll both be at figuring out the problem before it gets out of hand."

He slept, deeply, for two hours.

My husband came home from work. I shared with him the events of our day, and he listened supportively. He was also upset, but controlled in his emotion when speaking to our son.

"Your Mommy is trying to figure out WHY you did that to your brother," he said to our son. "But I want you to know that hitting is never okay, for any reason."

our son sniffled.

"Tonight you get the chance to really take care of your brother and make him feel better," we added. "You can help make his dinner, get him a drink if he is thirsty, pick out his pajamas and read him a story before bedtime."

(All of this, a strategy we had learned from our play therapist.)

* * * * * * *

Fast forward. 7pm. Our sons were outside, watering a sunflower plant. They had eaten dinner. They were well rested. They'd been playing nicely. Suddenly we heard sounds of discord and squabble.

"Oh no," I sighed.

"I'll get this one," my husband assured me and headed out to see what the commotion was all about. Suddenly I heard my husband yelling too (a total rarity).

"Stop that!!! LEAVE YOUR BROTHER ALONE!!! I said STOP!"

Racing out I found, yet again, our younger son clutching his face and trying to get off of the ground.

"What happened?" I asked breathlessly.

"Our son is in big trouble with me. He hit his brother. Again."

* * * * * * * *

You never know exactly what your breaking point is going to be as a parent until it actually happens. One million lousy things can happen and somehow you muddle through without sweating too hard. Then something happens that may have happened before - maybe even a lot of other times - but somehow this is the time that busts you wide open.

For whatever reason, this was my busted open moment.

"Get your things," I said calmly to our elder son. "You're not staying here tonight."

he asked. "Where am I going?"

"Violence is not tolerated in this house,"
I said. "We love you very much, but tonight you cannot be near your brother any more. You are going to your grandmother's house, and straight to bed."

"I agree," affirmed my husband. "Your Mommy is right and you need to learn that you can't treat your siblings this way."

He sobbed. "I don't want to go. I am going to miss my family."

"We will miss you too, but for tonight, I think we all need some space from each other."

"Will I see you tomorrow?"

"I will call your grandmother first thing in the morning. If she tells me that you have been kind and well mannered, we will come to get you right away."

"Okay." He quieted down and sat deep in thought along the drive, yawning occasionally. We did not speak much.

As we approached my mother's house, I finally spoke. "Being part of a family is about treating each other with respect and kindness. You do not have to love your brother or sister. You don't even have to like them, although of course we hope that you will. (Your brother and sister definitely love you.)

However, you *do* need to treat your brother and sister with respect and gentle behavior. They look up to you and learn from watching you. We expect you to be nice to them and show them in a positive way what it means to be a family."

"I know," he nodded.

* * * * * * *

Tucked into bed in clean pajamas with a sippy cup of water, I left my son in a safe and loving environment this evening. He fell to sleep with his grandmother just steps away down the hall, and since she's an incredibly warm and kind grandmother, I'm okay with that.

Still, note the key words there: I left my son.

This is a difficult thing for any mother to do, under all circumstances.
Turns out, it's even harder to do when the circumstances are unhappy.

I know that my child is safe, loved and warm at this moment. I know that he is sleeping peacefully amid fluffy down comforters and checked on by the precious woman who raised and nurtured me over the past 35 years. I know she will call me in a heartbeat if he needs us for any reason.

Still, our house seems too quiet at this moment and my heart hurts.

Is this what we have come to? Keeping the peace through enforced separation?

Our son is safe at grandma's house tonight but our family unit feels a little lost in the woods without him. We've always told our kids that 'home' is anywhere that the five of us are together. How can this truly be home, with one of our crucial members banished?

We need to find our way back over this winding river...
We need to find our way Home.


  1. I love your writing. I love your heart. What a beautiful family!

    Thank you for this blog.

  2. Wow. What a hard day. I am so impressed that after all of this you can write about it so beautifully.

    We have ALL been there. When Oliver was 3, he bit me so hard I still have scars. He still tries to hit sometimes. And just 2 days ago, the boys broke a glass candle thing at World Market. The violence thing is so hard though - we have been through it with Oliver. You are so awesome for keeping your calm. I have definitely lost my shit more than once.

    It will get better! xoxoox