Her temper flares. It's not hard to do - her brother gets in her face, and suddenly she's thrown her cereal bowl onto the green-carpeted floor. The plush, expensive carpeting from the 1960s didn't ever expect to see the kind of love (read: damage) as it's seen from this family of four. I gave Audrey a bowl for her milk and cereal, wishing to give her some more responsibility and independence than her usual sippy cup with a side of dry cereal on her tray. She did great for awhile. That was until Seancito decided he was done eating cereal and wanted to pick on his sister instead. Then the cereal bowl ended up on the floor.
Sean: (entering the kitchen with an honest look on his face) Mama, Audrey dropped her cereal on the floor.
me: (walking between the kitchen and dining room) Audrey! No! You do not throw your food!
Audrey begins whimpering. It's a half-hearted whimper.
Would this have been prevented had I seen it coming? What if I had listened to that motherly instinct when I gave her the bowl initially? The instinct that told me I would be cleaning it up off the floor by myself? Did I listen to that voice? No. Did I clean up the cereal by myself? Yes. Well sort of. Audrey, down from her high chair, stood beside me while I cleaned.
Audrey: (sighing) Watch. I watch.
Thank you. That's exactly what I need. An observer. Then the kids went running to play in another room while I muttered to myself and took a rag to the milk and rice crispie soaked floor.
Or his temper flares. After begging and pleading with him to use the potty before going to the kid's stuff section at the YMCA, (and he refused) when I came to pick him up he informed me that he'd wet his pants. We're not talking soaked to the bone, but it was definitely wet. I was fuming. But I remained calm. Outwardly.
me: This has been happening a lot recently, Seancito. Why is that?
Sean: I'm not sure.
me: Well we have got to figure out a better way to do this.
Sean: (fingering his upper lip) yeah...
me: If you don't want to use the potty when I ask you to, and you don't tell someone at kid's stuff, then we might need to think about using pull-ups or diapers during the day.
Had I known that these words would have motivated the firestorm that followed, I would have re-thought using them. But at the time, it seemed just the jab I was looking for. I didn't want to yell and scream at him, but I wanted him to know I was serious. Instead of me yelling and screaming at him, he yelled and screamed at me. Through the whole lobby of the YMCA, into the family locker room, echoing off the tiled walls, in the bathroom stall, back out at the sink, while washing hands, and then traipsing through the lobby out to the car. Yelling and screaming. It didn't stop. Never let up.
Audrey: Sean. Cwying!
me: Yes, I know that, Audrey.
Audrey: Sean. Cwying!
me: Yes, yes he is.
Audrey's quiet commentary in my ear was heard by me only. Anyone else in earshot of us could hear only the sound of Sean yelling at me. When finally in the car, he coupled the screaming with kicking the passenger seat. When I pulled the passenger seat as far up as it would go, he then kicked the car door. All the way down the road. He'd already been threatened with and subsequently lost the privilege of having a snack in the car (Audrey was quietly munching on her cheesestick without him). He then lost the privilege of having books read to him before taking a nap. Searching my brain for what other privileges might inspire him to better behavior, I pulled out all the stops.
me: (loudly, to be heard over his screaming) You know what!? Just keep this up! Just keep doing what you're doing! If you want to lose your TV privileges, then just keep it up!
Sean: (crying, screaming, etc) NOOOOOOOO! I DON'T WANT TO LOSE TV!
me: Then you better turn it around, buddy! You better show me that you can behave in a different way. Because you will lose everything! You've already lost your snack, you've lost your books at nap time. You will lose the TV if you don't find another way to talk to me. If you keep this up, you will lose EVERYTHING! If you want to LOSE EVERYTHING, JUST KEEP DOING WHAT YOU'RE DOING!
Moments later, he quieted down. He stopped flailing in his seat, stopped kicking things, stopped crying. He sat quietly staring out the window. He mumbled something about being tired. We had come through the worst of it.
Hindsight is 20/20. They say this for a reason, because as I looked back over my day, I realized that perhaps my words had triggered some of his angry behavior. There was no excusing the massive tantrum or shouting at me, but there was room for my own reflection on why I said and did what I did. I spoke with a dear friend that afternoon. I relayed to her what happened. A mother herself, and someone who knows me better than I know myself sometimes, she pushed me to look past Sean's behavior. She asked me what underlying fears I might be feeling about parenting and being a mom. She bore into my soul from miles away.
So at dinner, once the tantrum was hours and hours behind us, once I'd had time away to go teach middle schoolers, and Sean had taken a nap and played at a friend's house, once Tom was home to balance out the parent to child ratio, I brought up what had happened at the YMCA.
me: Hey Cito, did you tell dad about what happened at the Y?
Sean: Yeah, I did.
Tom: Sean actually told me right after he woke up from his nap.
me: Do you know why you had such a hard time?
Sean: Yeah. I didn't want to use the potty or wash my hands.
me: Well, that's true, yes. But I've been thinking about it, and I realized that when I brought up wearing pull ups or diapers, that I wasn't being nice to you. That wasn't a very respectful thing to do.
Sean: Yeah. (pause) Dad could I have some more corn?
Tom: Sure. Do you think you can forgive mom?
The moment passed. My confession revealed, I felt my shoulders loosen and my jaw unclench. I don't know if the confession helped Sean or not, but I know it was important for me to move past my guilt. Pushed by my dear friend to reflect on my own fear, I came to the conclusion that I'd brought up diapers and pull ups as a passive aggressive way to call Sean a baby. Maybe if I called him a baby (secretly, of course, not really using the word "baby") then it would scare him into acting like a big kid. It sure did scare him! He threw a 30 minute fit it scared him so much! But what my friend astutely observed and then I reflected on further was that my words came out of my own fear. I am afraid that I'm not doing things right as a parent - why does Sean still wet his pants? Why does he still not want to eat certain foods just because of the way they look? Why does he freak out when I use a different toothbrush for Audrey than the one he wants me to use? Why does he seem so entrenched in his way of doing things that sometimes he can't see straight? Why, why, why?
When my mind spins with these questions, as it began to when I picked Sean up and he told me his pants were wet, I focus more on those questions than on the little person in front of me. It's like my head goes into a cloud and I can't see my way out until I answer every single question out there. In my pursuit of the answers (read: my desire to control the situation) I completely overlook Sean and his humanity.
My prayer has been and continues to be that I may see my son. Not just physically see him, but also intuit and listen and read between the lines. He's not yet old enough to fully articulate all that he thinks and feels, and I'm not yet experienced enough to have all the answers (nor do I believe that day will ever come - the "I have all the answers" day doesn't really exist). My prayer and practice - as difficult as that may be - is to fully see my kids for who they are. With that in mind, here are some less-anguish-filled-stories about 'seeing' them.
The other day I saw Sean standing in the
bathroom after having used the potty. Pants around his ankles, one arm
reaching for the handle of the toilet, he had his eyes closed.
me: Sean, what are you doing?
Sean: (eyes still closed) I'm flushing the toilet.
me: Yes, but why are your eyes closed?
Sean: I don't want to see it flush.
the other day, I asked Sean to stop harassing Audrey needlessly in the
next room. I was standing in the bathroom washing my hands and I could
hear the shrieks and crying coming from their bedroom. Without going in
to see what was happening, I called out to them.
me: Sean and Audrey, what's going on?
received no response, but only heard Audrey continue to cry. Then, I
turned my head to the right just in time to see Sean cross beside the
open door of the bathroom. He was walking slowly, arms stretched out
into space, eyes closed.
me: Hey, buddy, what are you doing?
Sean: (peering out from partially shut eyes) I'm walking to the living room.
me: Okay, and your eyes are closed.
me: And why is Audrey crying?
Sean: I'm not sure.
Squishing his eyes shut, he
continued his path down to the living room. I don't know what transpired between the two of them, but I know
that Sean's solution was to walk blindly to the living room as if
nothing happened. Brilliant ruse.
other night, Audrey couldn't get settled into her crib to go to sleep.
She couldn't decide if she wanted to sit in there and play on her own
or if she wanted to snuggle with me while I sang her lullaby.
Decisions, decisions. Finally, I put her in her crib and told her to
me: It's time to lay down, Audrey. Lay down, please, and I'll help with your blankets.
Audrey: Noo! Wait!
She held up one hand, holding me off from helping her with anything. Then she reached for her dolly.
She kissed the dolly, squeezed it between her shoulder and cheek, and laid it down. Then she grabbed the little stuffed lamb.
the kiss, squeeze and laying down of the lamb. Once this was done, her
'children' safe within her sights, she snuggled into her crib and
allowed me to lay blankets on top of her. A little visual reassurance,
and her day was done.
As I was tickling Sean the other day, he
laughed so hard that something besides laughter escaped from him.
Sean: (laughing) Mama, you got me so laughy that I tooted!
Or one day after getting him dressed, he disappeared into the guest
bedroom. When he came back out, I asked him what he'd been doing in
Sean: I was looking at myself in the mirror.
me: Oh. Nice. How did you look?
Sean: I look handsome!
other night we called my brother's girlfriend, Rachel, to wish her a
happy birthday. After singing the birthday
song on her voicemail, we each left a little extra message.
me: Happy Golden Birthday, Rachel!
Tom: Hope Denis gets you lots of gold!
Sean: Yeah! ... Hey, Rachel, we saw a deer pooping!
I quickly hung up. Rachel's lasting visual image from her Minnesota
birthday message involved the sight of a deer pooping. No doubt she may
have preferred that sight to go unseen.