|And now, back to my story:
Two-and-a-half years after having our daughter, we had our son. He was a sweet little baby, of course, a delight to be around. His sister, however, I was convinced, wanted to bump him off. There were times when I walked into a room to find her in a precarious position with him, looking like she was trying to strangle or suffocate him. Of course she wasn’t. She was only two. This was natural, sibling rivalry, I thought. Nevertheless, we kept a close eye on her around him from then on out. “You’re not allowed to kill the baby,” I would half-joke.
Much to my surprise, our son, as a toddler, was just as horrible as his older sister. He had a hair-trigger temper. At first we blamed the Irish heritage. We never quite knew what was going to set him off. He would go from being completely happy to an enraged, little beast. If I cut the crust off his toast, he wouldn’t eat it because I’d cut the crust off. If I didn’t cut the crust off his toast, he wouldn’t eat it because I didn’t cut the crust off. He would be completely dressed for preschool and if, God forbid, I strapped his shoes differently from what he had in mind or if I did them when he wanted to do them, or if he’d decided I’d put them on in the wrong order, that was it. It was all over. “Start over!” he would scream. Unfortunately, he didn’t just mean for us to start over with his shoes. He meant he needed to start everything over. He would then proceed to strip down to nothing, even though I was pleading with him (and not usually in such a nice way), to keep his clothes on because we were already running late.
There was no appeasing him or calming him down or talking any sense into him once he got into one of these moods. He was, by far, the most stubborn person I’d ever known, and he was only three. Where did this come from? I would think. Is he autistic? He didn’t appear to be autistic. His eye contact was great and he could stay focused for quite a long time. Could he have ADHD? The child never stopped moving. Okay, he did stop moving once in a while, but he was usually on the go, running, jumping, climbing and flying. He was a boy; he was a boy with a lot of energy and a determined disposition.
Some of the preschool moms used to joke that I could never hold a conversation for more than a moment. I was the mom sprinting off mid-sentence in the direction my son was running because I needed to get to him before he got to the street. “There she goes again,” they would say. “Oh! He’s off!” I had to make sure I was always wearing shoes I could run in.
Strangers constantly commented on how busy my little boy was keeping me. When we took my daughter to kindergarten every day, my son would either take off sprinting into the crowd or he would sit on his ass on the sidewalk and refuse to move, leaving me to hoist him over my shoulder while he kicked, hit and bit me. I found him to be exhausting.
Even though my children seemed to display behavior that made me want to pull my own head off, I still wanted to get them involved their schools’ extra-curricular activities. I thought the kids would enjoy movie night at my daughter’s school. “Let’s have some fun,” I think I said. Much to my delight, everything was great. Both of my kids sat there and watched the movie (for the most part)…until it was time to leave. As soon as the movie ended, my son bolted out the door of the auditorium. I was carrying chairs and blankets, so bolting after him in the crowd was difficult considering I was also dragging my daughter along behind me. We got to the parking lot to find him jumping up and down on the roof of my car. I wasn’t parked directly in front of the school’s cafeteria where the movie took place, either. He had to have sprinted across the busy parking lot (at night while everyone was backing out of their spaces trying to get home), before mounting my car all by his little self. To make matters worse, this all happened in front of my daughter’s kindergarten teacher. She stood there with me with her mouth open, staring in disbelief. “Oh, my,” she said. What could she do (besides contact CPS) but laugh and help me get the chairs to the car? I haven’t taken them to movie night or to any after-hour school functions without the assistance of my husband, since. It proved to be too dangerous.
Where was I going wrong? My husband and I could both take the blame for our kids’ upbringing, but because I was the one staying home with them and was probably the most directly influential person in their lives, I believed the fault had to mostly fall on my shoulders.
I tried to be a wonderful mother. I worked hard to create a loving, nurturing environment for our kids. I wanted them to have the best, happy childhood they could have. So why were they (and in response, we), so incredibly miserable? I would call my husband at work daily to complain of our kids’ behavior. “You won’t believe what our darling daughter just did,” I would say. I had to share her unruly behavior with somebody. I sometimes called, crying and overwhelmed. He gave me the usual advise of, “Take a deep breath, don’t get too stressed out, put them on a time out,” yada, yada, yada. He even got angry after a while for my complaining to him so often about our kids’ behavior. This, incidentally, pissed me off to an unfathomable degree. Having said that, this confirmed my suspicion. I was a horrible mother. What else could it be? How could I not handle a four-year-old and a two-year-old or a five-year-old and a three-year-old or even a six-year-old and a four-year-old? My mom always told me the terrible twos actually lasted until four. “Don’t worry, “ she would say. “Four is the magic age. Once they hit four, they turn into little angels.” Wrong. My daughter was a pain in the ass at four and at five and even at six. Not all the time, but often. My son appeared to be following right behind. I was at a loss for what to do.
When our daughter was four and hungry, she insisted on going into the refrigerator to grab a snack to eat. As I was standing in the kitchen, frantically trying to get dinner on the table, I wanted to keep her from doing so. Telling her to wait wasn’t doing any good. She kept coming at the fridge while I tried to play defense. I just needed two more minutes. My kids were notorious for ruining their appetites just before dinnertime. It seemed no matter how well I planned dinner, they were always hungry just minutes before I could finish making it. If I’d backed the timing up anymore, we’d be eating dinner at three in the afternoon. If I’d given them a snack this late in the day, there would be no dinner consumption at all. So, in my frustration, when pushing her back and removing her from the kitchen repeatedly was heeding no results, I picked her up and carried her to the backyard. I put her down on the patio and locked the sliding glass door. I went back to cooking. It then dawned on me that that might not have been such a fantastic move on my part. I bolted into the living room (where we had another sliding glass door) just in time to witness her forward swing of a baseball bat, a direct hit against the 1960s sliding glass door. The glass came down in long, horrible shards, some impaling into the hard wood floors on impact. I stood there in disbelief. She stood on the other side of the shattered glass in disbelief. For a moment, I couldn’t move. I couldn’t yell at her or chase her down. I couldn’t believe the severity of what she’d just done. That was it. She was a delinquent, a delinquent at four years of age. I just thanked my lucky stars that her brother hadn’t been sitting on the other side of the door just then.
I had to come to terms with the fact that my little babies were kicking my ass. I got a lot of raised eyebrows when confessing that to people, particularly other mothers. For some reason, I felt a burning desire to share. Call it a character flaw, but I just couldn’t help but be completely open and candid with other people about my childrens’ behavior and my shortcomings. I wanted to be the person who could keep my life to myself, but it just wasn’t in me. “Shut the hell up!“ I would internally monologue, but my brain couldn’t stop my mouth from speaking. Damn. All the other mothers gave me their advice, presumably advice that worked on their children. Of course they did. I was whining to them about my failures. I left the door wide open for their advice. I needed it. I was practically begging for it, so why did their advice not resonate with me?
I needed to be stricter. Okay, that’s fair. I could be stricter. “Consistency, consistency is the key,“ one said. I agree. Consistency is a must, particularly when dealing with entirely inconsistent children.
“You need to get the upper hand back, show ‘em who’s boss.“ Sure. Nothing ever worked.