Monday, September 29, 2014

Hard Nights

Tonight was a hard night.

Nine-year-old boys are an entire species unto themselves, I’ve decided. They are at the same time hard and soft, decisive and indecisive, all arms and legs and emotions at once. And? There is no one right way to deal with them. Except to love them. Especially when they are unlovable.

Tonight? I backed myself into a verbal corner.
I saw it happening and was powerless to stop it.
The boychild had been pushing buttons since the word bedtime first left my lips. He wanted a snack but didn’t know what. He wanted a drink but nothing we had. He wanted a smore (no). He wanted a popsicle (no). He wanted cake (heck no). And when the 15 minute snack window had come and gone and he hadn’t fixed himself something he was furious. He was furious he had no snack. He was furious we didn’t have time to watch his movie. He was furious he has to live in a house full of girls. He was furious for every reason and no reason at all.
 AND then? He slammed the door.
AND he locked it.
AFTER removing the lockpick from atop his door lintel.
AND when I picked the lock anyway (because I’m badass like that.)? He screamed at me.
And it was the well-planned, long-rehearsed-in-his-head screamed rant guaranteed to break a mother's heart in a thousand pieces.

Now. I remember being young, and scared, and angry. But I also remembering thinking it was a cardinal sin to scream at my parents. So I’m unsure where I screwed things up along the way for this kid to think he was perfectly justified in screaming at me? But there it was. And there was nine-year-old hate in his eyes. And my heart broke. And I lashed out. The more he screamed, the calmer I became, and the more I started taking away. First? Minecraft. Two weeks (is there any greater punishment to a boy than this?). Second? Grounded from playdates and sleepovers for those same two weeks.  And he Kept. On. Arguing. And screaming. So next? His door. I mean, honestly, that was a given. Slammed and locked? Ohhh...that sucker was coming off. Just you wait...

And here, folks, is where I’d clearly bitten off more than I could chew. As soon as it was out of my mouth I knew I’d goofed. Because, kids? I’m not strong OR tall enough to remove the door from this kid’s bedroom. So I informed him it would happen in the morning (because I’m also assuming that these things take time and no small amount of noise to complete).
And he burst into tears. Still in the midst of telling me he hated me and I was the worst mother that ever existing, he was sobbing and hiccupping. And I was too bone-weary to fight any longer. I very quietly told him that he had made me very sad and that I was done arguing for the night. I closed the door and walked away. 

And I held strong.

I did.

For about 15-20 minutes.

The entire time, I was hiding out downstairs, consuming vast quantities of guilt-ridden Reeses that were on the top shelf of the pantry. I was wracking my brain wondering how much ground I’d lost as a parent…or if perhaps I’d won ground since I hadn’t dissolved into tears or yelling myself? Did I get points for staying calm? Did those points contribute to my overall ‘good parent’ quota? Or had HE, in fact, won that particular battle because I had to walk away with the door still on its hinges??
And after nearly 20 minutes and five Reeses, I realized that NEITHER of us had won that particular encounter.

NEITHER of us had gotten what we wanted out of that.

And so, I decided to swallow my pride and head back upstairs to my still-sobbing son.

 Because at this point neither of us were sleeping without a resolution. And sleep was worth more than my pride in the end (apparently).

So I crawled under his loft and laid down next to him.
And we breathed.

A lot of parenting manuals I’ve read (and trust me, I’ve read a few) will instruct you to have calm, rational conversations with your children in order to root out the source of their confusion or discord. And still other books will insist that you need to hold a hard line on rules and not go back on your word in order to maintain boundaries. And still others will insist that you need to allow your children the physical space to learn to process their emotions on their own. But sometimes? As people? We just need to know someone else is there. Sometimes we just need someone to breathe with us when we can't quite manage to do it on our own.

I didn’t apologize.

Neither did he.

I figure that can all come later, when we’ve calmed down.

But for tonight, just squeezing into his tiny loft area and curling up in a giant tangle of arms and legs was enough to get back on solid ground get our heartbeats back in sync.

Kids, I've never once pretended to have all the answers.
In fact, most parents I know are sort of bumbling through the whole process like me, just praying to god we haven't screwed up our babies irrevocably along the way.
But I know that going back up there tonight was not a sign of weakness. It was not going back on my word. It was not giving up. Discipline is only part of my job as a parent. It's not my whole job. And in a house where I frequently have to play both good cop & bad cop simultaneously, sometimes you have to choose. And friends? Choose love. You'll sleep better at night. I promise.

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