The other day, the perfect bubble blowing day, we, Joe-Henry and I, had a tantrum. It started because I clearly don't love him enough. I refused to make him a garden burger, and forced a turkey sandwich down his gullet instead. If I were a better mother, I would have taken that turkey sandwich, and thrown it right in the trash and made him his garden burger instead of calmly and cruelly refusing to budge on the matter. And then, when he came in the kitchen and hit me, while screaming at me (no words, just a high-pitched banshee scream that had everyone in the neighborhood putting social services on their speed-dial), forced me to take away his tv shows for the day. Well, that did it. He went into full-blown rage, screaming, crying, demanding that I "STOP THIS BAD BEHAVIOR RIGHT NOW".
In retrospect, and in the moment, I was incredibly calm. It was low blood sugar, to be sure, but still, SO not acceptable. He was sent to his room, but refused to stay there, and came marching out past me in the hallway. This is where it took a turn, where time warped, slowed and sped up again, and left us both wondering what happened. I grabbed the hood of his sweatshirt to catch him as he passed, growing really impatient with these shenanigans as he accelerated, and was yanked backward, landing on his back and very lightly bonking his head. I felt horrible, of course, and knelt down, apologizing profusely, telling him it was a mistake, an accident, I was soooo sorry. I was terrified that he was really hurt, even though I didn't pull him hard, I was so very scared. He wept uncontrollably, still raging, then looked me right in the eye and screamed:
"YOU'RE NOT THE RIGHT MOMMY FOR ME!"
I remember a long time ago, a lifetime really, when I was a childless person, I took care of a little girl. She was an only child, and had her parents trained. They were like seals in the circus, balancing balls on their noses, clapping and barking at her every move. Her mom told me once that, when her little girl was in the bath, she was taking too long to get out, and she was hurrying her along, so her little girl said "I don't love you Mommy! I hate you!" She told me she had to leave the room so her daughter wouldn't see her cry. I was so perplexed by her reaction. How could she not see that she was being manipulated? Why on earth was she not taking the upper hand?
I think of that story now, because as well as we know our children, their strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, quirks and idiosyncracies, they know ours as well. They know where our buttons are, because they put them there. This little girl knew right where to find that big red button, and exactly how to push it.
A while ago, Joe-Henry told me he wanted a new mommy, and I told him that we should write a list of all the things he wanted in this new mommy and give it to his dad so that he could go shopping for one. He once told me he didn't like me, and I told him that I loved him. He danced and jabbed, but had never landed a blow that even remotely hurt. I've always known he was flailing, wanting more control of any given situation. And who knows, maybe I would have reacted that way this time too, if I hadn't been repeatedly, continually screamed at for half and hour, if I hadn't had pms, if I hadn't actually done something that might have harmed him physically if I had jerked that hood a smidgen harder, or if he'd been running instead of stomping.
But instead, he hit his target. As I held him on the floor, and he screamed in my face, I felt like a failure. Like it was true, there was another mother out there who would have handled that better, who wouldn't have hurt him - even accidentally, who would challenge him in ways I couldn't, who would have more patience and more control, who would stay on top of it, who would stimulate him enough to keep him on his toes instead of picking a fight over a garden burger. I buried my face in his neck and wept.
This scared him to death, and he immediately apologized, saying "no mommy! please don't cry, calm down please!" This made me feel even worse, but I pulled myself together, and put on my best mommy face and said, "I'm okay. It's okay. Let's just both take three deep breaths, alright?!" We sat there like that, still on the floor, still wrapped in each other's arms, breathing deeply, feeling the sting of our tears and knowing we were holding onto each other's souls.
I checked his head ("it didn't really hurt, mom, but I was scared"), no bumps, his back was fine, but both of our hearts were pretty bruised. And I think we both know something we might not have known before.
That button, that giant red one right there? That one is never to be pushed. Never, ever again.