Friday, March 30, 2007

hit the target

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:


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.


Franklin5 said...

O. O O O O O O.

Somewhere in the second paragraph, I audibly gasped, my hands flew up to my face and my mouth made the shape of an O.

O O O O O.

O, Annie. O, you poor thing. O, how strong you are, and what a wonderful, wise mother you are, and what a brave woman you are for sharing this with us.

And O, Joe-Henry. O, you poor thing. And O my goodness, I can't imagine that there's even the shadow of a mother in the whole universe who's more right for you than the one you have. And O, I know you know this better than I ever could.

O. O. O.

anniemcq said...

Your comment made me weep all over again. It was the worst moment of my life. This was so hard to share. I was so terrified to put it in writing and put it out there. It's not that I was afraid of what you all would think, but I was just afraid to even think about it again. Thank you, Franklin, for your kindness.

anne said...

Well, I have tears streaming down my face as I read the post, and then more as I read these comments...

...because all of us who have children have been in your spot, but not many are willing to admit when they "lose it", and how awful that feels.

Someone recently asked me when the last time I cried was, and I clearly remember...

My husband was out for the evening at his weekly volleyball game, and my two kids were testing me on EVERYTHING all night. At one point I told them they had 5 minutes before it was time for pj's, and then it was time for pj's, and then it was STILL time for pj's and they had not budged from what they were doing. At this point I was not "asking" them to put their pj's on, I was telling them, and both of them were talking back and arguing about why they had to do anything I said, and when was Dad going to be home, and why was I such a mean mom.

My 8 year old daughter is the ringleader in this, and my 5 year old son follows suit, so I knew I had to get her to stop before he would. I threatened with spankings for both of them if they did not stop talking back and did not do what I was asking... and I had to make good on my threat. My son is used to a couple of swift swats on the rear to get the point across, but my daughter has not had a swat for a year or two. So, after my son got his swat and was sent to his room, I went after my daughter, spanked her twice, to her horror, and then promptly went to MY room and sobbed like I have not done in decades.

Everyone went to bed very quietly that night, with hugs and kisses all around, but I still feel awful for the whole scenario.

So, you are not alone, and even the best mom for Joe-Henry slips up once in a while, and it is okay.

anniemcq said...

Thank you Anne. I often think that maybe if Joe-Henry had a sibling, he wouldn't test me so much, but I guess with two there's just twice as much for mom to deal with. We're all pretty much returning to normal now, but we're still a little tender. We snuggled in my bed last night and watched "March of the Penguins" and he said, "I'm so glad you're my mom....and I'm so glad we're not penguins."
Me too.

Big Mama said...

I can't tell you how much I related to this. I have days where everything just rolls off my back and I can say "Well great, I don't need another friend".

And then, there are those PMS days when I'm tired and overwhelmed, and like you, I feel myself start to cry when she hits me right in the jaw of my mothering insecurities.

I can tell by the way you wrote this that you are indeed, the right mother for Joe-Henry.

suttonhoo said...

ditto what big mama said: you are so the right mother for that beautiful boy of yours.

friend, I'm so grateful to know you. I learn so much from your stories and your compassion and wisdom.

you paint such a rich picture of love -- the things we go through to love each other right. you've got it down.

Kimberly said...

O Annie,

Your post has pierced my heart and caused tears in my eyes.

You're wise beyond your years. Your compassion and caring flow through your writing and nothing you wrote today could put you out of the place you've won in all of our hearts as we check into the world of Anniemcq.

I'm sorry for your pain and for the hurt you both inflicted on each other but know that it's OK. It won't be the last time but the first one is always the hardest to handle. My oldest is 21 and the baby is 2 and the 2 year old can hurt me just as bad as the 21 year old because they know me so well. As I get older you'd think I'd get wiser but I just grow deeper and deeper in love with these guys & girls and that means my heart is wide open to them and their little jabs. All in all the moments when we embrace and the forgiveness flows both ways are the sweetest moments in my life. I too am human and you love and accept me faults and all seems to be what is floating through my mind then.

anniemcq said...

Kimberly, Big Mama and Ms. Hoo -
Thank you all for your loving posts. It can get lonely doing this SAHM thing, and there are times when I take a deep breath, look up at the ceiling and wonder what the heck I'm doing. But I am learning to love myself better by loving my son, and he is loving me better than anyone on earth. I'm so very lucky. Thank you all again.