Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Temper Tantrum

I've hesitated to write this post for a while now because...well.

It does not paint me in the best light. Or a very good light at all.

You know those mom-confessional things you see out there online sometimes, where the harried mom fesses up to some of the ways in which she's not perfect with her kids, like maybe she let them eat Pop Tarts for breakfast or snapped at them when they were running late? Sometimes I read these things and think, either you're afraid to make public some of the things you're really ashamed of (and for that I can't blame you)...or, I'm just a pretty crappy mom sometimes.

So here goes. I write this so that anyone else who has had a really crap-tastic parenting moment might feel just the littlest bit better. Or if you haven't fallen this far, you can take comfort in knowing that.

A few weeks ago, we bought a new vanity for our bathroom, and it left us with an enormous box. Ethan started walking around with it over his head, and then got the idea to punch holes for his eyes, nose and mouth and stumble around with it like some sort of robotic monster. He even wrote "Get out of my way!" as a bubble coming out of the mouth.

I thought it was the cutest thing ever. Annoying, but cute. Anytime he takes any sort of initiative with creative play, I still grin from ear to ear. I complimented him on his robot. He was so proud.

For the next several days, we stumbled over the robot but I didn't want to throw it out. I told Ethan we'd have to get rid of it...soon. Only then my temper took things into its own hands.

That Saturday I was struggling with the doldrums. It's probably no secret here that I am an emotional type. When I get into a "mood," it seems harder for me than the average person to quickly shake myself out of it. It's rather like slogging through mud. In the winter, the lack of light and outside time tends to magnify these kinds of moods. Add to that sick children that keep me inside and away from adult interaction, and sometimes I find myself desperate to do something, anything, to get myself out of the house, doing something different, away from messes that are never fully cleaned up.

But doing something different is exceedingly difficult with three children ages 11, 8 and 2, all with varying personalities and interests. I've written about this before. I can't tell you how many times I've attempted to hype up the kids to go for a drive and see something new, and to be met with all kinds of protests. The week before we'd driven to the beach in winter for the first time ever. And it was awesome.

This Saturday, with Dan working part of the day, I wanted to do the same...go somewhere that wasn't the grocery store and forget it was February. If I had been a little bit more sane I should have realized the kids really just wanted to stay home and chill, and I would need to buck up and deal with it.

But no, I had to turn into cruise director again. I figured we'd go to Yankee Candle, an hour's drive north. Either that or the butterfly conservatory. It was warm in there...we could dream of spring. Even Chloe liked butterflies.

I was met with the usual chorus of whining, grumbling and complaining. Anna had already been there before. Ethan wanted to play Wii. Chloe wanted to leave -- immediately. In a flash I thought of all of the Saturdays I'd spent in the car with my parents, winding around back roads, never stopping or spending any kind of money. I was promising to buy them lunch somewhere. The ungratefulness disgusted me. I wouldn't have dared to throw such a stink when I was a kid.

"I'm going in the bathroom, and then we're leaving!" I yelled. Really I sat in there and cried a little. Why were my kids such brats? What had we done that they were this ungrateful? Why couldn't I think of anything to do that would make everyone happy? Why was I so moody that I had to find something to "jumpstart" myself?

A few minutes later, I emerged, red-faced. Anna and Ethan were fighting. There was more complaining. I don't even remember who or what. All I know, is that in the middle of that, I half-stumbled over the stupid box in the middle of the floor of yet another room that I tried to clean but never looked clean.

I wish I could say that I heard a little voice tell me to stop, and I listened. But instead, I heard a little voice tell me to stop, and I said, No. Way. I started jumping on Ethan's box. His robot. With my boots on. Hard.

I bounced up and down as if it were a trampoline. The already somewhat damaged box buckled and collapsed. Every time I felt it crunch under my feet I felt exceedingly better. I felt better than I had in days. Jump. Jump. Jump. Anna looked at me, amused. Ethan came into the room. Suddenly, I started coming down to reality. The sinking feeling began before I stopped jumping. Then I saw Chloe again, who had a huge pout in her bottom lip and a tear forming in her eye. "Stop," she said, her voice trembling.

Then I heard another voice, clear as day, in my head: YOU are the parent here. And the guilt poured over me like the biggest wave.

"My robot? Why did you destroy my robot?" asked Ethan, incredulously. Of course he would say destroy. He always says that instead of wreck.

I looked at the mess I'd made, and like a toddler, I had no answers. I hugged him. I said I was sorry. Then I went in the bathroom and cried more, in a silent kind of way. I was the parent. What was I doing? What was I trying to prove? I HAD to get myself under control.

I couldn't even get myself to stop crying at first, because while I knew my son would forgive me, I also knew that I'd given him a memory that he wouldn't soon lose. I'd given him a Remember the time mom wrecked the box I'd worked hard on for no good reason?

That's what got me. I could never get that image of his wrecked box out of his mind. Man, I'm starting to cry now writing this. Ugh. Sigh.

I knew I couldn't completely fix things, but I could make it better. First, I rushed out to the garage and found another big box we had out there. I dragged it into the house and told Ethan when we got back from our adventures we would make a new robot. Or, if he didn't want to, I would make it for him.

Somewhat subdued, we headed to the car, and as we drove, we talked. We talked about how sometimes even grownups mess up really bad. We talked about how mom didn't get as much practice as she should have as a kid maintaining self-control, so she had to work harder at it now. We talked about why I so firm with them some that maybe when they grew up they wouldn't struggle quite so much with certain things. We talked about forgiveness and how we all still loved each other.

Then we went to Yankee Candle and had a pretty good time. And came home and made another box robot (who just ended up in recycling after several weeks of hard play).

Ethan hasn't brought up my temper tantrum again, but I know he might. I am going to try to not be too hard on myself. If anything, I can say this. I learned something I already knew. Only it was solidified. I am the parent here. I may fail sometimes, but my default can't be no self-control. I know that now more than ever. I'm just grateful my kids are more forgiving than I am sometimes.

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