Wit’s end

Well, we’re on Day Four of absolutely unacceptable behavior at Chez Nap. In the past six days we’ve had four days of unbelievable, out of control, unreasonable, tantrum and violent outburst horseshit. And I’m running out of ideas for not beating my kid.

This morning Peanut played by himself for about 20 minutes, then asked for help making a fort. I tried several different ways of helping and each time he screamed at me that I was doing it wrong. So I offered to sit back and watch, and he agreed but told me to leave the room. When I sat in the next room and watched, he yelled at me to come play with him. I told him if he could speak nicely to me, I would play with him, but that I wouldn’t respond to yelling. He asked nicely. He pretended to fix his bike, and asked me to join him. Every tool I touched, every bicycle part I looked at, he screamed that I was doing it wrong. Mind you, we never tell him there is such thing as wrong. Everybody does things differently. Everybody has different ideas. Blah blah kumbaya.

So after being yelled at three times I told him I was going to go read in another room. He sobbed he needed me. I told him I’d try one more time but if he told me I was doing it wrong or if he yelled, I was leaving. Tried. Yelled at me to stop doing what I was trying. Left.

Now he was screaming, sobbing. Not having any of this, I calmly told him I would respond to nice requests for play but i don’t play with people who yell at me: not at home, not at work, not with my friends, not with my family. He screamed at me to go out in the pouring rain and 50mph winds to get him a cookie. Amazingly, I didn’t laugh. I’m open to having a cookie with breakfast, and we have two varieties in the house. But I’m not leaving in this weather to get you a different cookie. (I held back the “You freaking maniac weird-ass hostage taker.”)

He lost it. Screaming, throwing. I calmly said I didn’t tolerate this and would be in my room when he was ready to talk calmly. He threw child-sized furniture at my closed door. (No joke. Wish it was. Little chair, little step stool, little doll bed.) I was tempted to open the door and correct that behavior, but I knew I’d manhandle the little f—er and am trying really hard to model better anger choices. Like hiding in my room taking deep breaths.

When he calmed down I came out to talk. And he hit me. I used my words and he hit me again.

So I dissembled the fort. I kept responding calmly that we don’t treat people this way. That angry is okay and that hitting is not okay. That angry feels like too much but that cuddles or talking or breathing help. He hit me with his stuffed monkey and I put the monkey in timeout. And he lost it even more. I restrained him in my lap while he raged, but he sunk into a slump of sobbing after a few seconds. He cried in my lap for probably ten minutes.

After the bodysnatchers replaced the angry shell of jerk they had filled with nonsense and crazymaking with my son, I fed him, I talked to him, I played with him. And when the whole series started again an hour later, I just picked him up, kicking and screaming, and put him in the car. Because if we stayed home I would have beat him. We drove around for half an hour. And when he said he was ready to find new ways to be angry, I took him home. We ate lunch, we played Candyland, and we napped.

And I’m telling you, readers, I will not take another day like this.

This is not about me not entertaining him enough…there is a tidy house with a new project and lots of old, well loved toys available every morning. I help when asked, stay away when asked, and offer suggestions when asked. And if he’s at a loss, I initiate something fun and invite him to join me.

I’m doing my part. Now what the hell do I do with him?

Seriously. What do I do? What are the patient, gentle, respectful options? I will not be an emotional martyr in my own house.

Every evening at dinner we go around the table and ask each other: What made you feel happy today? When did you feel sad? Frustrated? Angry? Surprised? Excited?

And when Peanut asked me tonight what made me happy I burst into tears.

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30 thoughts on “Wit’s end

  1. oh the little tyrant. have i already recommended earplugs? it sounds like you two could use some extra peeps around for distraction. do you have some friends (someone you like and can chat with who has a kid around his age to play with) who might like to come over for a cup of tea? i wish you lived nearby. i’d sic the girls on him and he’d pass out in a sea of fluffy pink tutu’s and sequins as they danced on his addled, crazy head. i’m serious. bring in some new peeps. that has helped me tremendously in the past with bad babies.

  2. Oh boy. My Monster did this too, last year, with his own monstrous deviations, of course. And all the blah blah kumbaya (I love this!) I could muster didn’t help much, except that I guess it meant that he didn’t get beaten.

    I’m sorry to say that in our case, it lasted for several months. But he was going through trans-continental, bilingual, urban-rural, new baby brother changes. It was a lot.

    The good news is that he is now on most days a whole lot more pleasant. Not always.

    What seemed to mark a huge change for him was a 3-day visit from a friend of ours who played with him endlessly. Can you maybe summon up some non-parental adult devotion and see if it helps?

    Sending solidarity your way.

  3. Jeez, people. You rock.
    I like the non-Mommy playmate ideas.
    J, I’m on it. Moving next door to you so the girls can take it out of his hide.
    Macondo, I understood when he was like this after our big moves and when preschool started and all other new change stuff. But if this is his pre-baby freak out insanity, I will genuinely not make it through the post-baby stuff. I won’t make it. Will not.
    jc, you said a mouthful.
    Ink, the reason two of the six days weren’t like being buried alive was that I left Spouse in charge and hightailed it outta here all day. So this might be day six of six, but I wouldn’t know it. Going away helped me, but clearly did nothing for his mood.
    Oh, God, Jane, shingles and hemorhoids go away, too, but nobody really enjoys the thought that they will eventually shrink and disappear.

  4. Okay, so how I would have handled this — I would have screamed in his face, “Why are you doing this to me? Why can’t you be good?” You didn’t do that. Bravo!

    You know what I think might be useful? Would it be possible to sit down with your kiddo at some point when he’s calm and explain to him how much it hurts you when he acts this way? Maybe if he could understand that his behavior is really causing you distress then he could see a reason to change his behavior. I think kids just don’t understand how they are affecting their environments and their parents by being little shits. If you could make him empathetic, then maybe he could get on a road toward change.

    Of course, that wouldn’t work with my son. He’s got language issues, so he wouldn’t understand that sort of sophisticated conversation. But your kid might understand. Maybe try it.

    One thing I DO do with my kiddo is this: when he’s being good and we’re having a good time, I say, “isn’t this great? I like it when we’re so calm and having a fun time together. It feels so good when we’re working together.” He seems to respond to that somewhat.

    And for myself – I get out of the house as much as possible and see friends as much as possible. It helps.

    But another thing I want to say — and this would not be popular among “good mommies” — is that I think it is CRUCIAL to point out to children when they are being mean, cruel, hurtful, and/or malicious. If we never tell them that their behavior is mean, then how are they going to know? And don’t say “that’s not nice.” Say “that’s mean.” Nobody wants to hear that they are being mean. Nobody really wants to be mean, aside from the occasional super villain. I really think that we’re not doing our children any favors by tiptoeing around them. Call him out and tell him he’s being mean. It’ll build character for him to have to figure out how NOT to be mean.

  5. blahblahblah kumbaya….Isn’t this GRRRRREAT?

    I am so sorry that Peanut is pulling a Mr. Hyde on you 2 months before Hazelnut is ready to make his/her debut.

    I do, however, applaud your restraint. That mister man is still alive is, indeed, admirable.

  6. Your restraint should be bottled up and sold for exorbitant prices at a counter at Bloomingdale’s. You’d make a fortune and then be able to pay someone to take over for awhile when he behaves in this manner. He’s lucky you’re his mother and not me. I’d kick his little a**.

    But…maybe that’s why I don’t have any kids. I’d never be able to keep them alive. :)

  7. This is why they put locks on doors and make trash cans to threaten to put favored toys in. I’m not proud of it, but I’ve resorted to both during my daughter’s rages. It beats beating and yelling (which, regretfully, this latter, I also sometimes can’t help doing). When my daughter’s really showing her butt, she gets loooong timeout, with time added for misbehavior. Yours is a little younger than mine, but let me tell you that an hour or two alone sitting on the bed with no toys makes for a mood shift in our house. Of course, that requires some degree of eventual cooperation from the kid, which it sounds like may be in short supply with Peanut. Sounds like you’re trying all the right things. Kids just go through these phases sometimes, and they’re hard, and they’d be darned good birth control if they could be experienced before you had kids.

    If you think it’s pre-baby craze, maybe you can figure a way to convert it into baby excitement? Our daughter was eager to have a new little brother, and we were able to really foster it by playing up her role as helper, etc. I’m sure you’ve done similar things, but maybe there’s something else?

  8. Wow! Your post totally brought back memories for me. I remember having days just like this when my first son Nino was about 2 and a half. It was awful. Same things exactly too. I would be trying to play with him and he would freak out and tell me I was wrong. I would stop. That was wrong too. I would leave. He would go hysterical. I finally started doing something very similar to what you did. I put myself in time out. I told him that his behavior was draining my energy (a technique I stole from the book Love and Logic–if you haven’t read this one already, I think you would like it) and went to lie down. I stayed in bed until he was done being a psychopath. It wasn’t exactly relaxing because he was screaming bloody murder and having a total coniption fit right next to my bed, of course, but I felt a certain sense of calm not trying to make it better. It just didn’t seem there was anything I could do. In the end, it took a while for this temper tantrum era to pass, but it did pass eventually. In the meantime, I have no better advice for you than what you are already doing. Kindness, love, distraction, honest attempts to not beat your child…it’s all good. You are doing great.

    Meanwhile, on a side note, my second son Diego is now in that phase and for some reason it is a million times easier with him. Maybe it’s the fact that there are two kids in the house and so the dynamic and energy is different. It’s not just me against the tyrant toddler. But Diego has enormous fits too and somehow they just don’t bother me as much.

    Diego mostly has fits about putting on clothes. He is a serious nudist. So now anytime I want to take him anywhere, I have to psychologically warfare, manhandle, timeout, or something him into getting dressed. My latest approach is to put him into his bedroom with the door closed until he is ready to get dressed without fighting me. I don’t think I would have ever done such a thing with Nino, but it is working with Diego, he is not being abused and he isn’t going out in 30 degree weather butt naked. Whatever works right?

    Keep the faith. This too shall pass. I promise.

  9. Your last line made me cry.
    When my oldest starts his fits and kicks me in the face during a diaper change or clothing change I drag his sorry as* to his room and leave him there until he is calm enough to join me.
    To accomplish him staying there we have a child lock on the door. (it also helps with the staying in bed at night :) )
    I’m sorry you are having a hard time…That sucks huge, especially when you are preggers. M started his tempers one month before his brother came along and I thought I would lose my mind.
    Also the non adult distraction works wonders here. I borrow my sisters kids when needed.

    I hope your day is great.

  10. I was a nanny for a child for a while who had similar “issues”. I was taught the therapeutic hold, which is similar to what you’re doing. Not a job I relished- especially that one day where she ended up on the roof. Long story.
    To avoid the furniture throwing, I’d create a space where he can decompress- nothing dangerous, just a quiet place for him, with a lock on the outside of the door. You cannot continually put yourself in danger if he’s hurting you- especially if he’s throwing furniture. Removing yourself, or containing him, is essential.
    I agree that it’s a stage, and that he should learn eventually, but meanwhile, I applaud your presence of mind.
    Good luck!

  11. Oi! That sounds so f-ing maddening!

    I applaud your restraint… you are an amazing mama. It also seemed like a success after you held-restrained him… maybe when he totally loses it he benefits from the safety of physical compression (i.e. in your arms)?

    From my experience as a preschool teacher before being a mama, I had a few kids who would just dissolve into these states of utter breakdown and they often recovered if I held them firmly but lovingly in my arms. Something about the pressure helps them reintegrate their little overwhelmed sensory systems. Of course, this only works if you aren’t feeling murderous, because physically restraining them in anger doesn’t seem to have the same calming effect…

    And you sound like a lady who needs a MNO — next Friday, I hope! :)

  12. No great words of wisdom from me. Those days are tough from whatever angle. But I appreciate and admire your perspective and the Mother that you are to your son! Thank you for being an encouragement to me even on a rough–definitely cry-worthy– day.

  13. Oy. I am so with you so I have nothing helpful whatsoever to offer. I’m not sure how old Peanut is but I’m VERY sure my hellish tantrummer is older and although she doesn’t throw her maniacal tantrums as often as she used to, when she does, I worry for the safety of all of us. I’ve tried it all. Really. And nothing works. So I hear you. I’m also thinking extra playdates so she sees someone else’s face, not just mine, would help.
    I’m just praying my son isn’t learning this behavior from her. Then I’ll really lose it.

  14. Oh, you guys, thank you thank you. It feels so good just to say stuff pseudo-out-loud and hear something back. Really.
    You know, 18 months was tough but we made it through. 2 1/2 years was really tough but we survived. 3 hit like a ton of bricks but went away gently after about 9 months. So these HYPER-intense days that come now about once a month are beyond anything I’m capable of handling, and just suck the life and will to live out of me.
    LP, thank you. Just thank you.
    TKW and ck, you’re funny and that you stick by me when you have your own Jekyls and Hydes at home that you haven’t murdered honestly gets me through some really dark times.
    Daryl! It’s good to hear from you. I’ll be over at your site often for 2666 stuff, but I appreciate all the ideas. The weird thing is he has gone from not wanting baby to being really sweet to it, and telling it secrets and planning what he’ll do with it and teach it. So maybe since he’s so intense a human he’s just gotta let out the maniacal now so he doesn’t unleash on the wee one. Who knows.
    Fie, great ideas. We do talk in the quiet moments about how i love him so much and how much easier it is to be happy when we’re all using our words. That everybody gets cranky, and I get cranky, and that finding okay ways to be angry and sad are important. And I do tell him straight to his face sometimes “this is not fun for me and I do not let anyone treat me this way because it’s not nice.” I love your ideas, though. Thank you. I’m gonna introduce the word “mean,” though. It’s about time.
    naomi, I could totally see how dissociating and just watching the whirlwind would be easier the second time, and with witnesses. I’m sure part of this is being isolated together during the tough stuff.
    Jen, thanks for the empathy. I send it back at you, in retrospect. I’m sorry if *any* human has to go through this.
    Evenshine, I’m glad that physical restraint is actually a technique. I just figured it was the only way to keep from being hit or from being in a another room while glass and electronics and cats were broken. Thanks for the support.
    Fae, I adore you. You’re so practical. ANY chocolate will do, but caramel seems to have magical powers, too.
    Dana, I heart you. Thanks for the idea. Now please take him and I’ll take yours. Honestly, that yours are so well adjusted and happy and calm makes me cry, but I know it’s only in public. I have a secret tantrumer, and I drag him out of the closet online because otherwise people will think he’s just lovely and my life is perfect. Bah. LNO!
    Becca, it’s gotten worse and worse, and he’s almost 4. I have no doubt, given the temper of his father, mother, uncle, and grandfather, that this kid will be a rager of epic proportions. But I need some coping mechanisms, man. Sorry to hear you’re in the same boat. Really. Really. Really.

  15. Sigh. This too shall pass. It doesn’t seem so, but it will. I must also commend you on your restraint, because honestly, I would have thrown the furniture and screamed RIGHT BACK ATCHA!!! But I wouldn’t advise that, of course.

    (But wouldn’t it feel great?!)

  16. Gods its so frightening how hateful I can feel towards my kids when they do this to me. Even if I know in my mind that it is normal, and will pass, and that I have to be a grown up and ‘model’ good behavior. Thank goodness you know enough to go in your room and close the door. I have to grit my teeth and breath or put them in their rooms sometimes too. Its a chemical feeling – when they scream bloody murder and hit me and tell me they don’t love me. Its bile.

    somehow we survive. I think posting this and asking for help is the smartest, wisest most loving thing you could do! Anytime I remember to ask for help, I get it! And I feel better.

    Good luck. Big love.

  17. This post really had me reflecting on my own less than stellar moments (esp. of late) and mostly with my oldest blessing. Two things that sometimes help — a term of endearment as I respond to her and music! The term of endearment (for us, she is my sweet pea) helps me take a mental step back to the moment I looked and held her for the first time and (not always) but sometimes helps me to soften my own attitude/tone towards her. (Although it sounds like you were doing a great job of that!). The music often just changes the whole tone of the house — anything, anything helps. If you aren’t in the mood to get up and dance with him, try something else classical or instrumental. We really enjoy Amici (or something similar) on days that interacting is TOO much, but we need an attitude adjustment. I’ll be thinking about you as I often struggle with much of the same. Your post has helped me refocus and realize that I really am not alone in this struggle to be a calm, understanding, but consistent Mama.

  18. Believe me, Gibby, I thought about it. And bloginsong, thanks for the honesty. You’re right about the chemical panic of adrenaline…people who say “stay calm” must be wired differently because that is not chemically possible for me. Dana’s point about the tight hold only working when we’re not murderous means a tight hold will rarely work for us, though it’s a good trick to have in my bag. Thank you for the support, all of you. Means the difference between trying again tomorrow and sobbing in the fetal position.

  19. I’m coming to the party late here, but if you’re still checking…

    It sounds to me like you’re doing everything right and things still suck. There are very few more frustrating places that that particular corner of Hell. I’d say keep doing what you’re doing with ‘Nut and be hella kind to yourself in every way that you can.

    Remember, any day that you don’t sell him to the Gypsies is a success.

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