There are days that I am just full of rage. Today, with the hecticness that mornings bring, my son had “the look” and yelled at his sister “Stop looking at me!” I felt rage sweep over me and then recede, to go back to the hole into which I shove it- along with the “This isn’t fair… why me…what do I do…I just want it to STOP” emotions that I feel but cannot express, because I have to remain calm, remain calm, remain calm in the face of the emotions spilling over from one or both of the children at any given time.
Ray was up three times last night- not a particularly bad night, but not a good one either. All three times were “I can’t sleep. Can I sleep with you?” I give him a hug, walk him back to his room and tuck him in, where he lies there- eyes wide open. Finally, at 5:30, he came into our bed. Our rule is that he cannot sleep with us until after 5:00am. It’s designed to keep him independent. He would sleep in our bed every night if we let him. He prefers to fall asleep cuddled next to someone and takes hours to fall asleep if he’s by himself. It’s the 7-year old version of the Ferber Cry It Out method. I worry about him when he discovers sex. But for now, he’s 7 years old and he WILL learn to sleep on his own and we rock him to bed and we read to him and he takes baths and he reads to himself and almost every night is a challenge. Except for the ones that aren’t. There is no rhyme, no reason for nights where he sleeps well and nights he’s up wandering around.
We look for patterns- are we maintaining structure? Are we consistent? Last night, my husband was on edge with a big project at work, so I am pulling more of the weight at home- cooking AND cleaning, doing all of bedtime duty, but nothing particularly challenging. No tension, no undue stress. Just tired. And last night, Ray didn’t sleep.
So, I wake him up at 7:00 in our bed, with a tickle and a song “Time to get UP… time to get UP… time to GET up” and the change in the rhythm makes him giggle- until “the look” comes over him. “Go away!” he shrieks, and I shove away my irritation and remind him that it’s 7:00am and we have 30 minutes to dress, eat and leave for school. It’s a deadline that I know that we won’t make. It regularly takes us 48 minutes to get out the door, after my making eggs for me and James, cereal for Elizabeth and oatmeal for Ray, since both of the children won’t eat anything else and I’m pre-diabetic, so I’m not eating carbs and James drifts between eggs and oatmeal, depending on his mood. Today, it’s eggs, so I’m scrambling two more eggs in my three-ring circus of breakfast. And I lie about the time- “Come on folks- we’re running late!” when we’re not. James is a big help here, cycling back and forth between our room where he is dressing, and the two children’s room- reminding them of the time.
Elizabeth is fairly self-sufficient. She’s dressed herself after I turned on the light with a few obligatory “Nooooo’s” and she eats her cereal in silence, every now and then organizing her day. “I have computer today… Do you have PE, Ray?” I have to check Ray to make sure he’s put on underwear, since he likes to see if he can go unfettered on a regular basis. Ray comes to the table, and talks- about the day, about the cat, about the dog, about James’ suit he’s wearing to meet visiting Important People. He talks until I notice that he’s not eating. “Eat, Ray,” I remind him.
“I AM!” he shrieks at me and I ignore the tone because he’s asking for a showdown and I’m not going to give it to him- I’m not. He moves his vitamin I’ve put near his bowl to the center of the table, and I put it back in front of him. I find it, later, after he’s gone, under the placemat. He stirs his oatmeal, that I’ve just cooked by stirring with one hand, while scrambling eggs with the other, while monitoring the micorowave for my tea and calling out “Brush your hair!”, and moves it to the side, making a hole in the middle that looks like he’s eaten. I worry about his day- tired, and hungry and irritable- and I KNOW that food will help him. I remind him that he needs to eat to feel good. “How many bites?” he asks. It is a daily negotiation we go through- 5 bites here, 7 bites there. Trying to get vitamins and nutrients into him.
“Where’s my backpack?” he asks and I tamp down the irritation again. It is now 7:45 and we are in the hustle and bustle of coats and bags and getting the dog to go to the bathroom again before I take her to Doggy Day Care. “That’s your job to keep track of it,” I remind him and reach down to get my school bag, and lo! There is his backpack under my bag, right by the front door, where they belong. “Here it is,” I reply and open the door. And I look at him. It is 34 degrees and he is in a t-shirt, ready to walk out the door. “Need to wear a coat,” I remind him. “It’s cold.” The look. He drags himself to his room and comes out wearing a sweatshirt. “No, a coat,” I say. He comes back with two sweatshirts on. “If that’s your choice,” I say. “They might not let you outside in that”. A glower for a response. I justify to myself that at least he’s well-layered and we head out the door, the dog pulling on her leash.
As we sit down in the car, Elizabeth has her head turned, staring out the window on the other side. “Stop STARING at me!” yells Ray, and Elizabeth starts crying. “I’m NOT!” I am tempted, for just one moment, to haul him out of the car and spank him REALLY HARD, but I can’t and I don’t… remain calm, remain calm, remain calm. “Ray, she’s allowed to look at thing. Back off!”
And we make it to school with 2 minutes to spare, which is too close to late for me to feel comfortable, knowing that the margin of error is so tight.
I’m tired and I’m irritable and I’m full of rage when he pushes my buttons or goes after his sister, and it is very, very, very hard for me to keep finding my calm space when I know that it is so necessary. That I have to pick my battles. That he is tired and irritable and not aware of his own need for food. That positive reinforcement works for him, but this week we’re focusing on homework issues, not breakfast. That every day is a gauntlet, “What is Ray’s mood today?” That this day is not an unusual day, nor a particularly hard one…
I also find myself being grateful- that he is not destructive, that he did not have a tantrum today, that he has friends, that we made it on time, that he’s doing fairly well in school, that I have James to help me. It could be much, oh so much worse. And I know that this is just part of parenting. But today… today I’m tired and that place where I shove those emotions is leaking a little.