Friday, September 26, 2008

Love among the ruins

Yesterday I confirmed to myself two things that may already be obvious to most people.

The first is that once an almost-three-year-old gets wound up, it is almost impossible for him to switch gears, even if he wants to.

The second is that one day, if I can just be consistently patient and loving, I will likely see a reasonable human emerge from the wreckage of a thousand toddler tantrums.

I was in a rush yesterday morning, as always, and gave very little thought to the fact we were out of soda crackers. And so, as we headed out the door to the baby sitter's, instead of handing Graham his normal snack of three - always three! - crackers, I substituted a piece of fresh, toasted bread smeared with peanut butter.

The meltdown started slow, but soon built to epic proportions.

"I want my peanut butter crackers mommy. Peanut butter crackers."

"There are no crackers left sweetie. Have some bread. It's delicious. Yum, yum! Mommy will get more crackers later."

I forced my voice to sound cheerful as I buckled Graham in his car seat, but my heart was sinking. I knew where this was going. I was tired. I was late. Again. I was burdened with worry over a loved one's recent illness.

"PEANUT BUTTER CRACKERS MOMMY! PEANUT BUTTER CRACKERS!"

Graham's rage was in full force by the time we pulled out of the driveway. He cried. He flailed. His screams reached ear-splitting volumes.

And I lost it.

I burst into tears.

"Please Graham! Please! Please just stop treating mommy like this!"

The sobs were louder and more anguished than either of us expected; louder and more anguished, certainly, than the situation warranted.

But a funny thing happened.

When I looked in the rear view mirror, I saw something flash across his still raging, tear-stained, face. Compassion? Regret?

He screamed louder.

"BE HAPPY MOMMY! I LOVE YOU MOMMY! I WANT A HUGGY!"

My heart lifted and my tears dried up almost as quickly as they had appeared. Instantly ashamed of my dramatics, I cooed to him.

"Mommy is okay sweetie, don't worry. It's okay."

I turned and I smiled right at him. And I realized that Graham couldn't smile back. He wanted to, but he couldn't.

Arms flailing, tears flowing, voice at a furious pitch, he was past his anger over the crackers, but remained trapped in his almost-three-year-old body. He was powerless to instantly switch gears in the manner that we adults take for granted.

"Be happy mommy! I love you mommy! I want a huggy!"

The refrain continued, but gradually quieted until his tone matched his words and his rage ran its course. When got to the baby sitter's five minutes later he was beaming and chewing on his toast.

I gave him his huggy, told him I loved him and continued on my way to work.

And while I drove I ruminated on that rather intense reminder of just how undeveloped a toddler's sense of reason and control really are.

It was a much-needed reminder that it is me, not him, who supposedly has the maturity not to let my temper or my frustration dictate how our day will go.

It was a much-needed reassurance that my son, despite his almost-three-year-old limitations, has at least some compassion and patience for a mother who still spends so much time confirming things that are already obvious to most people.

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38 comments:

Nowheymama said...

Awww....

Amy @ Milk Breath and Margaritas said...

I have done the same thing - started to cry and ask one of them to please stop doing this to me. So unfair! But kids are hard to deal with sometimes (duh).

(Don't forget to pick up some crackers on the way home.)

Ellyn said...

They really are special. It is moments like that one that make you just want to squeeze them.

Vered - MomGrind said...

Oh, Kelly, you're writing... it's amazing.

I want to be able to write like you.

We KNOW that their brains are still half-baked, so to speak, yet we often forget it. Moments like these do demonstrate how different a little child's brain is from an adult's.

Even with my 7 and 9 years old, I sometimes need to remind myself NOT to react to them on the same emotional level that I react to adults.

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

Keep in mind too that he's learning something important about life when he has to have the toast instead of crackers and when he sees that he can upset you by throwing a tantrum. These are important lessons.

flutter said...

sometimes it must be so frustrating, but then that little face makes up for it

Zip n Tizzy said...

I'm with Jen at Juggling life. It's important for him to know that you have feelings too and that his actions can affect you. Sounds like you handled everything just right, and you know, crying relieves stress, sounds like you both were better off for it.

common mom said...

I'm totally with you! Been there - done that. I always feel guilt afterward . . . I don't remember EVER seeing my mother cry - or noticed that she was stressed - or that she had problems - or that we weren't being very helpful and that it was all taking a toll. I now have a great appreciation for all she hid from us.

But was it right? I don't think so. I wear my heart on my sleeve . . . there are no secrets . . . I saw what I feel and feel what I say. Not always good, but I do agree that it's important for our kids to understand that we do have feelings and issues and that we're not always happy (or upset and screaming at them for no reason). Important for them to know we're human. Important for them to know that yes, we CAN still handle it . . . it's just a bit harder some days than others.

Angella said...

My kids get all worried if they see me cry. Graham sounds like a true sweetheart :)

Elaine A. said...

This unfortunately has been me many a time. Damn crackers. ; )

Jaina said...

You really have a sweetheart there. I've never really thought about young kids' capacity to change gears. I guess I take it for granted.

Meg Wolff said...

Been there too.
I like that you wrote: "It was a much-needed reminder that it is me, not him, who supposedly has the maturity not to let my temper or my frustration dictate how our day will go."
True as it may be, I remember that gut wrenching feeling (that quickly turns to physical and emotional pain) at the sound of our own children crying.

Damselfly said...

Ohhhhhhh! I feel your pain. I have cried like that too.

What a sweet boy.

Whitenoise said...

It's great when they get it. However, sorry to tell ya, they still have tantrums well into the teens...

RiverPoet said...

Aw, sweetie! I saw a friend of mine go through this with her three year old son a couple of weeks ago, as I traveled with them one dark and stormy night on what should have been a short trip home. We ended up stuck in traffic with a tired, cranky, hungry, thirsty little guy who was shrieking(!!) at the top of his lungs. (Have I mentioned I have migraines? HA!)

My poor dear friend was melting down, too. So I turned in my seat and began entertaining a three year old for the first time in 18 years. I've still got it.

I'm so glad that Graham settled down for you, but I hope he passes this phase quickly for your sake.

Hugs - D

Heather said...

Been there! {{hug}}

Texan Mama @ Who Put Me In Charge said...

Okay, here it comes....
Exactly what a mom never wants....
But always gets....

UNSOLICITED ADVICE...

(from someone who has been amazed at how well this works)
When you see a possibly bad situation about to happen, warn him ahead of time about it and tell him, "I have to tell you something that might make you upset. Please try really really hard not to get upset. If you stay calm, that will make mommy very happy, okay?" Then hit him with the bad news that you have toast instead of soda crackers today, but that you will have soda crackers tomorrow. "Now, are you okay? Do you think toast will be okay? I don't have anything else, so if toast isn't okay, I'll have to give you nothing, and I know you want something! Are you gonna be okay?"

This sounds very dumb, but let me tell ya, giving the child advance notice and allowing him to be in control of his emotions... very powerful.

Have a great day.

Kate Coveny Hood said...

That's so sweet - what a sensitive little guy!

Kathryn said...

There are so many times in a day that I have to remind myself that I am the adult. I so want to have a tantrum too, but I have to be calm. It is SO DIFFICULT sometimes!

kittenpie said...

I think I had the exact same freakout on my newborn the other day. I was just so broken down by it all. Didn't do me any good, either, but I do figure that really, if this is the worst it gets in terms of us losing it with our kids and letting a bit of steam go, it's not too terrible. I hope.

Starshine said...

Thanks for your openness in sharing this story. I'm glad it ended with a "huggy" for you both!

Kelli @ writing the waves said...

This made me tear up. I can so relate to this. I hate getting upset in front of the kids, but we're only human...and somewhat sleep deprived so sometimes emotions are running high. :)

Graham sure loves his mama. I'm glad things calmed down and he enjoyed his PB toast. (My daughter loves that.)

Thanks for adding me to your blogroll! Totally made my day!

Amy said...

Stay strong - even at the tender age of three one can learn a lot! Of course, at the age of 30+ there is lots to be learned too! I know that from experience!

Leanne said...

Aww. Stay strong and don't be afraid to cry in front of him, it's okay and you both learn something...

Great post.

Becky L said...

I had a similar type experience. And it really was neat to see my daughter turn from whining/crying to being compassionate/reassuring.

Lisa@verybusymomwith4 said...

If that doesn't make the tantrums, tears and late nights worth it--nothing will :)

caramama said...

That is wonderful that you can see the compassion and patience in him, which will surely develop more fully as he gets older. It's got to be so tough to be almost three and not understand how to control yourself. You are a very understanding mom. And you are allowed to lose it sometimes.

Barrie said...

Kinda scary how similar toddler tantrums are to teenage ones!

HappyHourSue said...

Oh, that is the sweetest thing. I hate when I transform into the sibling instead of the mother.

April said...

You knew - you just didn't want to believe. We all have moments like that.

OHmommy said...

We all have moments like this Kelly. I stumbled it. How do you get *that* button?

womaninawindow said...

Funny, we can get caught up in things just as quickly and easily as they can. I just tucked mine in and was losing my cool 'cause I'm so tired. And now I'm craving peanut butter. If I go downstairs and find there is none I might escalate too!

Karen said...

Those moments happen all too frequently here, but I've not had the (dis)pleasure of the needing a hug tantrum. I really do feel for the kids - you're right. It's like they can't help it.

Janet said...

He has a sweet little heart.

I sometimes still react in a way that is unbecoming to my age and (ahem) maturity. Oh, I'm supposed to be the adult? ooops.

Pregnantly Plump said...

Sorry you both had such a rough start to your morning. When I was about 8 months pregnant with Little Elvis, I had a rough morning on the way to the doctor's office. The nurse must have realized I was on the verge of tears (over something very minor I'm sure) and told me that she found the trick to preventing temper tantrums by her 3-year-old in stores. She just threatens to start crying as soon as the child starts gearing up. I squirreled the info away, although I have no idea if it will work on Little Elvis in the future.

Aunt Becky said...

Dude. That made me get a little misty. I've done things like that before and the result always touches me so very much. What a sweet boy he is.

Jo Beaufoix said...

That was so fantastic. You're obviously doing a great job for Graham to be able to empathise at such a young age and put your feelings first or even realise you have them. Great post.

CC said...

Fabulous observations! And I love his change and how he needed reassurance an a "huggy"!