My son, B, is turning three soon. He’s the quintessential little boy you read about in books and watch on TV; bold and boisterous, obsessed with trucks and dinosaurs and Lightening McQueen, fearless and confident and perpetually covered in bruises. And, as I learned this week, he’s also very perceptive about the world that he lives in and very in tune to the changes around him.
B had a meltdown yesterday before daycare drop off. It felt very much like the tantrums we’ve seen lately with lots of hitting and scratching and pinching, but this one was exacerbated because I didn’t have endless amounts of time to soothe him. I got him calmed down just as I had to leave if I was going to make it to work on time and it triggered another meltdown that made me cry.
B’s tantrums have been getting more aggressive in nature and have been triggered by seemingly nonsensical things and in turns, I’ve gotten frustrated as well. We have attributed this to a change schedule, not seeing my husband as much as he finishes school, something in his diet that is making him uncomfortable, but it wasn’t until yesterday morning that I finally grasped that I was missing the big picture.
My husband and I do not interact like we used to; that is, we don’t interact like we are a married couple. Our exchanges are either fraught with tension or falsely cheerful, or when my husband is sad we speak in a lowered volume with closed off body language. When we hug it’s with the desperateness of two people who know at any point they are going to be driven apart.
I take the monitor most nights so B comes to bed with me when he wakes in the middle of the night. If I don’t get to him in time and he’s more awake he’ll point to my husband’s room – formerly our room – and request to sleep in there. Habits, I tell my self. It’s habit. We talk to him about how mommy and daddy have their own rooms and he understands.
When I research ways to handle aggressive toddler tantrums it takes me a while to understand what I’m reading. I’m looking for ways to punish his initial reaction to lash out and hit and everything I read tells me that there is nothing to punish. When the words finally click I feel like I’ve been punched in the gut. B’s hitting is a symptom. He’s a toddler and he doesn’t have the words he needs to tell me what he’s feeling and the only way he can release his anger is to hit. You cannot cure a symptom. You have to find the cause.
As best as I can figure, B is angry because he doesn’t understand why the world is changing. He’s lashing out physically because he knows that is how he is going to get my attention and it’s this realization that hurts the most. I really thought that I was relatively unaffected by everything happening, or at least unaffected enough that I could compartmentalize my feelings and deal with them when I chose. But when I think about B’s tantrums, his anger, I realize that I am absolutely, completely wrong.
I don’t think I’m always the best mom. I’m not being overly dramatic or seeking empty validation that you’re sure I’m doing the best that I can (!!!), I’m just being honest. I know that this is affecting me more than I acknowledge because I really just want to be strong and independent but I’m not. I’m cranky with my students and I’m short with my coworkers and sometimes I yell at other drivers for no reason. But more than that, I’m not always present with my son. Too often we turn on the TV so I can make dinner or clean the house or do laundry or whatever else and I tell myself it’s ok because most of the time it’s just me and B and that’s hard. But just because something is hard doesn’t mean it’s ok to give up, and that’s what I was doing. I’ve been missing the signals he’s giving me: when he asks me to sit down with him, or wants to be held, or wants to play trucks. It hurts even to think about it, let alone to write about it. The truth does that sometimes.
What’s done, is done. Now I can only move forward.
I met with the director of his daycare yesterday, who also happens to be a friend, and filled her in on what was going on in our lives. It was a conversation long overdue but I genuinely thought that my telling her was just part of the covenant of friendship, not a necessity based on the needs of my child. But this woman is made of pure love and when we left I really did believe that we would all be ok, even if it’s hard now.
I got B from school and we got a milkshake and went to the park. My phone came out only to snap a quick picture and I was with him, really with him in a way I’ve lost sight of in the past few weeks. When he screeched in frustration I knelt down and asked him questions instead of scolding and he responded by telling me he was mad and giving me a hug. We ate dinner and read too many books and he fell asleep cuddled up against me.
At the park he looked at one of the plastic animals and told me it was sad. I asked why and he told me, “because he misses mommy”. I asked him if he missed his mommy and he said, “no, I miss daddy.”
How have I missed so much?