March 19, 2014

Threenagers: Story of a tantrum

I woke up knowing it was going to be a long day. Work, my hour-long commute, dinner, a class tonight, a blog to write. I can fit it all in, I thought. I had a short lunch and a productive afternoon, so I allowed myself to leave work a few minutes early so I might squeeze in some family time before dinner.

Sometimes, I feel like I have it together pretty well. Those are the moments to watch out for.

I stopped at Felix's daycare about 20 minutes earlier than usual. Typically, I'm greeted with an exuberant, full-body tackle of a hug. It's one of the best parts of my day.

Today, I was greeted with an icy stare and the word "No."

His preschool class had just come in from the playground, and they were still wearing their snow boots and gear. Felix hadn't been enthusiastic about coming indoors. He was even less happy to see me.

"I don't want to go home," he said, frowning and crossing his arms defiantly.

I call this his "threenager" mood. A switch flips, and from that moment on, everything I do or suggest is wrong. 

"Let's go get your sister!"

"I don't want to get her."

"Let's go home and get some dinner!"

"I don't like dinner."

We usually manage these moods by giving Felix some space, letting him be grumpy for a little while, and then distracting him by something else once he's cooled down a bit. This works much better at home than it does in public, at the end of a long day.

Sometimes, when he refuses to leave a place, I start walking away and he grudgingly follows me. Crabby though he may be, deep down my threenager just wants attention.

That didn't work today, either.

"I DON'T WANT TO GO!" he screamed at the top of his lungs, throwing himself on the floor of the hallway. Other parents walked by with cheerful kids in colorful hats. Teachers peeked out of their classrooms to see what was going on. I tried speaking gently to console him, but that made him angrier.

I scooped him up and carried him outside. If I could strap him safely into his car seat, he could finish his tantrum on the way to Evie's school and we would still be on schedule.

While I was trying to wrestle the screaming, flailing boy into his car seat, he kicked me right in the eye.

When you get a sneaker to the eye, something happens.

You cry.

At first it was an involuntary reflex. I put my hand over my right eye, and the tears came streaming down. They kept coming. And coming. I tried to ignore the other parents who were pulling into and out of parking spaces next to me, politely ignoring the crying mom struggling with the crying toddler. Using my left eye only, I managed to get Felix buckled. 

I sat down in the driver's seat, covered my eyes, and just bawled. My eye hurt a little bit, but there were other things coming out with the tears. Frustration. Work stress. Physical exhaustion. Self-doubt. I let it all out. In the back of the car, Felix did the same.

Then, something else happened.

The tears stopped.

I looked in the mirror and checked out the damage. A bloodshot eye, but it didn't look seriously injured. A fair amount of mascara on my cheeks. My eyeliner held up nicely (well played, Lancome). Nothing that couldn't be covered with some smudging and a big pair of sunglasses.

I put on my shades and started to drive. I opened the back window so that Felix could feel the fresh, almost spring-like air. We listened to music. I noticed that the sun was shining and snow was melting and I felt like something heavy had melted off of me as well. 

Maybe I needed that catharsis, that moment of losing control and then finding my way back again. It's easier to be 35 than it is to be 3, but it's still hard to do all the things you need to do and be all the places you need to be and keep it all together. Maybe I just needed to own that today, and Felix gave the swift kick that I needed.

Ten minutes later, we arrived at Evie's school. I went around to the back seat. Felix smiled at me.

"I'm sorry I kicked you in the eye, Mommy. Are you OK?"

Yeah, I'm OK, buddy.

Thanks for asking.

No comments: