I have probably never woken up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Seriously. In high school I was part of a choir that started meeting up prior to school hours in order to perfect our performances during competition season. People started referring to me as 'Grumpy Since '87.' The idea of t-shirts was bandied about. Mornings are never kind to me. But even if I hated everything except breakfast until 9am, at least I didn't regularly look like death. Now, I look like death, and I have two little beings relying on me to not act like death. It's a tough act to perform since they're the ones that have brought about the permanent shadows, the bloodshot eyes, the hunched back, the desire to burrow into the ground and hibernate.
The toddler has been more trying than usual. A friend of mine told me it's the year of the 'threenager.' Three is way harder than two. Terrible two's were just a bit surprising because a more obstinate side of my angel child appeared, but three is when they decide to be belligerent and defiant. The testing period. All of my research and perfect test scores could not prepare me for how emotionally and mentally draining it is to deal with it on a day-to-day, hour-to-hour, minute-to-minute basis. The emotional and mental draining then drains my physical well-being as well. Don't believe me? Take a look at my gut. It tells the tale of a woman who is so done with life by 7pm that she settles onto the couch with as many comfort foods as she can find and won't budge until it's time to move to bed.
The other day was filled with test after test after test from my 'threenager.' He, of course, picked the worst day. I was at my limit with a teething baby that was fussing up a storm, shoulders bearing the weight of a couple of life disappointments, and the burden of trying to balance working from home with being a full-time mom. I finally went through the roof when my son shut the door on the baby's fingers, while looking me in the eye, right after I had told him to watch out for his sister's fingers.
I yelled. I might have even raged. The effect on my boy? None. My son might have even laughed, but I was not laughing. Now, not only was I enraged, I was sorrowful. Sorrowful that I had let myself get to such a point, sorrowful that my son was so used to seeing me upset that it didn't phase him, and sorrowful that I had allowed it to become a norm. What did I look like through my sons eyes? At this moment, definitely not beautiful, probably not someone to love and guide him, and most likely not someone he would want to get to know better or be able to trust.
Did he need to behave better? Yes. Did I need to behave better? Undoubtedly, yes.
I looked into my son's eyes to see what answers he could offer me about our current situation, and it was as though I read a monologue in those beautiful, blue eyes. I went and curled up in a ball on my bed as I thought through what I saw. It went something like this (please allow for my mom imperfections to be made manifest as I attempt to write what I saw):
"Mom, I'm only three years old. I have a small body, and sometimes I experience very large emotions that don't seem to fit. More often than not, I don't even know what the emotion is called. The only way I feel better is by doing something about it, and I don't usually know what to do, so I act out. I need you to teach me. I need you to help me understand what is happening and what my choices are. I don't always understand your words, so it's best to show me what to do and let me follow your example.
The world is big, Mom. I'm trusting you to prepare me for it so that I can be successful, so that I can celebrate the good, and so I can be well-armed against the bad. Will you please protect me until I am able to protect myself? Will you teach me right from wrong and love me even when I make choices that aren't good? If I can't trust you to love me, who can I trust? You have my heart, Mommy, please take care of it."
I began to re-realize how much this little being is relying on me to be his guide until he's old enough to take on the world by himself. If I was going to lose it on him when he acted the way most people would expect a three-year-old to act at some point, why would he come to me with anything huge in life? Wouldn't he have learned from my actions that I would go ballistic? I need to pull myself together, is the moral of this story. No more anxiety attacks or moments of lunacy caused by my toddler acting as a toddler.
I will continue to teach him to improve his behavior, and I will continue to teach myself to improve my own. Some goals:
- Be sure to get a break now and again - a burned out mommy is pretty useless and more prone to anxiety attacks and lashing out.
- Take a deep breath and craft my response intentionally instead of releasing the inner storm when I have been pushed to my limits.
- Remember that mommy time outs are completely valid and should be used.
I'm not going to pretend that I'm never going to ever yell at my kids again because that's unrealistic, and I don't live a Pinterest life of perfection, but I am going to be honest and say that I'm going to do my darndest to improve and will get back up in the saddle every time I fall off the horse. I'm not going to pretend that I've solved the ancient mystery of parenting, but I am going to say I think I've come a bit closer to solving my personal mystery on how to make it work for me and my son. I hope that if anybody else out there is struggling with toddler anxiety they know that they're not alone, and I hope that very much because I do often feel alone in this, and it stinks.
Things I Learned:
1) Children are always forgiving when they are young.
2) I am not super mom.
3) I need more sleep.
4) It will kill me if my children have 'ugly' memories of me