Mothers often joke when their kids are growing up, in difficult moments, that they hope their child ends up having a child that is “just like them,” meaning as difficult as the kid is for the parent.I have never wished that on my son. My mother never wished it on me, as I was singularly difficult. So different from my older sister, who was largely a well-behaved, highly intelligent great kid, with super grades, perfect attendance, obedience and generally little trouble, aside from normal stuff most kids go through. Me? Mom likes to tell people that my first report card home from kindergarten included the comments “…is a thundercloud. When she doesn’t get her way, she pouts or hits the other children.”
What I can I say? I was born this way. Difficult circumstances and parents that for many years didn’t know how to deal with my crazy didn’t help matters.
My son has so many of my personality characteristics. Some people would find this wonderful, or flattering. It sort of terrifies me. I had the wherewithal, albeit just barely, to come through my childhood without actually killing anyone or ending up in jail. That I was able to get through college, graduate, and eventually make my way through life in obtaining and keeping jobs, becoming a relatively stable person, getting married, having a child, etc., means there’s hope for many wild child types. But it took a lot longer than it should have for me to find a path, because my parents really didn’t know what to do to get through to me.
My son has it, what I call The Anger. All kids throw tantrums and act up, some more than others. But he’s had The Anger since he was a baby. If he couldn’t do something perfectly, he’d refuse to do it, or make such a fuss while doing it that you’d have thought he was being electrocuted the whole time, it was such exquisite torture. He was late with quite a few milestones because of this stubbornness – wouldn’t crawl until he could crawl the length of the apartment. Wouldn’t stand until he could do it without falling. Wouldn’t walk until he could run. This has continued through various other developmental threshholds. He is behind on some motor skills because the process of trying is just too angering and frustrating for him. He just this past month learned to pedal the wheels on his Big Wheel, which he received two years ago as a gift (and he still can’t steer it while pedaling – it’s “too hard.”). His handwriting was behind for a very long time because he couldn’t stand that things weren’t right. On homework, which the teacher NEVER SEES, I just have to attest to the fact that he did it on a form that comes home each week, he will erase and rewrite answers several times because he didn’t draw the E right or whatever, and it becomes enormously frustrating for him.
And so, we came to the lesson of the pez yesterday. Which would be funny to many people, except if you know what The Anger looks like, and what it means for a bigger picture, it’s really not funny. These are the challenges of my parenting. I don’t have the world’s pickiest eater, or someone who insists on their clothes not having tags or whatever. I have this.
I took him to Toys R Us yesterday because they send you a coupon for the birthday club thing each year. It’s the only time we go there, and he generally likes it. They give you a balloon and a crown and announce overhead that so and so is here celebrating their 6th birthday with his Mom, so if you see him, say happy birthday (his birthday is actually next weekend, but we have other plans that day so I wanted to take him this weekend). So employees greet you in the store and wish you a happy birthday. It’s probably as tedious for them as trying to find servers to sing happy birthday to patrons was in the various restaurants I worked at over the years, but they put on a nice face about it, and that’s cool.
After looking all over the store, we decided to purchase two small Ninja Turtle figurines for the occasion, and a Ninja Turtle pez dispenser that came with three little packets of candy.
When we got home, he asked me to put the candy in for him.
Ok, I’m pretty anti-candy anyway, though Pez are not the worst thing. He’s had a Hulk Pez dispenser for a while and I know he has Pez at his Dad’s. So it’s not like he doesn’t know how it works. I told him look, this is your Pez and your candy, and you know how this works. You’re 6 years old now and I am not loading this thing for you. The kid really needs work on his fine motor and this is a PERFECT thing for him to work on, as he is motivated to do it because candy, and it’s not some school assignment. It became a standoff. He kept insisting I do it and I refused. I said I would show him one more time how it goes, and then he had to do it.
He couldn’t do it. He just didn’t have the patience and kept whining and begging for me to do it. It wouldn’t go in right. It’s sideways. I can’t make it stay open. I just kept reading the book I was reading and said it was too frustrating for him, perhaps he should take a break and take a nap (I knew he was tired, hell, so was I, I’ve been sick as fuck all week long) and try it after nap. It escalated. He insisted he wasn’t tired and wasn’t going to nap. He BEGGED and BEGGED me to do it for him. No. He threw the candy everywhere and threw the Pez at my head and said a bunch of nasty, unpleasant things. I told him throwing things was unacceptable and if he breaks the dispenser I’m not buying him a new one, and to clean it up. He threw a full on floor-beating tantrum, with red face and shrieking, and I told him to go to bed. I finally said I was going to bed for a nap, and suggested he do the same. The kid was practically frothing he was so mad. He went in his room and slammed around and thumped against the wall and I got up and told him to knock it off or I would throw the whole mess in the garbage. So then he cried and cried and wailed and carried on. For 15 minutes, and then he fell asleep, hard, and napped for two straight hours.
I only laid down for about 20 minutes and then got up and read some more. When he finally got up, he was much calmer, and asked very, very nicely if I would load the fucking candy in the pez and I said I’m sorry, but I’m not going to do it for you. I can pretty much guarantee you that every other kid in your class can load their own pez dispenser and I’m trying to get you to learn that if you just try it and figure out how to do it for yourself, you’re going to be better off. I showed him once more with a single piece how I suggested he do it.
And then he loaded the whole thing up, no problem. And loaded the Hulk one with the other packet of candy. And then showed me when they were both done. I got down on the floor with him and told him that the important lesson here was that sometimes, things are hard to learn, but if you take your time and try to just be meticulous and patient, you have the smarts and skills to figure out how to do it. And that if something makes you so, so, so angry when you are trying it, that you need to take a break and do something else until you aren’t mad anymore because you can’t get anything done when you are angry.
I asked him again this morning about the lessons. He remembered that he has to do something else when he’s angry and I reminded him about the other part, and told him he’s really smart and capable, he just has to get that learning is a process and it can be frustrating.
I know this story, to you, readers, seems perhaps tedious, oversimple or a normal part of parenting. But for me, this was gratifying and liberating. Because this is NOT how things would have gone if I was still living with his father. His father does not have The Anger. He cannot stand to see the boy struggle or get that mad. He would have done it for him. He would have given him some kind of treat to get him to calm down in the middle of the tantrum. He would have slept next to his bed on the floor for nap so that the kid wasn’t left to be angry alone. And he would have been nasty to me for the rest of the day for “being mean” to the kid, and I would have felt like garbage. I’m not saying it’s wrong. Everyone is different, and people parent differently. But to no longer be undermined in my decisions, to be able to say something and have it stick and hopefully teach a lesson that I think is really particular to this child of mine is a great, great feeling for me.
We also had a lot of fun yesterday. We went to a hippie festival and danced and ate a lot of food and played. And he helped me clean the kitchen, sweeping under the table while I did the dishes. Not all times are fun, but not all times are struggle either. But there are lessons to be learned. I don’t want him to be left with no idea how to cope with the fury that’s inside him, only to take it out physically and mentally on whomever crosses his path the wrong way, or looks at him askance. The world is too hard and dangerous now for that. I would not get away with many of the things I got away with in this modern age. There are cameras everywhere. Lawsuits whenever someone is wronged. I’m just trying to raise a this amazing, complex boy into becoming a good man.