Taste your words before you spit them out

Six, so far, is proving to be a tough age, and we aren’t even a week into it.

This morning, I insisted D brush his own teeth. At night when he is tired, I will still do it for him sometimes, but I’m trying more and more to get him to do it on his own. He has to learn to be responsible. So another standoff and I refused to do it, and he yelled that he hated me and slammed the door to the bathroom. Where he proceeded to brush his teeth, which was the whole point, so I let it go.

As we were walking into school, down the long hallway to extended care, he looked up at me and I could read him: I don’t hate you, Mom, and I’m sorry I said that. “I know you don’t hate me,” I told him, and he sidled over to me and hugged my legs with his spindly little arms as we walked. I took his hand, a rarer and rarer thing these days, and we smiled at each other and the cloud was lifted. He gave me an extra long hug goodbye and I told him to have a really good day, there are only a few days of kindergarten left, and that I’d be thinking about him, and we waved goodbye. Sometimes I still feel so bad leaving him there, as if he’s a baby all over again and I’m being forced to go in to work, my breasts bursting with milk, crying while the pump does its job behind my locked office door. But he’s no baby anymore.

I felt like I couldn’t get anything done at work. Everything I do is not working right and jobs aren’t getting done. Ideas aren’t there and the copy I write is dead and lifeless. Uninspired. Functional, at best. I looked forward to picking him up, and figured out what I could make him that would be tasty (to him), nutritious, quick, and comprised of things I had at home already – the magic combo. As soon as I picked him up, going out to the playground with his book bag and lunch box, I could see he was cross, though I had no idea why. He wanted to take his shoes off before we even had started walking to the car. I said no, and he whined about wanting tacos, which was not on the dinner plan, plus no way in hell am I taking a cranky, nasty kid out for some kind of special dinner, and I told him to knock it off and get in the car. I got in and started it up and he acted like he wasn’t getting in. This kid thinks he is an expert in standoff, but he forgets repeatedly that his mother is MORE stubborn. So I put the car in drive and acted like I was going to pull away. He came running over, even though I hadn’t even budged from my parking spot. “MOM!” he yelled, climbing in finally and shutting his door, “You’re mean! You’re STUPID.” Without missing a beat, I replied, “And YOU just lost TV. Do you want to keep going and try for losing dessert as well?” He was silent and glared at me. I glared back. A moment from an 80s film flashed in my head: “I hate you right back, you little shit!” (bonus to readers who know that one without googling) but I didn’t say anything else. We rode home in silence, and I thought what a long day it had been, and how I wished there was a friendly face at home.

After he had some food in him, and he ate ALL his dinner, plus seconds, I might add – not bad for a dinner he didn’t want – he was a little less out of sorts. He asked very nicely if we could have tacos tomorrow, and I said I would consider it, and it depended on how he was the rest of the night, in the morning, and at school the next day. He got ALL his homework done at dinner, with little help from me, save for instructions and checking his work. The whole packet in one night, though admittedly they are easing up on it since school is almost over. I will pick up the slack, somewhat. Keep those muscles flexed throughout the summer.

After bath, I sat him down and said we needed to talk. “You have to taste your words before you spit them out,” I said. “Do you know what I mean by that?” He shook his head. I told him, I know how it is when you are angry. You lash out, you say the first thing that comes to mind. When you are tired or too hot or have a boo boo or whatever is wrong, it’s even harder to keep your words to yourself for a minute. But you must, MUST practice keeping your mouth quiet for a moment until the anger goes away a little. I told him, you know when you told me you hated me this morning? I thought about that ALL DAY LONG, and it made me feel sad all day. He came and put his arms around me and said he was sorry, and gave me a sweet little kiss. I said I wasn’t looking for an apology, but I appreciated him saying he was sorry. But more important than being sorry was to work to avoid saying something like that to begin with. I’m your mom, I told him, and I will love you forever no matter what. And I’m tough and I understand how mad you get, and I can take it, but you should be more respectful to me because I love you so much, and things I do for you are to help you be a better person and grow up, not because I am trying to be mean.

I went on to tell him that some day when he is a Dad, which he has said he wants to be, he will really hurt his kid’s feelings if he says things like that to them. And if you were to grow up and live with a pretty girl like Sylvia (the girl he likes at school), just think how hurt she would feel if you said things like that to her. His big, brown eyes, wide open, thinking about what I’m saying. I know he hears me, I just don’t know how much it registers. You can’t talk to people like that, I told him, and especially people that you care about. Words sting and hurt just as much as if you hit someone, and the hurt can last a long, long time. Oh, the stories I could tell him. Maybe one day. Maybe not.

I could see he believed me, and I didn’t want to belabor the point, as I could see he got it. It’s a work in progress, of course, and it obviously won’t be the last time he’s nasty, but I swear I will work and work to try to keep this boy from becoming the type of man who uses words to hurt. I do not want that for him, or for those in his future.

It’s such hard work. And really hard alone. When I shut his door, I wonder to myself, was that right? Did I do ok? I don’t even know anymore.

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