In her snowsuit, Lilah is heavy and awkward, unable to participate in being carried up the narrow wood steps at the back of the house.  She is slipping down my left side as I pull back the storm door with my right hand, which also holds a canvas grocery bag and a pair of boys’ size 10 snow boots.  I throw open the back door, dropping the snow boots on the mudroom floor at the same time that I kick off my shoes.

The house is silent, with no evidence that, less than an hour ago, it was the scene of a holocaust.  I know that is a word never to use lightly, but it is the first one that enters my mind in the empty silence.  Fifty minutes ago, there was terror and misery here in this space, and now there is no sign of the bloodshed.

Zachary does not like to be late for school.  He hates to be the last one in the classroom, yet he does everything in his power to make it so.  He throws a fit over his breakfast, screaming at his father about the pancakes he made.  He whines about his shirt when he is supposed to be putting on his socks.  Asked to come brush his teeth, he snaps, “No!  I WON’T!” at me.

Told to put on his shoes, he starts weeping and saying that he cannot do it himself.  I am changing a poopy diaper while instructing a preschooler to make one last pee; the kindergarterner is going to have to put on his own shoes.  Yet, five minutes later, when Lilah is dressed, Benjamin has on snow pants and boots, and I am reaching for the snowsuit, Zachary is still shoeless, sobbing in the mudroom that he can’t put on two Velcro-fastened shoes.

I could do it for him.  But moving three kids out the door in the morning requires nothing short of military precision.  I need each child to do everything possible for him or herself.  While Benjamin cheerfully acquiesces, “I will, Mommy!”, Zachary practices helplessness.  I need him to get his own damned shoes on.  “If those shoes aren’t on in one minute, you are walking to the car without them!” I yell, in a voice I am ashamed to acknowledge as my own.

Of course, he gets the shoes on.  He can, he just won’t.  But it’s not stubbornness.

OK, it’s stubbornness, but there’s something else mixed in.  An intense mixture of misery and anger and hopelessness.  This is the toxic juice that caused him to sabotage his playdate yesterday.  It was going well, the two older boys playing nicely upstairs while Lilah slept and Benjamin helped me bake muffins.  And then, the five-year-olds came down.  I’m not sure what exactly the problem was, but I think part of it had to do with his brother’s presence.  When the boys sat down to eat the hot muffins, I gave Benjamin his first, “Because he helped make them.”  Then, I gave the next to the guest, explaining why, and approximately nine-tenths of a second later, set one in front of Zachary.

Who promptly went ballistic over being served last.  It took him twenty minutes to recover, during which time he pinched his friend and yelled at me.  I removed him from the table, allowing him to come back when he appeared calm, only to have him snap his teeth at our guest like some kind of a rabid dog.

I felt horribly for our poor guest, who has no siblings and a very grounded mother, which renders him unfamiliar with these kinds of outbursts.  It didn’t help matters to have Benjamin poking him.  Removing the three-year-old helped, and when the mother came from work to pick up her son, he was playing Zingo with a perfectly civilized Zachary.  I told her what had happened and apologized profusely, whereupon I was the beneficiary of her groundedness, which only made me feel worse because my kids had been totally out of line.

Zachary managed a halfway pleasant “goodbye,” giving his friend a toy to take with him on the way out.  Further evidence of the restorative powers of a couple of rounds of Zingo.  Nonetheless, I would not be surprised if Zachary lost a friend that afternoon, a crying shame as this is a very kind and empathetic child.  Zachary could use more empathy in his life, because he has worn down almost all of mine.

What is it Rhett Butler tells Scarlett about even the most deathless of loves giving out eventually?  Well, my love hasn’t given out, but my patience has, and the combination of fierce love and frustrated incompetence is a terrible pill.  I don’t know what to do for him.  I don’t know how to help him stopping pissing people off, and although I adore him, he is pissing me off the most.  Some days I can stay calm, but others feel like a long string of snippy replies and hollered reprimands.  I do not ever have a glass of wine at the end of the day now, because it scares me to drink when I need it this badly.

I am sure you are brimming with advice to givehimqualityalonetime, setclearlimits, or empowerhimtomakehisownchoices, but I assure you we do all of those things.  And yet he is still making me insane.  I yell when I ought to cuddle, tell him to go where I cannot see him, because I am afraid of what I will do to the child who pinches or hits me every time I try to send him to a time out.  This is the moment that people with only or well-spaced-out children coo that ever so sweet, “Give yourself a time out instead of him” advice.  I would like a little more specificity, please.  What, exactly, am I supposed to do with the poopy diaper that is halfway changed and the preschooler I am stuffing into his coat while I go give myself a five-minute time out to calm down and curl my eyelashes?  Because, believe it or not, that ain’t gonna help us get to school on time.

Which brings us back to what will henceforth be known as The Morning When Zachary Almost Had to Walk to the Car in His Socks Through the Snow.  As it is, he goes without a coat.  It is twenty-three degrees out, but he will not wear two layers, a hoodie, or a coat.  I tell him he at least must carry the coat, so that he has it should he get cold.

By the time I get to the car with Lilah, Benjamin is cooperatively standing at his seat, not quite able to clamber in wearing all that gear.  Zachary is shivering in his seat, whimpering that he is too cold to buckle his belt.  Which? Duh.  That’s why we’re all wearing coats.

Less than an hour later, I am back in the tiny mudroom, kicking off my shoes.  I waddle into the kitchen, sink to the floor, and remove Lilah’s snowsuit.  She leans in against me to cuddle, and we sit there on the floor together.  She doesn’t notice the tears falling on her shoulder as she coos and babbles.

Maybe I can do it right with this one, because I am a colossal failure with the other.

34 responses to “Mudroom

  1. Oh, my dear friend. You aren’t a failure in ANY way; I know you know this, and your last sentence is an expression of feeling hopeless right now. You are a good, grounded, empathetic mom who is also worn out, frustrated, feeling very alone in a new town and who has just completed a whirlwind cross country move in the winter.

    I’m not going to chirp any assvice your way, because I so know that feeling of sobbing on the floor because you’re at your wits’ end and you just don’t know what the hell to do anymore.

    All I can say is if you need me, I’m here. I’m going to send you my cell phone number, and trust me, if you call, I WILL answer.

    Also, I prescribe dark chocolate and lots of it for you. Somehow, it helps.

  2. My middle child was incredibly difficult in some ways. Crazy tantrums sometimes. Usually very well-behaved around others, but there was a disastrous sleepover during which she kept her guests up to an ungodly hour.

    She’s fine now, pretty much, although sometimes there is a lot of high-maintenance whining. Same with my oldest. There is no magic pill or technique- at least, I don’t have it. In most cases, it subsides, but it can be torture waiting for it to do so.

    I know how likely it is that you can take time out- and certainly not in the middle of the storm- but even just a few deep breaths when you have a moment can remind you that you’re a person. (Eyelash curling is way too dangerous.).

    Of course, sometimes that can be a disaster. Remind me to tell you about the time Jacob ended up with a second-degree burn because I took some much-needed time to myself and my husband underestimated his gross motor skills. But usually no one gets hurt.

  3. Oh sweetie, hugs, hugs, hugs.

    I know this feeling very well, also with my oldest. I will not offer assvice either — except to say that time and maturity do help a bit.

    Our oldest seems terribly socially handicap to us many times. Same type of things — tantrums over the guest going first, aggressive game play when you FINALLY have a playmate, lots of self-sabotaging behaviors. However, at school he seems to do quite well. I will say that things have improved now that we hit 6, but 4 and 5 were terribly painful. The getting ready thing we face too. Even with the ability to earn the coveted Wii, today he failed to get ready promptly … after 3 days into the program. I’m beginning to accept it is a personality flaw, I mean quirk.

    It can be so hard when a string of days like that happens. I remember saying to my husband — how is it I can love him, but not like him at all? It cuts you deep in the heart. But so many of us go through it. It can be especially painful when you have other children that it seems easier to parent. Somehow too, I think, when the problem is with the first child you wonder if it is the manifestation of all your mistakes as a first-time parent. But don’t buy it — it is them and how they are, and the best we can do is work with it.

    Okay, enough monopolizing the comments. Hang in there. Break your rules and go get some Tastycakes. If you can’t find ’em, tell me and they are in the mail post haste.

  4. This post was so incredibly moving — I felt like you were describing my own life. I’m sending you a huge hug and wishes for a better day tomorrow.

    My oldest sounds almost exactly like Zachary — everything just seems so HARD for him, like life is a constant uphill battle. Nothing is ever fair or easy. I definitely do my share of snapping. I only hope we make it out the other side — it has to happen someday.

    Thanks for the honesty and hang in there — you are not alone!

  5. We are in the midst of it, too. The holiday were TERRIBLE! I could have written this exact post (minus the snow boots and snowsuits) down to the crying on the floor while holding my baby.

    It is not our parenting…at least I keep telling myself that. We have tried two very different styles of parenting with Calvin, and he has been the same intellectually brilliant, emotionally immature, socially inept kid no matter what we do. Life is just so hard for him because he doesn’t fit any mold. The really smart ones are like that. And I know you understand that I am not bragging. Calvin is just like that, and I often wish he were a little less intelligent.

    Time, time, time. That’s what I keep telling myself. Time and a lot of trips away from the house alone while my husband takes his turn with him. Oh, and the dark chocolate suggestion is a good one…much safer than wine.

  6. hugs to you all, there have been some HUGE changes for all of you and that is bound to take its toll on everyone. It so often seems like child rearing is one challenging phase after another, the periods of time (age) that my son was easier, my daughter tested us to our very limits… we get into a good routine for a couple of months and then SLAM we are barely treading water…..

    When i get overwhelmed my Mom reminds me of my younger sister, the one who literally CLUNG to my monther 24/7 for easily the first 8-9 years of life, who was allergic to EVERYTHING and was scared of everyone not in our very immediate family (ie no sitters EVER, no overnights with grandma etc)… this is the same sister who now is probably the most well adjusted…… so who knows why kids behave like they do!

  7. You’re not a failure by any stretch of the imagination. A failure wouldn’t care like you do. A failure wouldn’t keep trying.

    I won’t try to give you an advice because oh sister, I know you have heard it all at this point. I’m sure it’s all the same advice I have been given when I struggle with my oldest.

    Last night I put bowls of bean soup in front of my kids for dinner. The 4 year old smiled and said “I love to eat new things!” and happily gobbled the soup up. The 9 year old flopped on the floor and screamed like he was being burned alive. Now it’s true that he has massive sensory issues and high functioning autism and blah blah blah 8 million other issues but it never fails to amaze me how one child can make me feel like I’m doing everything right while the other one makes me feel like such a massive fuck-up.

    May I suggest homemade shortbread cookies? I always find that they’re good for what ails you.

  8. Parenting is ever-humbling, and with some kids, far more humbling than with others. I find this to be the case in my home.

    Hang in, hang in, hang in.

    I am trying to imagine what would happen if a certain one of my three had a playdate with a certain one of your three..

  9. Little kids are weird. I imagine this particular kind of thing will pass…eventually. It’s not you!

  10. As I perp walked a tantruming Henry to bed the other night I thought to myself, I sure hope my doing this prevents him from ever having to do a perp walk as an adult.

    I hear what you are saying.

  11. i really do love you, emily! some days just s*uck butt- no way around it. know that you are the best mother to mr.z!! I have seen you in action, and let me say for the record….you are goooooood! and I mean, really, really, really good with your kids!
    hugs, hugs, hugs!

  12. Hi, Emily, It’s been a long while since I last commented , but I so feel for you…and actually Zachary, too. When did your boys switch personalities?! My family moved from Ohio to Texas when I was 5 (and then to Georgia when I was 8), and I remember being so out of sorts and grumpy and lashing out at my mom and dad in ways that were totally unlike me. I was convinced everyone in Texas spoke a different language, I thought that rattlesnakes were going to get me in the night. I was also a very nervous child (and a picky eater, to boot). All of this is to say, give it time…I never did make a big crew of friends, but as soon as I had ONE good one, that whole new world opened up to me.

  13. I have no advice. Because, dear God in heaven, I am definitely in a place where I have none to give. All I can say is this – I thought that I would get better at this parenting gig. And the truth is, I have. But not with my firstborn. That poor soul is always two steps ahead of me, and so I am still trying desperately to figure things out and falling short.

    Here is what I know for sure – kids are resilient. And they generally turn out in spite of us. So I cling to that, it’s all I’ve got.

  14. You aren’t a failure. Having 3 kids that young and close together in age is just hard. And sometimes kids you love with your whole heart still push your buttons.

    Some ages are hard. And changes are hard. And it can take a while to get into a better groove.

    In the meantime it sucks. It can be hellish. But you are not a failure.

    I have one suggestion for what it’s worth.

    My suggestion is put on his shoes. It takes up less time than the agony. And he won’t have you putting on his shoes when he is in college.

    One of my children had us put on her shoes long after she needed us to. Then she started putting on her own shoes but had us squeeze her toothpaste. This kid had biceps but said it was too hard.

    After the toothpaste there was something else she wanted done for her.

    These things are symbolic. She is the first child in the family. It’s the reassurance that she needs and the meaning is deep for her.

  15. First, you aren’t failing him.

    Second, the only thing I know is that the deeper I get into this parenting thing, the less I know. So no advice from me.

    Third, I hear you on being worn down and unable to turn the ship around. If you figure out what to do, please let me know.

  16. I like what Lillian said. Maybe he just needs some reassurance due to the recent move and new school. My philosophy is “Pick your battles.”
    I cry sometimes too and I only have one child.

  17. I sometimes go to bed thinking that I am failing my middle child, who is 10. and believe me, have well spaced children (15,10,4) is no guarantee of sanity or positive parenting 🙂 Just know, that you are not failing. And sometimes all we can do is try again.

  18. Oh, Emily. I’m sorry. I have no advice either. I understand the anger, though. And I can imagine the frustration. (I have my share of frustration with just 2 kids.)

    But certainly you aren’t failing. Your job is just a very hard one. I’m always so impressed by how well you have your shit together with all that’s going on in your life.

  19. It’s just his personality. My oldest was difficult, too. He still can be (at 25), but of course it’s not nearly as bad. Just remain firm, keep setting boundaries (these kids need them most), and it will get better.

  20. ooof, babe. My heart

  21. Oh, Emily. Although I seldom comment (I really need to get better about that) I read you consistently enough to tell you that you are absolutely not a failure. No assvice here – it’s not my place, and I don’t have kids anyway. Well, okay, a little assvice. Trader Joe’s dark chocolate almonds. For you, not them.


  22. As you can see from all the comments left on your page, YOUR NOT ALONE!

    Many of us moms recognize your situation…

    I’m not going to bore you with examples of my children’s behavior when they where of the same age as yours but I am going tell you that most of them grow out of it,mine are teenagers now and they are the greatness.

    It doesn’t bring you instant relief, I know, but just hang on there. One day, you’ll laugh at it.

    Loved reading your piece btw, just really sounded familiar…

    Virtual hug

  23. No advice. I just need to say that if you’re the “failure” parent then the world in general is doomed. You, my online friend, are amazing. I spent a fair amount of time the other day thinking about how your kids didn’t recognize the containers processed foods come in and feeling like quite a failure myself.
    I agree though with the pick your battles thing. Caleb is almost always late for preschool but we’d be ten minutes later (at least) if I didn’t give in and dress him. Z really might just be tired of being the big boy and need to be babied. I know that is hard for you since you have actual babies… just a thought.

  24. It you’re a failure, then we’re all doomed. Can we pinkie swear to keep the faith?

  25. Been there – all of it, 3 kids, close together, doing the morning stuff alone, and facing an unbelievably stubborn child who could single-handedly bring the entire world to a screeching half on its axis just by force of will. I remember what seems like years when our mornings were run by the constant ding of a timer – breakfast eaten by the ding or plates cleared anyway! dressed by the ding or you go without whatever-item-0f-clothing! Teeth brushed by the ding… God I hated that damn timer…

    We’re all failures by our own evaluation because we all hold ourselves to such impossibly high standards. It is one of those terribly, horribly painful things about being a parent.

  26. Cheeky Monkey

    Oh, Emily. I’m sorry it’s so so hard right now. I bet the move is making someone with Z’s particular chemical make-up insecure and crazed. Peace to you, amidst all this thunder.

  27. Yes, so, so hard. And while we know that some kids (and people) are just wired that way and need lots of help to get unstuck, while others are just more naturally easygoing, no matter what we do as parents– well, there is always someone there to judge and blame the parents…

    I am the type of person whose first reaction when life throws me a curve is to read up on it– and I have been finding small successes with similar issues coming from the techniques I’ve been reading about, but still, it’s a long road.

    I hope you find something that works for you and in the meantime, be kind to yourself.

  28. just…oof. and lots of love. i’m sorry it’s so hard right now.

    i hope he’s able to be less self-sabotaging (and mom-sabotaging) soon.

  29. just yesterday i was talking with my hubby about a kid we know… who is terribly behaved and his parents let him run the house (mom runs to the store to get him the demanded food, which he then decides he doesn’t want, so she makes him something else for dinner, then he pitches a fit, so she goes ahead and makes him the newly purchased food…) and we talked about the difference between difficult kids who are enabled by their parents, and those who’s parents do all the right things (or at least 90% of the right things, none of us do ALL the right things) and yet they are still really difficult.

    YOU are a parent in the latter category. it doesn’t make it feel any easier, I know.

  30. Your day sounds like most of mine, except most of my kids belong to someone else. I do daycare, and when we have to go somewhere, holy smokes do we ever need a lot of time to get ready! It’s always frustrating and is definitely a time of day I second guess my skills and ability to be a good parent. Terrific post. Nice to find you through Amber Strocel’s blog.

  31. I can offer up a load of hugs. Wish I could deliver them in person, but armfuls sent via long distance. Hang in there.

  32. Failure is the LAST word that comes to mind. Hang tough. Wish I had words if wisdom to share. Instead I’ll just send you lots of thoughts. You are more patient than you even know. Hoping it gets easier soon.

  33. Pingback: In which Emily repeatedly tells you where to go « Wheels on the bus

  34. I’m sorry but to me everything else becomes irrelevant when “holocaust” is used in this way. I find it offensive, demeaning, and inconsiderate. You would, too, if the holocaust were aimed at eradicating all members of your family and faith.
    I am sure you didn’t mean to be insensitive, just as I am equally sure you have not suffered the emotional devastation of the Holocaust. Thank you for listening.