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.