One of my favorite family pics of almost all of us a few years ago!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Mommy Temper Tantrums: A Guilty Pleasure

Today I proved I’m human.  Flawed.  Screwed up.  Exhausted.  Weary.  And in desperate need. It has been an emotional roller coaster all day long. 

For the past few days, one of my girls has been reliving past memories.  Asking questions.  Wondering whether she was loved.  Thinking about all the what if’s.  

Yesterday, she cried.  A lot.  Today, she and I processed and she let out some really hard things that have been locked inside for quite a while.  She was able to speak and write words that she has never let out before.  As a bonus, she told me that she was really glad to be part of our family and that we were great. And I got to be there when it happened.  That is special and important.  But it is also hard and draining.  So, in a weird way that was both a high and a low.

One of my younger children, who is just beginning to understand what it means to be adopted, is rebelling against the idea that I’m in the role of mom to him.  He has called me Nanna since birth. I raised his mamma as a teenager and we didn’t know then that she would not parent her children.  

Anyway, we talk about her frequently, although he has probably only seen her 20 times in his life. He is trying to discover whether there is any power in shouting at me when he is being reprimanded, “I am not your son and you are not my mother.” 

I hear those kinds of words fairly routinely in my house.  Each adopted/foster child goes through that stage at least once (ages 5-8) and sometimes twice (ages 12-15).  I usually don’t take it personally, but today was already a hard day. I ignored it and didn’t respond – so as not to give it power -- but it hurt.  Intellectually, I know that he is simply trying to divert the conversation away from his trouble.  Thankfully, that strategy requires a certain level of intelligence, which I value, but it still sucks.   That was a low.

I threw my low back out a week ago and have been struggling to bend over to pick up stuff and carry children. My 8-month-old is crawling, standing and eating every single item he can find to put into his mouth.  Keeping the floor clean is a full-time job and I need more help than ever from my kids.

This morning, I was determined to get out of the house without leaving a mess behind.  After a full day of teaching at our home school coop, I have to come home and start dinner the second I walk in the door.  Walking into a mess knowing that I can’t put the baby down feels overwhelming.

So I make what I think is a simple request to 4 children ranging in age from 2 to 13.  “Please use these laundry baskets and pick up absolutely every single item that you can see and place them in the basket.  That includes toys, clothes, trash, beads, food, paper, bottles, cups, shoes, diapers, headbands, rubber bands, paper clips attached to paper airplanes, cat hair … everything.  If you can see it with your eyes, I want it picked up.”

If the 2-year-old picked up one item and everyone else picked up the rest, it would average about 10 items per child. That doesn’t seem unreasonable to me.

Moms, you know the reactions. 

Groans loud enough for childbirth. 

Refusals:  “Noooo!”

Whines: “I picked up stuff yesterday.” “I dooon’t waaaant tooo.”

Complaints: “My leg hurts.” “I’m hungry.”  “It is too hard.”

Idiotic statements: “I don’t see anything.”  “We finished already.” “I ammm working,” as the child sits in the middle of the floor playing with the one piece of trash he has managed to locate. 

Challenges:  “You can’t make me do this.”

Tattling:  “Mom, XX isn’t working.”  “Nanna, YY just called me a name and won’t help.”  “Moooommmmm, she is throwing stuff behind the couch instead of the bucket.”

Must I go on?  If you aren’t wanting to pull your hair out simply from reading this, then you are deaf, or you can’t imagine what whines, screeches, groans, complaints, challenges, tattles and idiotic statements actually sound like to a weary mom’s ears. 

I snapped.  Like the television show with the same title.  I needed to vent some of my built up impatience. My snapping usually involves shouting as loud as I can, cursing, and if I’m truly desperate --throwing some object as hard as I can to the floor.  Today, it was one of the laundry baskets, which was still empty after 10 minutes of prodding, directing, arguing and shouting. 

Actually breaking it is a plus.  But it didn’t break this time.  Damn.  Sometimes it feels good to release my pent up energy by breaking a $3.00 laundry basket.  In the scheme of things, it’s a worthless item that can be replaced.  I’m passionate and Italian.  Throwing a temper tantrum like my 2-year-old is a guilty pleasure.  Shouting and throwing things were part of my life growing up and while it certainly made an impression, I was never afraid that I would be hurt.  So, on the high/low scale these were lows, but I must admit that slamming the basket to the floor felt really good. 

For those of you who were traumatized as a child (or an adult) by a loud, legitimately crazy unsafe person, I’m sorry. I’m not actually unsafe or crazy.  I just feel that way sometimes.  For those of you who are concerned about the psychological damage to my kids -- rest assured, my kids are NOT terrified by my shenanigans. The little ones hardly notice because they are too busy focusing on themselves, which is part of my frustration to start with. The older ones finally take notice that I have reached my limits and suddenly become sympathetic to my plight. If I reach the point where I cry – which is extremely rare – they all become silent and suddenly helpful. 

If I was a manipulator, I would simply cry.  But I’m not.  And I can’t cry on demand anyway.

Ironically, I feel like crying traumatizes my kids far more than my shouting and cursing and slamming things.  Perhaps because seeing me cry is associated with really bad things – like the death of my daughter. Or perhaps it is so rare, that it shocks them.  I’m supermom to them.  Crying makes them realize that I’m human and fragile and have limits. Crying means that I have really, truly reached my limits and they become afraid that I won’t be able to continue this pace taking care of all of them.  And based on my conversation with my adopted daughter today, that is what scares them the most.  The thought of losing me.

Today, I cried.

The odd thing is that even snapping, I’m in complete control.  My moves are motivated by incredible frustration, but calculated to release the most internal energy while creating the most drama and attention I can get.  In a house where there is drama about serious things that involve life or death – my outbursts seems look stupid.

Please, don’t think I’m justifying my actions or recommending that you try this. This  won’t make it into a parenting book.  But, if an occasional temper tantrum helps you and allows you to cope without hurting anyone, you know it.

I’m simply being honest.  I know that other people out there have reacted in a similarly ridiculous way at some point and may feel like a failure for doing so.  Sharing my faults does not scare me. Maybe it should, but I don’t have time to worry about that.

For the record, there are also periods in my life when I simply can’t pitch a fit because there is a child in our home that feels unsafe and does not yet know or understand that rage does not always result in physical or emotional harm. I make it a point to know my kids.  I know their issues.  I would never knowingly allow myself this guilty pleasure when it would put a child at emotional risk. 

So, after snapping, I put myself in timeout.  I sit in my comfy chair and refuse to listen to a single person, or feed them, or talk or do anything.  I try to sink into my own little world to calm down. I automatically login to my computer to read or write or stare.  I never know.  I just need an excuse to look at something.

And what is the first thing I see?  An email from another friend suggesting that I would be a good candidate to teach biblical parenting classes. Ironically, I’ve been playing with the idea of becoming a professional parenting coach to bring in a little income to help meet the costs of raising so many children.  I’m already one of the people mom’s tend to call when they need help or advice, or they simply need to affirm that their mistakes don’t make them a bad parent.  Anyway, I’m in the idea stage on that.

Reading this email at this precise moment is like a slap in the face.  “Oh sure. You would make an excellent teacher of all things biblical right now.  Sure.  Like people need advice from a loser like you.”

And isn’t that exactly how the Enemy wants me to feel?  Like a failure.  Like a person who has reached her limits can’t be good enough to work for God.  

I succumb to that feeling, but only for moments.  Life continues and I must move out of my misery.  Ten minutes is about all I get.

In spite of my threats not to do anything, we are now late for coop. I rush to make 4 PB& J sandwiches and throw in some graham crackers and a special bag of chips. 

But I have a plan.  It’s devilish.  It’s brainy.  It’s fun.  I have no idea if it will make an impact on a 4 and 5-year-old, but my older girls will surely understand.  

The boys start whining that they are hungry.  I tell them I will feed them with the same enthusiasm that they helped me pick up everything.

Initially, the irony is lost on them.  They say they are hungry.  I say, “I don’t feel like feeding you right now.”  My two older girls catch on immediately and the three of us start eating in front of them. 

More whines, “Nanna, we are hungry.  Can we have a sandwich?”

I say calmly, “Nope. I really don’t want to feed you.”

“Naaannnna!  That’s not fair.  We are hungry.  Give us a sandwich,” they plead.

“My back hurts and I can’t reach you all the way in the back seat,” I proclaim.

We stop at a traffic light. I get my 9-year-old to pass back a tiny little bite of sandwich for each of them.  

I casually say, “I’m feeding you the same way you picked up for me. A little when I feel like it.”

The younger one throws the tiny bite down and shouts, “I want a BIG one.”

I start to speak and my 4-year-old interrupts me, “Naaana, I’m not talking to you.  I’m talking to my TQ.” He knows he’s lost the battle with me, so he turns to his big sister. 

She looks at me for confirmation and then says, “Hey buddy, I’m on mom’s team here.  I can’t help you.”

My 9-year-old retorts, “I’m with mom too.  And that wasn’t very smart. That’s all you are going to get now.”

This continues for about 15 minutes.  I use every excuse or complaint that they gave me when I asked for their help, mimicking their tones.  My 9 and 12-year-old girls are entertained.  

Finally, I ask, “How does it feel for me to make a bunch of excuses and refuse to feed you?”

The 5-year-old begins to catch on to the symbolism.  Meekly, he says, “I get it Nanna. I’m sorry for being mean to you.  I should have helped.”

Honestly, I thought the irony would be lost on him.  But he’s a smart kid. I give them each a sandwich. 

That was a high. And entertaining, in part, because my two older girls were playing along with me.

Somehow, the car conversation turns to his earlier statement that I’m not his mom. He begins to speak and starts to say, “My …m…,” but he stops himself to question whether this will be hurtful to me.

Recognizing his thoughts, I intervene, “It’s okay to call her mom. She is your mom.  She is my daughter.  I will never get upset because you call her mom.” Relieved, he finishes his thought, trying to figure out if he went home with his mom or with me from the hospital. 

Actually, it was both.  He rode in my car and his mom and dad were in a separate car.  The plan was for them to follow us to our home and for us to take the traditional “coming home” pictures for his scrapbook.  But, when I turned right out of the hospital, they turned left, and they never came.  I still don’t know why.   

Nonetheless, I have little credibility in the mom conversation, so I ask his 9-year-old sister to give it a shot.  She turns around in her seat and looks at him, “A mom is the person who raises you and takes care of you and disciplines you.  A mom feeds you and pays for things.  A mom is there for you.  Our mom is the one that gave birth to us.  But Nanna is the one who does everything a mom does.  When I was your age, I called her Nanna just like you.  But I don’t call her Nanna anymore.  I call her mom.”

That was a high moment.  And it was only 11:40 a.m. Only 11 more hours until I can go to sleep. 

To Be Continued…