The past two months have been a blur. In one respect, they can be described as a struggle. If I flip this way of thinking, however, the two months have been filled with teaching moments. I’ve been relatively absent from this blog. At one point, I wrote this post: Finding Forgiveness in Parenting, which will give you an inkling of how many of my moments have been filled. For two months I’ve been drowning in a sea of temper tantrums, kicking, hitting, spitting and other tyrannical behavior from my four-year-old—while also trying my hardest to be present for my 11-year-old’s important events: soccer tournaments, violin concerts, open house, graduation, etc. (School ends in Calif. in late June!) As the child of a single mom whose dad is in Europe, I constantly worry about how hard it is for my older son to go to all of these events: soccer weekend tournaments, graduation, open house nights at school, concerts, etc. where he is usually the only child without a dad present. I worry.
All the time.
But, of course, that worrying doesn’t do anything effective. At the same time, his little brother is behaving badly.
He seems to take out his aggression, however, only on me. So, while I’m trying to cheer on his big brother at a soccer game, or even during his graduation ceremony, there is screaming. “No!” Or his new favorite: “I hate You!” Or, his most effective tactic: he just starts kicking and hitting me with the occasional hair pull or spit in the face. I tend to leave wherever we are with the little brother, put him in time out—sometimes holding down his arms and legs when necessary to make him stay in time out. Some days I also take away the ice cream, or the playdate or the fun later in the day, etc. Meanwhile, the big brother doesn’t get any attention during his big moments. How many violin concerts have I left before his solo? How many times did I have to leave the soccer field before he made a goal or assisted with a goal? How embarrassing was it during graduation to hear his little brother scream? Clearly, garnering attention—any kind of attention—is exactly what the little brother wants. I’d love to leave him at home every time there is a big event. But I can’t always do that, as I can’t always afford the sitter costs for the many events I’d need them for.
Sometimes I just get defeated. Managing these two boys, as well as my burgeoning book and freelance writing, is about all I can do. And I don’t always do that well. Just this week, I took a break from a very important relationship. I need to right now. I barely have energy every day to tread water. And, it doesn’t help that my little guy doesn’t fall asleep until 10 p.m. every night as he’s filled with kinetic energy. (No he doesn’t get sugar or juice after 5p.m. … This is just his anxious, nervous energy state of being.)
So, it would be very easy for me to be filled with pity or exhaustion or just bitterness. It would be very easy to get jealous of the married couples, or divorced, but still in the same town, parents who can “divide and conquer”. You know, the mom who can take Johnny to soccer, while the dad takes Lilly to ballet. Kids sometimes need individualized attention. Mine certainly do. Clearly, my youngest will demand attention via a gut-wrenchingly loud decibel or with an equally painful kick, hit, bite, punch or thrown object. It’s not okay. I will stop it. But in the meantime, I’ve decided to accept and embrace this life. It’s just the way it is and I have to find ways to still have fun with my little guy and keep him from demanding all the attention from his big brother’s big moments.
I have worked with many people and teachers to create charts for good behavior with fun rewards. I’ve also come up with consistent discipline tactics. Nothing is working really well with the dynamic that currently is: both needing my attention now.
So, I’ve decided, to just divide an conquer as a single mom. Which is trickier than it seems—but I am becoming adept at finding ways to do this. While I don’t have any family here in California, I do have great friends, a good daycare and a wonderful babysitter. While it’s not always ideal, I am finding ways to make it work. The older son is often away for playdates and when he is, I find time to focus on my little guy. When we go to the park or the beach, he becomes a very different little boy. He thrives. He is sweet. He is loving.
When he is at daycare, I have fun with my older son. I relish our talks and I’m so lucky we are close and he trusts me.
When we are all together and the little guy is screaming or throwing items in a restaurant or anywhere else, I try my hardest to stay calm and take him out. He doesn’t get desert. Yesterday, after multiple temper tantrums, I sent him to his daycare. I was trying to have a fun, family day. It didn’t work, so off he went. It’s a small daycare where he has 3 very good friends. Plus, he is an angel there. (His tyranny is only directed at me.) But since he was kicking and hitting me, he didn’t get to go out for ice cream with me and his big brother. Sounds a bit sad, but last week the little guy picked up a broom and tried to hit me over the head with it. NOT OKAY.
We will survive all of this. And I refuse to give up on this little guy. And somehow, I’m managing to stay calm, and to still focus on writing my book for an hour or two almost every day. This journey is a hard one, but it’s forcing me to become a better person. I’m finding that even when I’m at my limit, I can push through with kindness, while still being strong. It’s amazing to me that I am grateful for this life. Isn’t that bizarre? I am so grateful to be these boys mom and I will find a way to make it work. Right now, it’s taking some personal sacrifices, but I have to. And you know what? In between the crazy tantrums and the exhaustion, I have plenty of silly moments to be grateful for. Yesterday, after a lengthy time out, I picked up my little guy and went to the pool. While he made a ‘cake for mommy’ out of pool toys, he screamed: “I LOVE YOU!!”
And I thought, “Ok. We are getting there,” as I tickled him.
Here’s hoping the summer will be strewn with small moments of silliness and peace.