This morning my seven-year-old intentionally knocked over his brother’s full cup of milk. Totally awesome, right?! I politely said to him, “You know where the paper towel is.” He then not so politely screamed at me, “You are a BEAST!” Seeing as we haven’t really been, um, shall we say bonding lately, and rather have been at absolute odds with each other, I immediately thought (okay, assumed) that he had just called me not a beast, but a b*tch.
“What did you just say to me?” I asked abruptly.
“You’re a beast! A beast, beast, beast! Just like the mom in Brave! You always make me pick up my messes! And besides, I didn’t knock the cup over. It fell over!”
Oh, oh was I ever tempted to reply with a sarcastic dinger or two given the current frustrating state of our relationship. But I didn’t. Thankfully the “more” mature side of my mind showed up and prevented me from saying, “Oh, cups just fall over, eh?” and “Really, that’s amazing because I swore I just saw your five fingers reach out and push the cup over and then saw your eyes twinkle when the milk poured all over your brother.” Seriously, it’s such a good thing those thoughts didn’t sneak out because they would have totally escalated the situation and that was the last thing I needed this morning.
Shoot, it is the last thing I need to happen at all right now with my oldest. We have already escalated our vicious cycle of driving each other nuts to the highest level of insanity. Everything I say, he complains about. Everything he does, I complain about. It is getting ugly folks, really ugly. The good news? I recognize that we are in a bad cycle and that soon I will be screaming my head off at him if I don’t get things under control. The other good news? After having been through several of these cycles I know that I have the power to put an end to this cycle simply by offering more love and less, well beastliness. I know from experience that often times when my son is acting pretty beastly himself that it isn’t because he intentionally wants to be a beast, it is because he wants me.
He wants my love.
He wants my attention.
He wants to see me more.
He wants me to listen with more focus and less distraction.
He wants me to understand whatever it is that is troubling him that he doesn’t understand.
He wants me to just stop harping on him and just start hugging him.
And that is where the bad news comes in; even though I know that my son wants (and needs and deserves) all of the above, even though I want to give him all of the above, and even though all of the above aren’t big or hard requests to fulfill, I have found it hard to do any of the above! Say what? I love my son; hugging him should be easy. I love my son; stopping and just talking with him and not to him should be easy. I love my son; laughing with him and enjoying his company should be easy. Yes, it should be easy but right now this particular cycle has been so challenging and his behavior has been so infuriating that I am finding it hard to get motivated to grow up! It sounds awful, but I have thought on more than one occasion lately, “Ugh, dude, I so don’t want to be kinder to you and more patient and all that jazz because you are driving me nutso!”
This fairly constant thought though is getting me, us, nowhere but to a worse place: he pisses me off so I piss him off so he pisses me off more so I piss him off more. It’s miserable! I am not happy with where our relationship is; it makes every day insanely longer and more difficult and well, more discouraging! I mean, who likes fighting and bickering? Who likes feeling like a bad parent? “Not I,” said this mom.
So, after another round of less than satisfactory exchanges at dinner, I decided that tonight was the night I had to try to put an end to this cycle. I got his younger three brothers into bed and headed towards his room. Now mind you, at this point, I was wiped, done, and so ready to go downstairs and claim “me-time.” I just wanted to clean up the kitchen, prepare for the next day and then plop in front of my computer to read all the latest gossip on People.com while sipping a, get this, HOT cup of decaf coffee without interruption. As much as I wanted to tuck my son in and give him a hug and kiss good night, I really didn’t want to make it a prolonged event tonight. I just wanted it to be sweet, loving and well, intentionally quick.
But tonight, I knew that if I wanted to put an end to all the beastliness between us, that if I wanted to get my son and me to a more connected and happy place that an intentionally quick bedtime wasn’t an option. Nope, the only option was an intentionally long bedtime. So I, a very tired and very much craving down time parent, fought all the “just go the f*** to sleep already thoughts” and intentionally chose to make bedtime longer tonight. I took a deep breath and walked into his room prepared to snuggle and talk with him until he fell asleep, whether that meant 15 minutes or 45 minutes.
As I cuddled up with my munchkin and smoothed his hair, he told me that, “Well, the truth is, to be totally honest, I am scared to tell Melissa that I love her.” He also told me that, “I am actually really starting to like math but I can’t stand writing and well, I love reading.” And upon my telling him I was sorry for being so beastly that day he told me, “It’s okay mom. I accept your apology. We all make mistakes. You know mom, you just need to be careful because, like, you know, once words are out they can’t be taken back.” That’s right sweet little orange rhino, that’s right.
I proudly kissed his forehead and as he started tossing and turning, trying to get comfy, I did the same. I felt entirely uncomfortable in that moment. It had hit me that in just a few minutes, I had learned so much about what was going on in his world that I had no clue about. I am not going to lie; it stung a bit. Okay, a lot. I couldn’t help but to think of all the other sweet thoughts and stories and moments I have missed lately because of our mutual beastliness towards each other and my inability to step up and get us to a better place. I couldn’t help but to feel ashamed and disappointed. And yet, I also felt hope and happiness.
Hope that tomorrow would be a better day after such a peaceful, relaxed and much overdue conversation and re-connection and happiness that tonight I chose an intentionally long bedtime! Tonight I didn’t once think about the dishes or celebrity gossip or having a few moments of silence. Nope. Instead I thought about how sweet my son’s face still looks at age seven. I thought about how adorable it was that he was afraid to profess his love for his crush. I thought about how much I love talking to him and listening to his stories and thoughts. I thought about how much I missed him, how much I loved him.
And most importantly, I thought about how I would intentionally try harder to be more connected and less beastly, because that isn’t just what we both crave, it is what we both need.