It’s Not All Hearts and Flowers

Last week was rough for me and Claire. She had a slight cold, and she simply would not nap. I’d rock her, she was clearly tired, but no sleep came. By dinnertime each day she was strung out and whiny, and I was on edge. I was not ready to give up her nap, dammit! I resisted with all my mental might. And inevitably, her lack of nap and subsequent crankiness and my exasperation combined badly.

On Friday, for the first time ever, I hit Claire. I was feeding her rice (she’d asked to sit on the counter). I asked her to stop squishing the loaf of bread once, twice, and then I moved it out of her reach. She struck at me, knocking the bowl of rice from my hand, and without thinking I smacked her knee hard. She was wearing a skirt.

And the awful bit is, I wasn’t sorry the instant after. I was just angry. She was wide-eyed, shocked, screaming and sobbing, choking on her mouthful of rice, snot running everywhere. And I told her I was really angry, and that I’d HAD it with her hitting. (She’s doing it more, and she’s bigger, so it makes an impact.)

Then as soon as those words came out of my mouth, I said, “I’m sorry. I should not have done that. We don’t hit, and that means I don’t hit.” Then I hugged her, and she clung to me. And she said she was sorry. We calmed down, she ate some more. She spent the evening talking about it, about how she knocked the bowl and hit me and I swatted her. How she was sorry she did that. And I? I spent the evening quivering at my actions, feeling guilty, wondering how it had come to this and how to avoid a repeat offense.

The thing is, two days prior to that I almost lost control with her trying to get her down for a nap. She started kicking and hitting after we’d had a long, quiet, lullaby-filled rocking session. I was so angry I wanted to throw her to the floor. Instead, as I was holding her I roared horribly in her face — an animal sound, shocking myself as well — put her in the crib (roughly), tossed her blanket at her and stepped away. I was nearly beside myself. I certainly terrified her. She instantly stood up screaming and crying, reaching for me, saying “Doe a deer, doe a deer” over and over. (That’s the song from the Sound of Music that I sing to her.) I went right to her and scooped her up, said I was sorry over and over, went back to the rocker and sang the song for long minutes. We clung to each other. We calmed down. And then we went downstairs, giving up on the nap.

It’s scary to be a parent sometimes. It’s hard.

I talked with Husband about this. I came to realize that I’m really uptight about our impending move, about feeling no control, feeling daunted, and that I really need to get a grip — or at least to let go of my desire to orchestrate. I know this. But sometimes I slip out of awareness and wind up heading straight to a hell of my own making. The way out is to take deep breaths, and focus on what needs doing right now, this moment. I’m steady again.

Yesterday and today I put Claire down MUCH later for a nap, and each time she went down swiftly and deeply. Ah, so that’s the change we might need for now! (In addition to my return to reality.)

This morning she initiated a game of running away from me to the other side of the room, then telling me “Mommy cry.” So I wailed and bawled and boo-hooed, and she came running to me, throwing herself in my arms and hugging with all her might, kissing my lips, telling me she loves me, she likes me, that she came back. Repeat. After about ten minutes of this, she switched and said, “Mommy be angry.” So I ranted and huffed, said “I’m so mad!”; she repeated the same charge toward me into my arms, covering my face with kisses. This went on for many minutes too. She finally decided to end it by saying, “Let’s read a book together so you won’t be so upset.” And so we did. (She picked The Lorax, of all things!)

So now, good readers, you know that it’s not always about craft projects and shaving cream and goofiness. I was sufficiently unsettled by my behavior. I contacted two wise women about this, and they affirmed what I already know: keep aware, step back, take a deep breath, walk away if need be. Don’t set up the expectation to never ever do that again, because that’s a sure path to failure. Just make amends, and do my best, which is usually pretty good.

Love this girl.

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8 Comments on “It’s Not All Hearts and Flowers”

  1. Jacqueline Miller Says:

    It is tough when we don’t get time to step away very often. I know the feeling. I find it hard sometimes when Liam isn’t sleeping well and Stephen has to be on the road for work, and it’s just me. Liam is hitting us really hard these days and we find ourselves with the same challenge. We read a great book titled “123 Magic” and have implemented it with Liam. It has been great!!! He still tends to hit because he has a hard time verbalizing to us his emmotions, but we see definite improvement in ourselves that transcends to him. I know I definately have the ability to stay more calm during those rough moments. Keep your head up, your a great Mom and it shows in Claire. We all have moments because we are human. 🙂

  2. Kathy Says:

    Even though I only have a 9 month old I get it.. I have “tapped” Jackie’s leg a bit harder than usual a few times due to her squirming around on the changing table, etc. It is hard at times.. but what I love about what you shared is that you said I’M SORRY. I never, and I mean, never heard my parents say I’m sorry to me.. they may have, but I highly doubt it. I believe they thought, and think, that the adult does not have to apologize, but we are all human beings and do and say dumb things we wish we could take back. You did a great job and are giving Claire the space to act out and work out her feelings of love no matter what.. you gave her the POWER to use love to remove sadness and anger (even if it was play). So, so cool!

  3. Kathy in San Jose Says:

    Yes, it’s definitely hard to be a parent! There were a few times when I had to give myself a timeout (or my husband gave me one). Claire is finding out that she’s an individual, that her actions can precipitate reactions in others. Good for you for using your actions as a teaching tool for both you and her! Fair warning – she will find every way possible to push your buttons as she grows up; it’s her job as a child. It’s your job as her parent to show her how to handle her emotions appropriately, and I think you’re doing fantastically!

  4. acm Says:

    Man, it’s those struggles over little things. There have been times during a diaper change when I had to go into another room, because the kicking and the resisting and the begging to play instead just put me over the moon. There was once some time back (during Speck’s preverbal era) when I leaned down into her face and just yelled STOP, but the look of terror and the increased crying made me feel the ridiculous unhelpfulness of that almost immediately. I didn’t feel less frustrated, but I did feel more sympathetic to her irrational little headspace. sigh.

    Even the sweetest kids are just plain hard, and it doesn’t take much — a little parental insomnia, a few toddler sniffles, or some other life stressor– to unbalance the whole cart and make things seem unbearable. Sometimes baby needs clear rules (we get an automatic time-out for hitting, no matter what activity we were in the middle of!) and sometimes Mommy needs to close a gate and sit in a quiet room for 5 minutes… Both are in that broad category of Whatever Gets You All Through. The sun will shine again.

  5. Tracy Valerio Says:

    Kathryn, I’m inspired by your honesty. You are a brave woman – and a great mommy.

  6. Jan Says:

    You did good.

  7. arulba Says:

    I so appreciate this post.

    My son is 18. I hit him once when he was maybe two? A quick, but startling slap on the leg. I was absolutely horrified with myself. That was the last time that happened. But there has been the occasional harsh word or inappropriate response I wish I could do-over.

    When the kids are young, we want to be so perfect. But our kids have an amazing way of making us take a close look at our imperfections and egoic attachments and it goes on for years! Definitely not easy, but wonderful all the same.

    I love that your daughter felt safe playing back through the event and offered kisses in response. What a wonderful little Zen Master you have!

  8. Kathryn Says:

    Thank you all for your responses. Your compassion and understanding mean so much.