Yesterday something happened that forever changed how I see and react to my strong willed, off the wall, sensitive and often impossible to deal with child. It changed how I will interact with all of my children.
I was downstairs and heard my three year old and two year old run up stairs to play in their room. I heard them stop on the stairs and then I heard my two year old daughter screaming. It was pain screams. Scared screams. I was already on my way around the corner to the stairs when I heard my three year old son run off and hide.
My little girl was crying alligator tears and trying to tell me that ‘Wyatt did it’ through sobs and choking on slobber.
I guess it freaked me out. Seeing her on the stairs with her hair all messed up and snot and slobber and tears running everywhere. Knowing she could have been hurt badly by being pushed down the stairs. Her face triggered something in me and I snapped.
I ran as fast as an overweight pregnant woman in her third trimester can move. When I got to him he was already huddled on the floor terrified of my screaming his name. We don’t spank but I do have a tendency to yell when I’m freaked out and he is so sensitive it just takes one bark to put him in tears.
He was crying. Sobbing.
I didn’t take a moment. I didn’t count to ten. I didn’t breathe. I just thought of the story I had about him purposely hurting others just to get a reaction. I thought of his lack of empathy and his lack of caring when confronted with his actions. I saw him, this tiny huddled sobbing mess, as a threat to my other children, possibly even a threat to myself as a mother. I saw him as my failure and fear all rolled into this little rack of bones and spunk.
He looked up at me, terrified. My face must have been just horrible with all that boiling inside of me. I grabbed him by his fragile boney arms and stood him up on noodle legs. He faltered and I forcefully stood him up again.
By now he was blubbering. Snot and tears and sorrow gushed out of him. He looked pathetic. Not in the sense of someone you feel sorry for but pathetic like a beaten animal that has just given up. His spark, his weird quirkiness, gone. Just this tiny lanky lump of gut wrenching brokenness.
I looked at him for a millisecond before I began screaming,
“What did you do to her?! What did you do to her?! What did you do?!!!”
For a brief moment I was screaming at every single person that ever hurt me. I was screaming at my Step-dad, my mom, shithead bullies, my ex-husband…even my current husband. I was screaming at my past as I held the arms of this tiny precious boy that I grew in my womb and fed at my breast. I was hammering verbal fists on the chest of every vestige of pain and fear of being hurt or hurting others as my voice ripped through the heart of this vibrant perfect soul.
He gulped and tried valiantly to summon words. He croaked,
“I don’t know.”
Like every other person I was screaming at, he didn’t know what he did to hurt her. He did but he just couldn’t articulate it. Or maybe he didn’t because what he did didn’t seem like it would cause pain.
As his tiny voice cut through the veil that hid his perfection, my heart fell. I heard that voice with my ears but felt it in my being.
As I imagined all the things I could have done differently, all the ways I could have made this a peaceful experience, all the ways I could have avoided feeling like a fuckup I mustered,
“I think if you can take a breath and tell me what happened we can help Ellie feel better. I need to know how and where she got hurt.”
In that quick change of voice, the moment his mother was before him instead of some hateful monster, he changed. His slumped shoulders squared a little and his nose sniffed in and he wiped his tear streaked cheeks. He still stumbled through and gulped on the words but it was then that he could say what happened. In that suddenly safe place.
“I…I was… I was twying to hold her hands to get her to pway wif mmmme.”
My. Heart. Broke.
A million pieces of myself were crushed by a forceful wave of mom guilt and then washed out into the foam of shame. Floating, bobbing, pieces of my promises to be a better mom, be the best version of me, not ruin my babies… The weight of the wave choked me and I grabbed his little rag doll body and pulled him in so tight I thought he might break.
“I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so so so sorry.”
As I sobbed into the orange hair on his tiny head he wrapped his spaghetti arms around me. I just felt it all. Every side-eye, snappy response, arm grab, less than loving retort I gave him. I felt my story of him as this hurtful soulless being…I felt it all, climbing my throat and threatening to choke the rest of what I could call life from my heart.
His, now calm, articulate voice said,
“I’m sorry too mommy. I wanted to pway wif her but she didn’t understand me. I’m sorry too.”
At this time his sister came in and saw us hugging. She wrapped her arms around us and said she was sorry too. She apologized to her brother for screaming and not playing with him. He apologized for pulling her up the stairs by her hair and pulling on her hands. We hugged some more.
I followed them down stairs feeling defeated. Yet heartened at their love and empathy for each other. I sat in the living room in a daze. My heart actually hurt.
A few minutes later my three year old boy came in and said he was sorry again. I stopped him and said,
“Wyatt, I accept your apology and forgive you. I need you to know that I’m sorry too. Screaming and scaring you was bad manners of me and I’m sorry. I know I hurt your feelings and scared you. I’m sorry. You are a kind and gentle boy and I love you. You have good manners.”
He grabbed my hands and said,
“We both had bad manners mommy. I forgive you too. We just have to do better next time.”
And just like that, it was done.
Will he remember that moment later when he hears my thundering footsteps? Will he think he is less than worthy and cower because he thinks he’ll get screamed at? Will it be one of those things that lurks in the back of his development and manifests itself later in adult life?
Who knows. What I do know is that when I am angry with him I am actually angry at someone else that I don’t have the balls to confront. Someone or something in my past.
That’s the way of it. That’s the cycle. That is how these things proliferate. Am I perfect? No. Absolutely not. Do I want to be? Not really.
What I hope for and strive for is knowledge. I hope to know why I feel triggered by my daughters safety being challenged. I want to know why I feel triggered by the defiance in the face of a tiny person. Because, when I know why and where that ball of fury comes from I can confront it and move into a place of completion. A place of peace.
My son Wyatt has tested me today but in none of the interactions have I felt like he was less than love. The story I built about him was mine and he had no part in it. When I let that go I could clearly see how off it was.
I share this because I know there are mothers and fathers out their that fight their own stories and their own demons from the past. They fight them personified as their boss, co-worker, family member and even their children. I share this because describing my baby being yelled at by his mother may trigger in someone else the realization that they aren’t alone and that that little person being yelled at is part of your heart and soul but has nothing to do with the past pain you want to hurl daggers at.
I share out of humility and healing.