I never find the new year that powerful—I think because I teach, and my mind runs on the school calendar, I think of the “new year” as beginning in September. For me, Christmas is a little blip in the middle of the year and the fact that the calendar flips from 2014 to 2015 doesn’t mean much beyond reminding me that I have to start dating my checks differently. (An aside: my wonderful cousin Lauren cracked me up around New Year’s, 1984, by saying, “Geez, I’m still writing 1982 on my papers….”) I think I made a resolution in December, but honestly, I can’t remember what it was, and I’m not worrying too much about it, since I’m still working on my resolutions from September. See what I mean?
But I did this sneaky thing, where I made resolutions for L, who is five, which really isn’t fair but I did it anyway. Actually I can only remember one resolution, which was: to make sure he brushes his teeth every day before leaving for school in the morning, since we have fallen off seriously on that task. And then I made some comment the other day, like, “Another resolution for you could be—” wherein he cut me off by yelling, “That’s too many revolutions!” and absolutely freaking out.
Oh, the irony. L is definitely in a revolution sort of phase. He got Legos for Christmas, big, shiny, ridiculous displays of Legos that I (somewhat regretfully, now) sanctioned, and who wants to go to school when there are Legos to build? And so we found ourselves, this morning, in a battle with a tear-stained five year old who just wanted five more minutes to putter with his Legends of Chima creatures and talk to himself and whisper and have them whack each other with their fantasy-weapons (which in my head I believe are less awful than representations of real weapons, e.g. guns, but maybe I kid myself) when it was really
I can’t remember a morning as bad as this one; all three of us ended up in the bathroom, me wielding the toothbrush (that fucking resolution) while L shouted about how it was my fault and I took all his time away and I always ruin everything and I always take his time away and M trying to patiently explain that Mama doesn’t control the time, it just passes by, and school was starting and etc. etc.
And then I walked L to school and on the way realized that he was absolutely wrung out with grief, his face like a sheet, blotchy from crying, devastated, exhausted. It was so saddening for me, to see him so utterly defeated, and me defeated, too. Last night was a similar battle, over dinner; I can’t even remember how it started, but it ended with that same dynamic of L blaming me for something going wrong in his life, for being hungry, for Dada not being home yet, and my patient requests for him to help get dinner ready faster by setting the table were met with shrieks and cries and refusals and just…ugliness. And then we sat down to dinner and L lectured me about how I thought what was going on between us was his fault, but actually—”Actually, Mama, it’s your fault. Really.” (This line delivered with dead serious calm, almost funny; funny now, at least.) So by the time M did walk in the door, I was speechless and done, L was a wreck, all (horrible) current events were irrelevant, and M’s bad day went completely unnoticed by everyone because we had major domestic issues happening instead.
I think because I’m on vacation this month, I’ve had a little greater access to patience and clarity than I usually do (though I admit to having lost it a couple of times during the last 24 hours). And when I am patient I can kind of see L’s behavior in a clearer light. I have realized—and it makes me no end of sad, though maybe it should not—that I have an extremely emotionally complex kid. My kid is the one whom other parents think is so easy; he’s a delight at school, he follows the rules, he doesn’t generally hit other kids or bully or anything like that. But what he does do is save up all his bad feelings and dump them on his father and me. And lately, since Kindergarten started, I think, there seems to be no end to the bad feelings. He complains about everything; he says no to everything. Everything is a battle: exercise, school, TV, Legos, snacks. I have realized that even if I walk into the day with a huge reserve of patience and goodwill—a phenom that happens, what? Once or twice a week at best?—by bedtime it has been slowly drained out of me. I realized this yesterday, actually: we were in line at the coffee shop, enjoying each other, after school. L wanted an agua fresca watermelon juice; then he asked for a baked treat. I told him to choose one or the other. He chose both. I told him to choose one. He chose both. I told him to choose one. He chose both. I threatened to walk out unless he chose; he chose both. I nearly walked out. At the last second, he chose juice.
Picture me like an hourglass, the sand rushing out. It is these tiny moments that drain me.
I talked to him about this, later. I explained that his “pushing”—this is what we call it—was draining my patience, that I needed more help from him, less pushing. That I needed better listening. That I would try harder, but I needed him to try harder, too. He promised; he always does. But he’s five. Ten minutes later, he’s pushing again.
And so I will come to my own resolution/revolution: clearly, I need to take the high road, here. To be the bigger person, to be the adult. Resolved to stop taking L’s blame personally. Resolved to do what I can to stem the sand from flowing out. To find that extra tiny piece of patience even when I think it’s all gone. To not tell myself anymore that we’re doing a bad job because L is difficult. To stay strong with M. There’s no one else I’d rather parent with, and that’s something.