One breakdown at a time, please

By Mir
October 17, 2007

I don’t know what it’s like when you have more than a couple of kids (Chris?), but when you only have two, there is a very fine unwritten rule to which they instinctively adhere: Only one child can be in crisis at a time*.

*The exception to this rule is a direct confrontation between siblings, at which point it is permissible to both run screaming to your mother as if being chased by rabid wolverines, whereupon you will end up drawing equal consequences for squabbling over a pencil with such fervor.

Yesterday morning, Chickadee got up on the wrong side of the bed. The side of the bed from which she arose was located in Newark airport, I suspect, as that was the most unpleasant place I could envision within a reasonable radius. And the way she was acting, it was very easy to picture her having arisen in the airport on Christmas Eve, with her flight canceled, during a blizzard, trapped overnight with no luggage, and a large hairy man with body odor squished down next to her on the floor. THAT was more or less how she was acting.

And call me crazy, but that kind of behavior—the stomping, the tears, the screaming, the utter disdain for everyone around her—would’ve been perfectly understandable if we had been, you know, ACTUALLY TRAPPED IN NEWARK under all of those circumstances I just described. But given that it was, in fact, a beautiful morning here in Georgia with her loving family, I found her behavior a trifle overmuch.

What was bothering Chickadee? Well, I can’t be sure. It might have been the phase of the moon or global warming or the conflict in the Middle East. Or maybe she’s just a nine-and-a-half-year-old girl.

Throughout her histrionics over breakfast, Monkey continued to smile and chatter on to Otto and even hum a little bit (Chickadee: STOP! HUMMING!). “I am going to Leif’s house today!” he sighed, happily. (Chickadee: WHO CARES!)

Oh. Right.

See, Monkey had a playdate schedule for yesterday, and Chickadee did not. Phase of the moon notwithstanding (that lunar bitch), that may have been the problem.

So I pulled Chickadee aside before we left for school, and explained that Monkey being gone for a playdate meant that she and I would have the whole afternoon together to do something, just us. “Work on our puzzle?” she asked, brightening. When I explained that her behavior at breakfast had lost her the puzzle for the day (we are using the puzzle as a reward for good behavior, per her therapist), her face clouded again.

“Look, Chickie. I’m sorry we can’t work on the puzzle. That’s disappointing, I know. But I’m sure we can find something ELSE to do that’ll be fun, provided that you change your attitude. If you come home from school like THIS we’re not going to do ANYTHING. Think about how you want your day to go, okay?” She nodded and may have even grunted at me.

I dropped them both at school and Chickadee stomped into the building, while Monkey fairly skipped away.

The day passed, and in the afternoon Chickadee came dancing into the house. “I got a good note! IS A GOOD PERSON!” she crowed. (We have had many conversations about positive self-talk, which have somehow gotten mixed up with her affinity for LOLspeak, and now “Is a good person!” is her Stuart Smalley LOLcat-esque way of rallying herself. I… don’t know.) The teacher gives out a few “good notes” each day, and Chickadee was thrilled to have received one.

She was a totally different person than the sullen child who had left the house that morning.

(Note to self: Book Witness Protection Program for the teenage years.)

She threw herself into my lap and hugged me with abandon, and I congratulated her on turning her day around. “AND!” she added, “the teacher said I have been a GOOD ROLE MODEL lately!” I tried, really, I tried. I couldn’t help it, though. “WHY ARE YOU LAUGHING?” she demanded.

Then we had a conversation about how I sure would like to live with the kid who goes to her class, rather than this grumpy one who keeps turning up at home.

And then we spent some quality time together, just us girls, and it was lovely.

I took Chickadee to Tae Kwon Do and watched half her class, then left to go pick Monkey up from his playdate. Leif came running to the door as soon as I pulled into the driveway.

“Monkey fell,” he announced. “He’s really mad.”

I walked inside to find that Monkey had taken a tumble and reacted in typical Monkey fashion: He had screamed and yelled at everyone in the immediate vicinity and then melted into a puddle of tears. True, he had an impressive blue lump rising on his arm. And while I know that his particular set of sensory issues mean that an injury like that immediately overloads all of his circuits and makes him feel vulnerable and out of control, here is what you do not what to see upon arriving to pick up your child:

1) Child sitting on the floor in an angry heap;
2) Child’s friend hovering nearby, looking concerned;
3) Friend’s mother looking utterly perplexed;
4) Friend’s little sister hiding behind the mother, looking petrified of your child.

I gave Monkey’s arm a cursory examination and then fell to apologizing to his hosts. Monkey continued whining and grumbling while collecting up his things, and eventually we made it out to the car where I sincerely hoped the earth would open up and swallow us both. Monkey got buckled while I was finishing up saying goodbye to Leif’s mom, and he shouted out the window, “Hey Mom! When we were in the van coming over here, Leif and his mom were talking in a DIFFERENT LANGUAGE!”

The mom and I smiled at each other. “Yep, well, you know Leif and his family are from Iceland, honey. English isn’t their first language. And unlike us stupid Americans” (here I winked at the other mom) “they speak more than one language.” Ah, a moment of levity to end the afternoon. Okay, not a total loss.

“I AM NOT STUPID!!!!!” Monkey was enraged, and shrieked so loudly I’m sure they heard him all the way down the street.

Moment of levity over.

Return to apologetic state reinstated. I thanked the other family once again, perhaps with extra gratitude, knowing that the current display almost certainly meant Monkey would never be invited over again. I buckled in and waved as we drove away, trying not to cry.

I tried to explain to Monkey that I was making a joke but he kept up the righteous indignation all the way home.

Once back to the house, I told him he was to march inside and get out his homework and sit down at the kitchen table and complete it immediately. By this time, his anger had dissipated and he was remorseful; he could see I was upset and so was he. The fight had gone out of him and he seemed a lot smaller and younger than 7.

He dug in his bag and started to cry. “I forgot my folder,” he whimpered. “I actually AM stupid.”

I sighed and called a mom from his class for the assignment. No answer. I called another. She wanted to vent about something else, and while I tried to be a good listener I watched as Monkey grew more and more agitated, and when I finally got the spelling words and handed them to him, he sat at the table and yelled at me (I hadn’t given him a pencil, I’d given him the wrong pencil, he would never get it all done, I wrote the words on the WRONG PIECE OF PAPER BECAUSE I DON’T LOVE HIM) until I got off the phone.

I hung up the phone, put my face very close to his, and said, “I. Am. Done. You need to be quiet and do your homework now.” He set to work, glancing up every now and then doubtless to check that I wasn’t advancing on him with a roll of duct tape.

Otto and Chickadee came home and I filled Otto in while banging around the kitchen making dinner. Ever since last week’s incident Monkey has been… broken. I don’t know what’s wrong. He’ll be fine, sweet, angelic, and then he’s just overwhelmed and angry and I don’t know why. He can’t or won’t tell me. We are working with school to deal with things but oh, those wheels of bureaucracy turn slowly.

Dinner was interesting. Monkey grumped and Chickadee’s halo shined ever more brightly with each of his complaints.

Monkey: I didn’t want fish.
Chickadee: The fish is DELICIOUS, Mama!

Monkey: I didn’t MEAN to forget my homework.
Chickadee: Otto, did I tell you that I finished my homework that’s not even due until Friday?


This morning the children started squabbling before they even made it downstairs, and I called them both down to point out the obvious. “YOU,” I said, pointing at Chickadee, “Are not going to have puzzle time today if you can’t keep it together. And YOU,” I said, pointed at Monkey, “have used up ALL MY PATIENCE with yesterday’s nastiness. Let’s make today a better day, please. It is too early in the morning to have to eat you.”

I’d like to tell you that everything was dandy after that, but I did have to deliver a lecture or three on tattling and minding one’s own business, shortly thereafter.

And now I’m mostly just hoping that it’s my turn to be a pain in the ass this afternoon. I could use a good tantrum, I think.


  1. MomCat

    It’s totally your turn! Go for it! I recommend sitting on the floor of your closet, screaming. It worked for me before. The family gave me a wide berth for at least two days.

    Hoping things get better for you.

  2. janet

    i always loved how, with my oldest two, the one who WASN’T in trouble all of a sudden became the BEST LITTLE BOY IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD. that would pretty much insure that you only have one melting down at a time.

    enjoy your own tantrum today … you deserve one!

  3. Leandra

    I had mine yesterday morning when the step stool in teh bathroom got tangled up in my bedroom shoes. I ended up kicking the thing all the way down the hall. Which of course totally freaked my kids out, which was not my intention at all and I had to around apologizing to everybody and felt like crap for hours afterwards. But boy did it feel good to kick the living sh*t out of that thing.

    Go have a tantrum. Just don’t do it in front of the kids.

  4. Jessica @ A Bushel and a Peck

    Our morning yesterday was similar. My daughter woke up in a foul mood, cried about what clothes she had to wear, about what she wanted to eat, about her shoes. She is 3. Then she pushed her brother, who is 1, and I. LOST. IT. I hate starting the day that way. Today was a little better…but ugh…mornings are the pits lately. We have to come up with a new plan of attack for getting ready, or else I may lose my mind. A tantrum sounds good about now…I may just join you.

  5. All Adither

    It goes on and on like this?

    I thought everything turned shiny and sparkly once they turned five.

    Must go drink some extra rich hot cocoa.

  6. RuthWells

    Just reading about it was draining and exhausting — I can only imagine how it was to live it. Time for either a tantrum or lots of tequila, whichever works best for you.

  7. Laura

    WE had something similar happen with The Kid (he’s almost seven) at summer school. Altho’ he doesn’t have Monkey’s sensory issues, he was just acting wierd all the time, hysterical meltdowns, etc. Not to alarm you, but it turned out there was a serious culture of bullying going in in the classroom that the teacher was not dealing with at all. Is everything okay in his classroom? Could you do a little observing to make sure?

  8. Marissa

    I feel your pain…really I do. Gold stars and fabulous shoes for keeping it together in the car on the way home from the playdate. Nothing is worse than having your child have a complete meltdown in front of other children and parents.

    Have a good cry and scream in the basement or car or garage or shower all by yourself. You’ll feel better.

  9. Megan

    All Adither – oh baby it goes on and on. I have 3 – THREE is all – and so to the lovely mix of cheerful/horrible we add The Instigator. 9 days of 10 are totally fine but since one Child is “don’t touch me!” every morning, one is chirpy hummy and one vibrates rapidly between teenage hormonal AUGH!! and perfectly delightful that 10th day is a doozy. That’s why I leave for work so darn early because doggone it after years and years of this they’re finally old enough to dress, feed and launch themselves and I earned my peaceful if sort of sleepy morning.

    I hope you enjoy your tantrum Mir, and I highly recommend scattering literature around that scientifically proves that distressed mothers need lots of very good chocolate. And maybe wine. And perhaps some cheese…

  10. Mama Bear

    On a good note though, they must be off at school for the day, right? :) I have my Miss 9 home for today for teacher’s in-service of some kind. Several phone calls for play dates already have been taken, and I have had to say no to her, so I am an evil, heartless mother.

  11. Kellan

    Very very very funny – thanks for all the laughs (too early to eat you – ha!). See ya.

  12. Gwen

    You deserve it. You have my express permission to throw yourself on the floor and kick your feet and scream. You’ll feel better!

  13. Steff

    I feel so bad for Monkey, I actually have tears in my eyes. His intentions are so good.

  14. Aimee

    I remember basking in my own virtuousness when one of my sisters was in trouble.

    Poor Monkey. Have a nice tantrum while they’re at school today, and I’ll send some positive thoughts your way.

  15. Burgh Baby's Mom

    I’m going to mark this post down as Reason to Stop at One Child #193.

  16. Kimberly

    I have on occasion told Diva Girl to suck it up because it’s not her turn to have a tantrum.

    Yesterday was a DAY I think, because Diva Girl channelled Chickadee AND Monkey–practically begging me through words and deeds to take away the sleepover party she’s been begging to attend for a month.

    Monkey’s brokeness…I’m no expert, but school stopped being a safe place last week. School became the place where he lost control like never before. Beyond the fear and emotion that provoked him to go to that place, is the fear inherent in finding it within himself. Add to that the consequences of teacher disappointment, and I can see it being a hard place for him. I’m so sorry, and I blame the school for creating the situation (as a teacher, it takes a lot for me to blame the school.)

  17. Heather

    Sounds exhausting! I seriously don’t know how you manage it all, and so well!
    I’m sorry your Monkey got broken and I really hope he gets fixed again soon! *sends some sort of metaphoric banana to make him feel better*

  18. Tracey

    Oh dear. Sounds very familiar. Now my son is starting puberty and I think aliens stole his brain. Overnight. And won’t give it back. Just wait till the hormones get thrown into the mix! I’ll be thinking of ya!

  19. Lori

    Ahh, it’s nice to know we all go through it. This morning my eldest had legging and sock issues. I finally sent her to school without socks (gasp!) because NONE of her other socks were acceptable and/or clean. But I didn’t lose it – not even as they were both squabbling at me at the same time instead of GETTING IN THE CAR. But I did come home and eat brownies after I dropped them off. Mom wins!

  20. Karen Rani

    The light I thought I saw at the end of the tunnel suddenly got further away. I’m ready to lose it on a daily basis with these two. I’m taking note of any tactics you may offer though.

  21. Amy-Go

    The best idea you had was the duct tape. Use it on their mouths. Or your ears. Or both.

  22. Ani

    Time for mom-meltdowns. Let’s all go out for chocolate and margaritas.

    So sorry about Monkey, it’s hard enough to be the new kid, now to be the new kid who lost it and bit someone. Big hugs to both of you.

  23. ChristieNY

    Cheesey-beer bread. Comfort food, baby.

  24. carolyn

    and bacon

  25. Dawn

    Bacon SALT!

  26. Laura

    You’re in the South now. Have a nice Mint Julep. Or two. Perhaps with a side of bacon salt?

  27. paige

    Sigh. I’m sorry, Mir. I hope you got to have a tantrum today.

    I’ve got two boys in my kindergarten class with Monkey-sized sensory issues and today was very difficult for both of them. It broke my heart that there was only so much I could do for them. At least they both trust that I love them and that I’m trying the best I can to help. I thought about Monkey today and wondered how he was doing at school.

    The one breakdown at a time rule gets harder to enforce when they get to be teenagers, but the teens don’t talk very much, so tantrums get converted to eye-rolling and gusty sighs.

    Quite peaceful sometimes, actually.

  28. BOSSY

    Things change on a dime. Bossy’s mother used to quote Christopher Robin:

    “They lived in a Wood with a Kind Old Aunt,
    And one said “Yes’m” and the other said “Shan’t!”
    Good Bear learnt his Twice Times Four –
    But Bad Bear’s knicketies were terrible tore.

    And then quite suddenly (just like Us)
    One got Better and the other got Wuss.
    Good Bear muddled his Twice Times Three
    But Bad Bear coughed in his hand-ker-chee!

    Good Bear muddled his Twice Times Two-
    But Bad Bear’s thingummies looked like new.
    Good Bear muddled his Twice Times One –
    But Bad Bear never left his buttons undone!”

  29. barb

    Mir – believe it or not, I would have traded you mornings! My oldest (5 yrs) woke up coated in puke AND pee and tried to insist that it was the fault of our new kitten and refused to accept the disgusting mess had come from HIM. Tantrums ensued where he screamed and cried and tried to kick the kitty while I yelled and mopped and tried to remember why I wanted children in the first place.

  30. Meg

    Oh, Mir. I am feeling a mixture of emotions, which includes amusement at your kids, compassion for your kids, and LOTS of admiration for your calm parenting during a crisis.

    I have to admit I also feel a certain amount of guilty relief that it’s not just my kids & my family who go through these drive-you-f*cking-crazy times. If it still happens to you with the wonderful parenting of you & Otto, then when it happens to me it’s not always because of my crappy parenting!

  31. LuAnn

    If it’s not one kid, it’s another. :p

  32. amy

    I feel for you. I always think of that saying…you are only as happy as your saddest child. I wish I could say it gets easier, but that would be a lie. It gets more joyous but also much more complicated. Thanks for sharing.

  33. tori

    I have four kids. Yesterday, my 9 and a half year old daughter had a morning very similar to Chicakdees. My 3 year old son had an evening as you describe for Monkey too. Luckily my other two kids were fine all day. They are still sleeping, but hopefully they will all be happy today because I already know it is my turn. I am a little grumpy today because I am tired and have too much to do today!

    I hope you have a peaceful day today!

  34. Jenny

    I think you should eat the other loaf of bread.

  35. Paula

    Hope today goes better. Before I had kids, I surmised that children would have “good” days and “bad”. But I didn’t guess that they could be veritable roller coasters of good and bad within the same day — hell, the same hour!

    This post reminded me of our weekend trip to mini-golf:
    ZACH: I got a hole in one!
    SARAH: (sobbing) I’m not good at anything! I’m the worst!
    ZACH: Did I tell you about my hole in one?

  36. Hamiam

    ((hugs)) Mir…

    It’s the same at my house right now. I just wonder if sensory issues are exacerbated with seasonal changes, in addition to all the other situational stuff going on. I mean it has to – since my kids have not been playing outside in the evenings (too frigid) they have been minions from hell.

  37. Angel

    After this week–and really, no traumas, just the “two kids in school and 2 activities” kind of week–I am SO FREAKING GLAD I don’t have 3 kids.

    And so far ::knocking HARD on wood:: both haven’t gotten really sick at the same time. God loves me.

  38. Irene

    Crap – you mean it DOESN’T get better. I have 2 toddler boys (16 months apart) and lately I’ve wanted to run for the hills the moment one of them wakes up and comes downstairs.

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