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!)
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.