Oh, there’s so much else I’d rather talk about. Like how we’re having company for dinner tonight, which I love, because it means I get to show off my dining room (but I’m TOTALLY SUBTLE about it, you know, just saying offhand things like “Tell me the plaster is pretty or I’ll cry”) and also that I get to experiment with new recipes.
Sure, I could do new recipes just for my family. And I DO, sometimes. But on a Monday I’m not terribly likely to start planning dinner at 9:00 in the morning unless we’re having company. SUE ME. Nevertheless: Maple-lime glazed salmon! Basil-lime sorbet! Let’s pretend this weekend never happened! WHO WANTS SECONDS?
And I struggled with this, because I have no desire to impugn my kids when I relate stories about them. But this was A Very Big Deal and I suspect a landmark event for our family, so I’m going to go ahead and lay it out and put some extra money in the therapy fund.
The plan was simple: On Friday we would drive the couple of hours to Augusta, trot around the city a bit, stay in a nice hotel, and then get up early on Saturday morning and take the kids to Fort Discovery.
It wasn’t an elaborate plan. It wasn’t meant to be a huge vacation. But it would’ve been the ONLY vacation we’ve taken with the kids this summer. Thanks to the crack-addled summer schedule granted us by the judge, we made a conscious decision not to do a “real” vacation with the kids this summer; they were on the go so much, as it was, that we wanted their time at home to just be relaxing. Nevertheless, we DID want the chance to make a few fun family memories before school starts up again next week.
We headed out Friday around lunchtime, saying we’d stop for lunch, first, and then hit the road. A restaurant was selected and we were on our way…
… except that the chosen restaurant was absolutely mobbed. Nowhere to park, people out the door. We (and by “we” I mean “Otto and I, the adults in this scenario”) decided to go elsewhere. And that’s when it started.
Chickadee did not WANT to go elsewhere. She wanted to go to the restaurant where we’d have to wait forever. She was not shy about making her displeasure known, either. (I know, you’re shocked.) She complained loudly and got her huff on and was informed that she needed to pull herself together by the end of lunch or we would simply go home. Then we ignored her until she pulled it together.
We finished lunch and drove to Augusta.
We checked in to the hotel and then spent some time strolling along the Riverwalk. It was a beautiful day. We passed a fountain where I encouraged the kids to go ahead and get drenched (hey, it was about 93 degrees out), and that bought us some more time to explore without too many complaints. Although there were, of course, ample complaints. And some pouting. And stomping. And what was I saying about not too many complaints? I totally lied about that.
The next problem came when it was time to eat dinner. Perhaps we waited too long and walked too far—I don’t know—but both kids were tired and cranky and not very interested in wandering around looking for a suitable restaurant. So we basically walked into the first place that looked like it had a kids’ menu, and the food was decidedly sub-par. We were willing to deal with that, but Chickadee was aggrieved again. This wasn’t where she wanted to eat. They didn’t have what she wanted, and she made it clear that she was ordering something just to MAKE ME HAPPY (let me tell you, the way she handled it truly filled me with sparkly rainbows and butterflies, for sure). Her food came and she poked at it and barely ate, complaining all the while.
We considered getting dessert—which perked her up considerably—and then when neither kid ate very much, decided against it. We talked about maybe finding dessert elsewhere, but we weren’t ten paces out of the restaurant when my darling daughter was complaining again, so we decided everyone was tired and we should head back to the hotel.
Once there, we perused the television’s movie menu and decided we’d go ahead and order The Spiderwick Chronicles for a bit of evening viewing. The kids got into their jammies and we all lounged on the beds and enjoyed the movie. I was starting to feel really good about our decision to persevere with the day—surely Chickie was just tired and would, after a good night’s sleep, be ready to have a great time the next day at Fort Discovery.
Yeah, that fantasy lasted about five minutes.
After the movie it was time to brush teeth and get ready for bed, and the bickering began. Whatever Monkey did or wherever he was, it was offensive to his sister. And when I tried to take a pillow off of “her” bed to ready Monkey’s pull-out cot, she went—in a word—positively apeshit.
“THAT’S MY PILLOW! GIVE IT BACK!” I tried gently explaining that her brother would need a pillow for his bed, too. “TAKE ONE OFF OF THE OTHER BED, THEN!” she screamed. I pointed out that the other bed—which also had two pillows—would be hosting TWO PEOPLE (me and Otto), whereas she was only ONE PERSON and only needed ONE PILLOW. “NO ONE CARES ABOUT MEEEEEEE!” she wailed.
It was right about there that I lost it. We had spent the entire day trying to placate her. Really, if we’re going to be completely honest, here, Chickadee often gets a lot more attention than Monkey does, ALL THE TIME, because she is “higher needs” in that way. And while it usually feels like the right thing to do, as I watched my ten-year-old throw a fit the likes of which would trump any toddler tantrum, hands down, I realized that in “cutting her some slack” because things have been difficult lately and she’s very prone to emotional lability had done her no favors whatsoever. What we had intended as compassionate understanding for the challenging circumstances of her life, right now, had somehow translated into her complete inability to deal with not having it her way, right away, all the time.
I told her that her best bet for getting out of the hole she was digging was to go say goodnight to Otto and go straight to sleep and get up in a better mood in the morning. That she had been mouthy and bratty and ungrateful all day and I’d had enough. She flounced into the next room to say goodnight to Otto.
Otto said something to her that sent her flying back into the bedroom to fling herself face-down on the bed. (I found out later that he also admonished her behavior and told her he didn’t really feel like hugging her right now, but that maybe in the morning things would be better.) When I tried to rouse her to say goodnight to me, she refused to budge, so I left the room.
At which point she began to SHRIEK.
And then the gauntlet was throw down: She was told that she had one last chance to get herself together and quietly go to sleep, or we’d pack up and head home. It was about 9:15, by that time. Monkey crouched in the corner of his bed, pillow over his head, muttering about how he really wanted to go to sleep.
She didn’t stop, and Otto and I started packing up. 10 minutes later we were back in the car, on our way home. The entire ten minutes, Chickadee gulped and wailed “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’ll be good! I promise! I’LL BE GOOD!”
I held it together until Monkey very quietly said, “I was really looking forward to this.” I apologized to him, reiterated that this was not his fault, and that I was terribly sorry his trip was being ruined. I told him we would return and he would get his trip to Fort Discovery. And then I burst into tears.
That was when Chickadee came out of whatever spoiled princess-pants tizzy she’d worked herself into, and she patted my shoulder from the seat behind mine in the car and wailed, “Don’t cry Mama, don’t cry! Please don’t cry!”
In other words, that was her lightbulb moment that OH YEAH, her actions have consequences to OTHER PEOPLE. How she managed to get to age 10 without knowing that, I’m not really sure.
We arrived home around 11:00 and I carried Monkey up to bed. We ignored Chickadee completely and she put herself to bed.
The next morning we had an emergency family meeting. We talked about how we hope that we never have to do such a thing again, but that we will not hesitate to do so if it becomes necessary. That we take the blame for having indulged some bad behavior, in the past, but those days are over, now. We also told them we’d been considering a bigger trip this fall that we are now not going to take.
We told Monkey he’ll get a trip to Fort Discovery next week, just him and Otto. I will stay home and work, and Chickadee will spend that day in her room.
Then we dismissed Monkey and just talked to Chickadee. We had her turn over her saved allowance to help pay for the hotel room we didn’t use. It wasn’t enough to pay for it, but it was almost all the money she had. We talked about how it’s okay to feel things, and we can’t control how we feel, but we CAN control how we act. (And if I had a nickel for every time I have THAT conversation with her, I’d be rich. Here’s hoping that in the wake of this disaster she actually HEARD it.) We told her that she’ll be doing extra chores for a while. She was quiet and agreeable.
I looked her in the eye and said, “I don’t know what happened to you last night, but here’s what I do know: Something broke, last night. Something between you and me broke. And I don’t know yet how we’re going to fix it.”
Her eyes filled up with tears and I wanted to take it back; I wanted to say “I know that this is how you deal with stress, I know that circumstances beyond your control make you lash out and push everyone away because you need to test us, over and over, because deep down you fear you’re not lovable. I know you didn’t mean to ruin everything. I know you need me to tell you I’m always in your corner no matter what, and I know we’ll get through this.” But I didn’t say a word. I was afraid of what might come out of my mouth if I tried.
That night as I sat on the edge of her bed, she said, “I feel so ashamed. I never felt this before. I DON’T LIKE IT!” And I told her that I was sorry she didn’t feel good, but sometimes negative feelings help us to change our behavior. I kissed her and hugged her and told her I love her always, and then I went back downstairs and cried some more.
The rest of the weekend was passed quietly. Monkey went geocaching with Otto and grocery shopping with me and generally got a lot of parental attention while Chickadee did extra chores. She didn’t complain.
I want to believe this will be the event that gets burned into our memories as the Last Straw Before It Got Better. I know we made the right choice, coming home. I know this is that tough love thing where it’s awful and hard but necessary and correct. I know all of that.
But I also know that something here is broken so badly that I fear it will never mend.