About a year ago, I rid the house of sippy cups, because sippy cups are a pain in the butt and I longed for the day when everybody drank their beverages all civilized-like, you know?
The problem with sippy cups was twofold: one, they need to be assembled and disassembled using rubber stoppers, which are prone to grow mold when left unwashed for more than, say, two days. Which was never done on purpose, people! It wasn’t me who taught my kids to throw used food products under their beds! And mold is hard to clean from tiny rubbery crevices.
Secondly, children tend to chew on the cup lips, so the plastic starts to chip, and before you know it the kids are consuming microscopic bits of plastic and you’re reading an article about how that will cause them to turn into toads. And Mama ain’t interested in raising no toads.
So I threw out the sippy cups, and the Pterodactyl announced that to protest the end of this era, he would stop drinking milk. Which he did.
I didn’t argue with him about it because I was more interested in forcefeeding him anything that would keep up his blood sugar so he wouldn’t bash another hole in his wall. Yeah, that’s right, I said another hole. He’s freakishly strong for a 6-year-old boy. Also – this seemed to be a battle of wills, and I thought that I should win.
But now that Dr. Dee has convinced us his problems stem from an attachment disorder, I’ve changed my perspective. Dr. Dee says we need to spend more time soothing him, reacting calmly to his tantrums and refraining from losing our tempers. What she really meant is me refraining from losing my temper, because I can be a hothead. I’m more prone to say things like, “OH MY GOD, THIS IS FUCKING UNBEARABLE!” I say it through clenched teeth so nobody understands the FUCKING part except Husband, who weirdly never hears anything else I say through clenched teeth. The UNBEARABLE behaviors I’m referring to include series of events such as this:
Boy: CARRY ME TO BED!
Husband: I’ll carry you.
Boy: NOOOOO! MAMA! MAMA! MAMA! I WANT YOU. I WANT YOU. I WANT YOU.
Me: Okay. I’ll carry you.
Boy: NOOOOOO! START OVER! DON’T WALK THAT WAY! PUT ME DOWN!
Me: No, we’re already almost to your bed.
Boy: NOOOOOO! NOOOOOO! I WON’T GO TO BED! PUT ME ON THE COUCH! I WANNA WATCH TV! I’M HUNGRY! CARRY ME LIKE A BABY!
Me: FOR GODSAKES, GET IT TOGETHER, SON!
See, I didn’t handle that well. Dr. Dee last week told Husband that it is my job to soothe the boy when he’s acting infantile, because that’s what the attachment disorder business is about – him needing to recover the baby snuggling time he missed while languishing in an orphanage. But she also said it’s Husband’s job to soothe me. “Why?” I asked. “Because I’m acting like a big fat baby, too?”
Pretty much, said Husband.
But really. Does the Pterodactyl HAVE to claim the swing on the left precisely when his sister sits down on it? MUST he be the only one who can hand me the remote control? Can’t his big sister roll ONE of the crescent rolls so they don’t ALL look like sharks?
I realize a lot of this sounds like normal kid shit. But at the risk of sounding self-absorbed, it’s different with my kid. Change isn’t just a disappointment to him; it’s like a complete fracturing of his world. Having dinner on the porch when he wants us to have dinner inside is like canceling a trip to Disney World and going to the dry cleaners instead – irreparably crushing. And when he is crushed – well, you might as well have pulled the head off a puppy before his very eyes. He is traumatized.
In fact, some aspects of attachment disorder are similar to post-traumatic stress disorder. That’s right – my little charges now consist of a 9-year-old perfectionist who thinks sleep marks are a sign that her legs are falling off, a 4-year-old daredevil who jumps out of trees headfirst, and a 6-year-old traumatized war veteran.
So my job now includes soothing my oft-ruffled son with hugs and calm reassurance. When he tells me to pack my bags and leave the house THIS INSTANCE, I must try to hold him in my arms and whisper that I love him, and say, “Shhhh, shhhh, Mommy’s here, I’m not going anywhwere,” and when he screams that I AM THE WORST MOTHER, I must gently tell him that I’ll sit with him as long as it takes for him to calm down. Sometimes I try to distract him; once I started fake-crying in his face, which made him laugh, and another time I used his Mexican marionette to start a conversation about how he was feeling.
Previously, I would raise my voice and refuse to interact with him for as long as he remained out of control. That always ended badly – a favorite drawing ripped to pieces, a lot of door-banging, the aforementioned hole in the wall. But Dr. Dee explained that he was acting out because he needed me to soothe him – and by ignoring him, I was further detaching from him, and exacerbating his need.
Crazycakes, right? But listen. Last week at the grocery store, I picked up a couple of sippy cups. When I got home, I showed him what I had bought, and he was so excited he asked for some milk in it right away. Hot Firefighter Husband pulled his son into his lap, and cuddled him like a baby while he drank his milk. And I can’t really describe what happened next – but these five minutes infused our boy with an energy, or a lightness, that I had not seen in his face for days. He laughed all afternoon and played with his sister; he cooperated with bedtime routines. He happily went to bed on time.
We have a long road ahead of us, I know. I still find myself tacitly reciting, like a mantra, “SHUT THE FUCK UP. SHUT THE FUCK UP.” But this has been a little breakthrough. I have a small tool in my parenting arsenal that can help me occasionally grease a squeaky wheel.
And the plastic bits? On second thought, they’ll probably pass right through him, just like they pass through the dog. If the worst occurs, I guess I could raise a toad.