Once during a phone consult I described some of the insane behavioral chaos that occurs at our house and the caller said something like: Oh my gosh, in a weird way that's nice to hear. When I read your blog I thought that you just had easy kids. Yesterday those words came back to me and I thought: Easy? Ahem. I don't think so. In fact if I had a phone consult yesterday in which some kind mama was asking me what to do about a child that is constantly hitting and stirring up shit I would have had to say: I have no fucking clue. Stuck in the middle of said description all day yesterday I was reminded, again, how we are all just in this thing. This thing called parenting and we have techniques and perspectives and theories and we also have kids who might scream at each other from morning til night.
I don't usually talk about the trickier parts of my kids' moods because if I am writing a post it's usually because we have handled those moods well and our handling of it is taking up more of my mind space than the actual mood. Also, I am a firm believer of the whole watering concept. What you water grows. So if I spend a great deal of time describing to myself and others the myriad ways in which my kids bother me, then I am going to experience more and more of that.
It's not exactly an ignoring that I advocate in this area but more a soft focus. You deal with the moods and the hitting and the screaming but you don't make it your hobby. You don't make it the headline of your conversation. It isn't easy. When Nathan comes home and says Hello beautiful family! How are you? It takes a fair bit of tongue biting, some intentionality to keep my comments relevant to the current, and usually fairly content, moment instead of hitting him with a highlight-reel of lameness. I might get empathy if I describe the eye-rolling nuttiness, but I can get that with a hug and no words. What the highlight-reel is more likely to create is a negative filter for him. I am handing him a perspective of his children that he won't be able to help himself from using, and when the next outburst occurs he won't be seeing it as an unfortunate blip on an otherwise happy screen, but yet another in a long day of lameness. It's more helpful to him, and us really, for him to have a blank slate. He then is able to respond to awesome children having a momentary bit of trouble rather than to chronic troublemakers and all the flack that comes with that perspective.
And my lack of description allows me to clear my slate as well. It sucked earlier, but now it's a new moment with new possibility, let me describe this moment instead.
But just so you believe me, let me give you a rapid run-down. Echo has been hitting Xi a lot. Her temper has been rising at lightning speed and there is screaming involved that pierces the ears. She flails. She has been intentionally destroying things Xi has been working on. Xi in response has been "defending" herself, which really is a thinly veiled counter-attack of equally painful measures. Both kids end up screaming bloody murder and I'm not kidding. It's the kind of screaming that leads you to believe that someone has lost a finger. The kind of screaming where you think to yourself Oh my god! SOMETHING HAS TO STOP THIS! And then Echo refuses to answer questions or talk things through and Xi shuts down and gives cryptic unhelpful answers.
So there. I did what I said we shouldn't do. The highlight-reel.
But, as attention grabbing as that highlight-reel is, there have also been large amounts of time where the girls simply play. To my great surprise they don't hate each other after these episodes and before I know it I hear Xi say: Echo do you want to help me color this? and Echo, equally surprising, says: Sure! If I'm going to be fair, I have to calculate that the arguing totals about forty-five minutes. The play and peace? Well the day is certainly longer than forty five minutes. Time is funny though, a few minutes of screaming last way longer than a few minutes of play. Way. Those minutes also harm my soul, hurt my heart, and rattle my innards. I am affected so greatly by them it's no wonder they are what I want to talk about when Nathan gets home.
But I didn't. (Back patting here.)
In the moments of actual fighting I didn't really excel. Each time when the scenario arose I tried my best (empathy, information, holding, patting) and then it would repeat itself exactly a few minutes later. I started to feel crazy and I also started to think that since nothing was working I would do nothing! I forgot that was an option. I used to think that if a parent didn't pounce right away and shout a command or consequence like you would with a dog ( Henry! Drop it! Good boy.) then all hell would break loose. The sky would unhinge from the earth and who knows what badness would happen. I still have a remnant of that when the girls let loose the dual scream, but you know what? I don't have to do anything.
Screams can get louder or not. The girls can hurt each other, it's true. But I've noticed that kids have a built-in sense of self preservation. They don't actually want to get wailed upon, and know instinctively that that is a possibility if they themselves wail upon their sibling. Getting out of control is scary to them and if I don't step in that natural instinct is allowed to kick in.
One time they struggled while we were in the market booth and that was pretty hard. All of the typical thoughts ran through my mind. I didn't want to be the parent with the screaming kids. I wanted to be thought of as a "good mom" with "good children". I also felt an obligation as a salesperson next to other salespeople. I was pretty sure that screaming is not the kind of thing that draws customers in! But really, there wasn't much to do. What can you do? I did the empathetic version of nothing. I held Echo and patted Xi. They wanted me to "fix things" but they were fighting over an inch of quilt. Echo wanted Xi to get away from her and was screaming and kicking to effect that. Xi was holding her ground, inexplicably wanting to be in that exact quadrant of the quilt and not in the wide open non-kicking area also available. There's no fix for that kind of insanity. So I said: Yeah. You both want to be in this space. What do we do? Aside from asking this question and offering information about sales and how screaming is the kind of thing that drives customers away and that the girls want customers since we buy things like kettle korn with market money, I actually did nothing.
Another time when they were doing their thing in the van I just walked away. As I strolled to grab the remaining market stuff I thought about other things than fighting children. I noticed the moon was still in the sky, and that the pretty lady in the brown dress was still nearby. When I came back the girls were both still alive.
As I carted things back and forth to the van, catching glimpses of play or snarling with each return, it occurred to me there might be something I could do. I pulled Xi aside for a private conversation. Xi, I want you to know that I see that Echo is being lame. I see that she is getting mad for no discernible reason. I see that she is hitting you instead of talking and that it makes no sense. I see that. I want you to know that I see that. I also don't know what to do about it other than continuing to talk to her. I am doing my best to teach her about hitting but when you hit her back it makes it harder to teach her not to do it. You know? And she might even still hit you even if you talk to her and even if you don't hit her. That's how things have been going today. But I'M not going to hit her, and I don't want you to either, because I'm trying to show her a different way of doing things. Xi perked up right away and was finishing my sentences for me and agreeing. She seemed to like being in on the teaching end of things. And she liked that I saw the injustice.
So if you call that doing something, I did that.
It felt good, both doing that and doing nothing. It felt a million times better than getting angry, that much I know for sure.
As for today? We're keeping it light, letting today be new, letting the girls be new too.