Thursday, February 5, 2015

One of THOSE Days

I don’t like yelling. I doubt any parent truly does. It’s something I am trying to work on, particularly because I’m currently trying to teach the boys about patience, and I don’t want to just “talk the talk” (and I really don’t want to yell the talk). I don’t yell often, and when I do, there are typically issues at play besides the boys’ misbehavior, like a headache, external stress, or having to do the Hokey-Pokey in front of our stupid TV antenna just to get one basic channel that isn’t airing Spanish soap operas. Sometimes, I’ll go a long time without so much as a slightly elevated “Stop it!” and pride myself on my self-control. But as a mother of two highly energetic—and often mischievous—toddlers, there are instances in which I simply lose my cool, despite my best efforts, and subsequently find myself engaged in what I refer to as The Circle of Strife.

This is what happened once the cameras were off. Rafiki's no stranger to the stress of raising a toddler.
[via Giphy]

Basically, here’s what happens: My boys do something that irritates the crap out of me, I yell, I feel bad for yelling, I pause and engage in some makeshift Ujjayi breathing, and then make a promise to myself to stop yelling. By the time I’ve completed the first part of The Circle of Strife, my kids have usually moved on to an even more infuriating activity, their perceptive little minds realizing that their mischief is getting a reaction from me, and I end up raising my voice again. And yes, “raising my voice” is a tad on the euphemistic side. This second bout of shouting brings me full circle, and I follow the curve smoothly back to the guilt arc, looping about the circumference of anxiety until I’m so stressed out all I want to do is cut myself a slice of that 2πr, and bury my feelings of remorse in sweets.

I didn't intend on blogging today, as I had resolved myself to using the day for some much-needed “Mama and The Boys, One-on-Two” time. We were going to greet the chilly morning head-on, striking out on a run together, bonding as we discussed the colors of the cars and the letters on the street signs we passed, kind of like our own mobile, live-action version of Sesame Street (This is one of their current favorite activities, and they have a particular affinity for stop signs: “Ehhhzzz. Tee. OH! Pee.) We would then come home, warm up with some hot cocoa, and maybe watch some Mater’s Tall Tales. I envisioned the three of us dwindling the afternoon hours away, curled under a blanket, reading stories, sharing hugs and kisses. It was going to be sickeningly, Hallmark-Special-worthily, sweet.

But the boys had other plans. Such is the life of raising toddlers. The only realistic expectation you can have is that things will never go as expected (try wrapping your mind around that one: it’s like declaring that it’s Opposite Day…on Opposite Day). And you have to just “go with it,” “it” being their collective moods for the day. We had a particularly rough morning, and it prompted me to get some of my thoughts down in writing, so that I could look back on them later and perhaps remind myself that Bad Mornings don’t have to have Bad Endings. Writing also helps me process my emotions, so this is more for my own benefit than that of others. But! If you can relate or glean some inspiration from my experience, perhaps my words can also serve some greater purpose, besides dragging me back from the brink of insanity.

My husband has been gone for the entire week for some training exercise (this is the life of the Army Wife…it’s The Circle of Strife…this could be some depressing Dr. Seuss book), so my fuse was already burning pretty dang low. I love my boys like Dobby loves socks, but they have a knack for capitalizing on the inevitable sleep deprivation that occurs in Daddy’s absence, and using it to get away with behavior I typically don’t tolerate. Today’s meltdown started when I called the boys into the kitchen for breakfast. On the way, Trystan passed by the set of plastic drawers in which we keep some of their toys. He paused, backtracked a couple steps, and reached for a drawer of toy cars. Now, one thing we’ve been working on lately is the concept of sharing. We have various bins and shelves with different toys (blocks, puzzles, cars, figurines, etc.), and I’ve started allowing only one bin to be out at a time, alternating who chooses, to help the boys understand that it’s important to take turns. When Trystan began pulling the car drawer out, I gently pushed it back and told him that today was Oliver’s turn to choose the “toy” of the day, and he had already opted for books; maybe if Ollie was okay with it, we could play with toy cars after breakfast, once the books were cleaned up.

Of course, Trystan couldn't really understand the rationale behind my proposal; all he knew was that he wasn't going to be bringing a parking garage worth of cars to breakfast. He immediately set his mind on throwing the stereotypical toddler tantrum: screaming, red in the face, lying on his belly and pounding fists and feet into the floor as if hoping to find some sort of trap door that would lead him to a secret room filled with Hot Wheels. So I dragged him into the kitchen, where he proceeded to run to his yogurt parfait, grab the spoon, and graffiti the kitchen wall with sprinkles, granola, and lime yogurt, as though trying to recreate a delectably edible version of Jackson Pollock’s The Shimmering Substance.

At this point, I could feel the urge to yell churning in my stomach, inching its way up my throat, and preparing to be spewed all over the kitchen, not unlike Trystan's breakfast. However, I managed to swallow it down and calmly remove Trystan’s bowl from the table, asking him if there was anything else he’d like to eat. He replied, not surprisingly, with more screaming, but in the middle of the ear-piercing wails and tears, I managed to decipher the word “zah-zah” (sausage). So I threw a few turkey sausages onto a plate, popped them in the microwave, and put them on the table in front of him. As he was wolfing them down, he reached over to Oliver’s parfait, grabbed his spoon, and flicked Ollie’s face with a spattering of yogurt.

Now, if you’ve read any of my previous posts, you probably know how Oliver feels about messiness. To say that he was less than thrilled about receiving an unsolicited yogurt facial would be like saying Luke was a little surprised to find out that Darth Vader was his daddy. And now I had two screaming toddlers on my hands, as well as a fresh coat of yogurt to scrape off the walls.

So I yelled. And, of course, it did nothing to diffuse the situation. All it did was add another voice to the cacophony of screaming. Well, that, and make me feel instantly frustrated for losing my temper, knowing I’d have to dig around for it later in our family’s “Lost and Found” area, along with my mind.

I stepped outside for a moment to regain my cool (easier than expected, as it was a chilly 33° out), and when I walked back into the house, I saw that the boys had overturned our bowl of cat food and begun kicking the cereal-like pieces around, skittering them in all directions and crunching them beneath their feet, laughing hysterically. Angry as I was, their giggles made me pause for just a moment. Of course, it was in that brief pause that Trystan plucked one of the pieces of cat food into his mouth, chewed with a proud look on his face, and then promptly threw up all over the floor. Now, in my experience, smiling is just about the least likely reaction one’s body would have to throwing up. But Trystan just pointed to his little puddle of sick, smirked, and said “mess!” Oliver thought this was hilarious, and the two of them dissolved into an even greater fit of giggles. Ah, to be a kid and think throwing up is hilarious.

I couldn't help grinning a little in spite of the ever-growing mess I was going to have to clean up. Still, I was a little irritated as I grabbed a washrag and started wiping the cat-food vomit dribbling down Trystan’s chin, muttering under my breath, “You two are ridiculous. Holy crap, boys.” I had intended to murmur it to myself, but Trystan must have heard me, because before I could even tell them to start cleaning up the cat food, he’d begun prancing around the kitchen, bobbing his head up and down—causing poofs of his Einstein-esque hair to dance about his splotchy face—chanting “Oh-E-Cap! Oh-E-Cap!” How do you stay angry when that’s happening? So I started laughing—hard—and Oliver ran up to me and hugged my legs, making me feel as though I’d melted into a big gooey puddle of Nickelodeon slime.

I'm just a big mess of emotions. All the feels.

I continued chuckling as I grabbed the broom, swatted at their scrawny little butts, and started sweeping up the cat food. The Circle of Strife had been broken, penetrated by the infectious spark of laughter and a well-timed hug.

Laughter has this incredible way of easing tensions. I think it’s both an emotional and a physical response. It forces you to breathe, to smile, to pause whatever you’re doing. It’s like a commercial break during a really heated, trashy talk show. And the thing it’s selling you is relief, like, Hey, remember what it’s like not to wanna rip your—or someone else’s—hair out? It’s nearly impossible to laugh and yell simultaneously. Unless you’re an animated hyena. Aaaaaand…we’re back to Lion King references:


When you have toddlers, practicing patience is kind of like scraping the bottom of your piggy bank, finding a couple stray Euros, and trying to use them to pay for your daily Starbucks fix. You have the currency, but it’s scarce, foreign, and essentially useless in your present situation. However, if you can factor laughter into your rate of exchange, you just might manage to get your caffeine fix—and a not-as-planned, but still memorable, day with your kids—after all.

"Come on, Mama, vomit's hilarious!!"

And, for the record, we did still end up going for a run together. As expected, the boys pointed out the letters on numerous stop signs. I think perhaps next time we venture out, we’ll talk about what the word means, not just how to spell it.

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