The Swing of an Afternoon

Wesley often greets me at after-school care by running down the hall and jumping into my arms with a giant smile on his face. IT IS THE BEST. I love it so much. Then, 99% of the time, he and his sister start fighting (they do NOT get along) and we are in FULL anger-meltdown mode by the time we make the 5-mile drive home. It’s a thing that makes me CRAZY and I try to handle it in different ways so that these sibling-induced anger fits don’t ruin our evening. I’m never consistently successful.

So, yesterday was one of those days.

On the way home the kids had to tell me that they had their screens taken away because of a fight they had in the morning. This fight evidently stemmed from Nikki telling Wes he sucked. Wes was already cranky at remembering he couldn’t watch screens when he got home, but then remembering his sister had been a jerk that morning and he went full-on “THIS IS THE WORST DAY!” mode. Now he was just angrily saying how much he hates his life. Remember…this is just a few minutes after the warm hug and smile. JUST A FEW MINUTES TO SWING IN THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION.

I calmly pointed out that I was having a bad day too, but I was SOOO grateful at how he hugged me when I picked him up because it improved my mood 100%. He didn’t care.

We got home and he didn’t want to get out of the car because the day sucked and he hates his life. I let him stew and went inside and sat by the window to watch him. Eventually he came in and went to his room. I sat on the couch in the living room and listened to him bang something repeatedly against the door. Over and over. I was pretty sure it was one of his giant nerf weapons that are not as soft as you think they should be. I calmly reminded him that this was an apartment and we needed to make sure we didn’t damage walls or doors. He banged harder and louder. I asked him AGAIN to stop. I told him I understood he was angry but he needed to find another way to process that. HE BANGED HARDER. At this point I’m now angry too because I can tell he’s about to bust a hole in something so I go into his room and rip the nerf weapon out of his hand.

THIS IS WHEN ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE.

He starts screaming just to scream, and then screaming at me to leave. I mean – SCREAMING. This resets me and I think back to the source of all of this. There’s always something else behind the anger. There’s anxiety or shame or jealousy. Or a combination of the three. And while I couldn’t find the exact source I could see evidence of it all – Nikki telling him he sucked, him feeling like he sucks compared to her, him getting in trouble and feeling ashamed, etc. So I took a deep breath and tried to hug him while he was screaming at me. “GO AWAY! GO AWAY!”

And here is the moment where I’m really torn because I want him to know I’ll never leave him, but I also have taught him to take time to calm down if he needs it. So I hugged him and kissed him and said, “I’m leaving you alone because I think you want to calm down but I want you to know I love you and I’d rather sit here and hug you.”

“GO AWAY! GO AWAY!”

But, those last screams? A tad softer. Just a tad.

Those are the moments where you see a break-through and you take a deep breath and muster up the patience because it’s working, you just have to let it happen.

I go back to the living room and he immediately stops screaming. I just sit and wait and it doesn’t take long and he comes out and he says, “I’m sorry. I’m just really sad Nikki told me I sucked.”
“I know, Wes. But she apologized so can we try to forget about it?”
“But you always tell me you can’t forget words easily when I say mean stuff.”
He’s listening! He’s really listening!
“That’s right, Wes. But haven’t you said mean stuff you’d wish we could forget? Do you remember how sorry you were when you said the awful thing? Don’t you think your sister feels that way now? So can we shake it off a bit?”
“Maybe.”
“Listen, I’m having a rough day too. You know what I like to do when I just can’t shake stress off? I like to color. Coloring calms me down. Want to color with me?”

So we did. He got his notepad out and I got my coloring book out and we centered ourselves around our pens and markers. We ended up having a really nice evening together. We colored, he rubbed my feet for money (He gives THE BEST foot rubs), and we watched Sing.

Some days I honestly worry that he’s never going to mature emotionally to the point of having successful relationships as an adult. But then other days I see how much progress he has made, how far we’ve come from the days where he tried to hurt me both physically and with his words. And yes – I can’t easily forget those days – but days like yesterday are like medicinal salves over old wounds. Those days, those swings, they are too much sometimes…I’ll be honest. But when the pendulum stops and we settle into the healing process I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. We are making our way through it, together.

Calming Versus Escalating

Wes had a tantrum the other night at the Super Bowl party. It started innocently enough (they always do) with him banging his head repeated against a chair (a nice old/fancy one) as he rocked back and forth and I kept telling him to stop and he kept ignoring me so I picked him up and removed him from the situation. My big priority was to avoid a scene in front of Family so I figured I would put him in timeout but I’d be in there with him.

But he wouldn’t stay. And he was getting more and more angry and while he hadn’t started hitting, he was pushing trying to get away from me and while I’ve been really good about not yelling, I tend to escalate punishments in those moments. “Okay, instead of time out for 5 minutes you have 20…now your screens are taken away…now your Pokemon cards…” and so on. But I knew we were in someone else’s house and I had to try something different so I went with a technique I’ve read about recently where you focus on getting them calm FIRST, punishments LAST.

I wrapped my arms and legs around him so he couldn’t fight me and I just held him and asked him to calm down. He was still fighting and telling me “You’re the worst!” and “Get your ugly legs off of me!” but he wasn’t hitting so I took the upper body freedom and started rubbing his back to calm him down. “I’ll start the clock when you calm down. I understand you’re angry but you need to calm down before it gets worse so I’m going to try to help you get calm…” and so on. He stopped struggling for the most part so I would say, “Okay – look at my watch…5 minutes of time out,” and then he’d fight again – but just a little – so I’d say. “Oh, you’re not calm yet, let’s wait and start the clock. You tell me when you’re ready.”

Eventually he did calm down and we did 5 minutes of time out and we joined the party. I missed the entire halftime show, but it could have been SO MUCH WORSE. Typically he ends up basically being grounded until he’s 45 because I feel like if he’s not going to do what I say I have to keep piling stuff on until something works. This was a lot shorter lived and I didn’t have to then contend with remembering the 17 punishments I threatened in the process. We focused on just getting calm and eventually he did.

I have mixed feelings because part of me thinks he was a jerk and got off easy. But most of me feels better about this tantrum cycle than any others. I think I’ll stick with that method again if we hit another tantrum. Calming FIRST, then the punishment. Not escalating the punishment until they’re calm. AND – what the article suggested that gave me the idea in the first place – not leaving him alone with those extreme emotions. At home I basically leave because I’m upset too and we stay separated until something shifts. But this time I stayed with him, trying to be part of the calming instead of making him do it alone. All-in-all, it felt better. And the other day wasn’t working very well so why not?

Hindsight.

This week’s lesson in parenting: It is very hard to help a child cope with their extreme emotions when you are feeling your own extreme emotions. It works that with grief and depression and anxiety and most…importantly: anger.

I’ve mentioned the problems Wes has with his anger and with tantrums in the past. We went through a bad couple of years where I felt like there was no end in sight. We got some outside help, he got a little older, I learned a lot and things and it seemed to be better overall.

Except for a few incidents. Last night was one of them. And it was terrible.

Part of me thinks maybe it’s time to get some outside help again. But if you’ll recall our insurance debacle from before and then the insurance completely uprooted us and the clinic that was covered closed down. We have found another doctor that is now covered, we went to her for Nikki’s anxiety, but she would NOT be a good fit for Wesley. But – ever since that other clinic closed down – there have been random doctors from that clinic popping up in other offices and still taking our insurance so I think I’ll try find someone else.

BUT MAN. There is also a part of me that kinda blames myself. I reexamine last night’s downward spiral and see many moments where I could have handled it differently. In retrospect, I see I didn’t do what the previous counselor suggested because I was too busy coping with my own anger. I was doing my best not to lose Which is VERY HARD TO DO when he is being so disobedient and mean. It always starts so benign. He’s just being disobedient and contrary and rude as hell. So, I tell him to do something: He has to quit playing screens, go to his room, stop watching TV, put up his Pokemon…SOMETHING. And he refuses.

A lot of time – like last night – me sending him to his room is the first step to a horrible tantrum ending in aggression. He never seems to want to obey that one and I go back and forth: Should I quit sending him to his room since that’s the one that seems to always start the spirals out of control? But here’s the thing: If I stop doing that thing that makes him angry, he never learns to deal with the anger. As we talked last night after the bad stuff was over I pointed out, “If you had just gone to your room that first time when I said it, none of the rest would have happened.”

But he refuses. And refuses. And I make threats and then I have to follow through and HE STILL REFUSES. I threatened to throw away his stuff (which I’ve done before) and he said, “I don’t care. You bought it all so it would hurt you not me.” And he refused again and I tried to physically carry him to his room but he’s big and that’s hard and he was really angry and it just escalated fast and I had to focus all of my energy on staying calm (it’s really hard to do when your kid is trying to hurt you both emotionally and physically) and stopped even trying to figure out how to cope with his meltdown. I couldn’t even respond to him anymore because I was just trying not to lose my own shit. And then Nikki got involved because she worries and doesn’t like it when Wes gets angry with me and then he just got even angrier and it just was terrible.

Eventually he broke, he always does, and he starts getting angry with himself and we haven’t had an episode like last night in a long time and I forgot how exhausting it is for everyone. He cried. A lot. I cried. Nikki cried. We talked a lot about how apologies are great but they don’t erase what happened. “I will always forgive you Wesley, but I can’t forget the things you said or did.” He cried so hard and this is always oddly reassuring because when you see your child demonstrate such terrible anger (which I hadn’t seen from him in awhile) you feel oddly better when you see remorse later. It’s like the small token of reassurance that the demon that came out for that brief moment doesn’t have full control of their personality.

It’s just hard. In so many different ways. It’s hard because I was very angry and while I didn’t lose my temper, I also didn’t do anything to diffuse his because I was so focused on not losing mine. I know for SURE I did not handle it exactly how his last doctor would have recommended I handle it. Now, I also know I didn’t make it worse. Years ago I would yell and scream in response to his terrible tantrums and I don’t do that anymore. I know that is wrong. But getting it “right” is very difficult in the moment. “Seeing Red” is very applicable, I was just so angry all I could focus on was staying calm and not ANY of the diffusing or even redirecting techniques we had talked about before.

So…part of me says, “Call for some help!” But the other part of me says, “Yeah – but – you didn’t apply the techniques the last doctor taught you, so why don’t you still use those first before you see more help.” I do feel like when I’m focused one some of the diffusing techniques and when I focus on directing him to cope with his anger instead of focusing on coping with my own, I can keep him off the wrong path. And last night I couldn’t do any of that because I was trying to make sure that I stayed on the right path.

Parenting is hard, yo. Especially when you’re trying to learn the same lessons you’re trying to teach your kid. It’s hard to be a teacher and a student at the same time.

Marathons v/s Sick Kids

I made this tweet last night and I could not have meant it more if I had carved it in the skin across my chest.

Sick kids are the most exhausting thing in the world.

On Wednesday Wes’s school called saying he had a headache, but it was about 25 minutes from when I would leave work anyway so it wasn’t a big deal. He wasn’t feverish at all but he had just done 3 days of basketball camp embedded into his regular daycare days which are already SUPER active on top of an insane weekend of head injuries so I thought he had just overdone it. I put him in bed with the TV remote and a bottle of water and insisted he drink the whole thing in case he was dehydrated. He seemed fine, just tired.

Yesterday morning he woke up and actually said he felt better. He seemed well-rested and spirited. Then I got the call from daycare again around 11am. This time? Headache and fever.

When I got to the YMCA he was asleep on the table in the foyer and he looked TERRIBLE. He wouldn’t even walk he felt so bad. I had to carry him ON MY BACK to the car. I got him home, put him in bed and took his temperature. 102.5. Since his only symptom was a sever headache which now had been around for about 24 hours, I called to make him a doctor’s appointment. Our doctor was out so we had another in the practice…3pm.

He slept feverishly next to me the next several hours. His fever got up to 103.2 and I didn’t leave his side because I just wanted to be near him since he seemed so ill and I had never seen him like that. When it was time for his appointment I carried him (on my back) to the car and then carried him again to the doctor. He was miserable.

11754517_10153997296493496_3342435506414078489_oWe ended up being there almost 2 hours because his tonsils were swollen so they thought “STREP!” But the strep test (which you know he HATED, of course) came back negative. So then they did a blood draw (which he also hated) so we waited on that to see if what he had was viral or bacterial.

His white blood count was only slightly elevated, so they decided to give him an antibiotic “injection” (they avoided using the word “shot” thankfully) and want us back this morning to see if it did any good. I had to hold him down for the shot which was GIANT and even scared me a little and he screamed like I’ve never seen him scream before.

I got him home and put him back to bed. His fever had dropped to 101 but he was still feeling super-puny.

I basically spent all afternoon/evening just watching him feel awful with the periodic carrying of him to the bathtub or to the car or to the bed. He wouldn’t walk anywhere. He slept most of the day, although I still stayed by his side because he just made me so nervous being THAT sick.

And by the time 8pm rolled around? I felt like I had run back-to-back-TO-BACK marathons. I was zapped. I didn’t do CRAP but worry about my kid but I’ve depleted any and all energy reserves I had in my system. And I woke up at 3am still worrying about him. He doesn’t feel warm this morning whereas he felt like his skin was ON FIRE yesterday, so I’m hoping that’s a good sign. If he’s feeling better I can at least try to do some work while we’re home together as I won’t be checking his skin for rashes or monitoring his breathing or googling things like Meningitis or Black Plague.

My point to all of this? If you’ve ever cared for a sick kid? You could easily run a marathon. I promise you. And you’d end the marathon thinking, “Way easier than having a sick kid.”

Where We Are At

This was SUPPOSED to publish yesterday. I just assumed no one felt it was worth commenting on. I didn’t realize until I sat down to write this morning that it was still in “draft” mode. So, maybe you get two entries today!

WOAH. I’ve dumped some serious word babble on this here blog this week. Let’s lighten things up and let’s start with the best picture of my kid ever.

11402751_10153930932008496_5973684110158484163_n His hair is just curly enough to be adorable at this length. Donnie kinda wants to cut it but Wesley likes feeling it “swish” around his face. But – he has basketball camp coming up – so Donnie insisted we find him sweat bands to wear in his hair to keep it out of his face when he plays. That on top of him losing both of his front teeth in the same week and his love of a crossbody bag Donnie brought home from his last business trip (it says “Visual Studio” on it – HA!) and this picture is just all sorts of awesome. It captures so much of his personality and it cracks me up every time I look at it.

If you follow me on Twitter or if we’re real-life Facebook friends, you’ll know that Wesley offered a profound statement yesterday: “Everyone has a butt. Unless you’ve been murdered and the person who murdered you chopped off your butt.”

That kind of stuff is a regular occurrence around here and it’s fantastic.

He has been slowly easing out of the terror phase of the last few years. He definitely handles his anger better, does a lot of deep breathing. He also understands the pain his anger inflicts on others and is much quicker to offer sincere apologies. But really? His anger just seems less. He’s not as quick to be angry as he once was. And when he turns that corner it’s not as hard to get him back. It doesn’t go from one jackass retort to a night of punishments anymore. He’ll deliver the jackass retort, apologize, and then make a joke about naked butts.

I’d love to say “THIS IS WHAT WORKED!” and regale you with some sort of method someone taught us but really? It was a little bit of everything and a whole lot of failures. Some things suggested by some people worked some times but everything failed most of the time. The only thing I can say that helped 100% was that we quit with timeout.

Whenever Wes would do something minor, like make a jackass retort (Yelling, “No!” when I told him to do something.) I would send him to timeout. But – he would refuse to go. So…the small retort turned into hours of fighting, sometimes requiring me to physically carry him to timeout and hold the door closed. He would kick me the whole way there and then destroy his room while I had him in there but I felt like I had to do it because I told him to go to timeout and he didn’t. You HAVE to follow through.

So, I stopped sending him to timeout because the follow through was impossible.

I would just take away his DS, or tell him, “Okay. No TV for the rest of the night/week/lifetime.” I distributed a punishment that required nothing on his part, it was all me. He would still get pissed but it didn’t turn one small smart aleck comment into a night of abuse from him towards me.

The other thing is that I worked on my own anger. Donnie was not as big on this part of the process but since Donnie wasn’t the primary caregiver, his behavior wasn’t as important as mine. I really, REALLY, worked on how I handled when I yelled and how I yelled. I am not perfect by any means, but I tried to show him I was working on it and I reminded him that I was trying to be a good example. “You don’t like it when I yell at you, do you? I don’t like it when you yell at me either.” That’s not a guarantee, but I do think it’s necessary. That was a lot of what we talked to our counselor about – anger management. He talked to him separately and then he talked to me about it.

So…no timeout, manage my own anger, and really try to set aside alone time with just him and I. We have the periodic date night, sometimes at his request, where we just go to dinner together. I think that helps.

But really? I think a lot of it is just he’s older. The older he gets, the more understanding he gets in terms of the scope of his world and the effect of his behavior on those around him. This summer he’s also going to a daycare where they WEAR HIM OUT and that is super important for someone with as much energy as he has. He swims and plays basketball all day and many nights he falls asleep watching TV at 6pm. IT IS LOVELY.

And that’s where we are with Wesley right now. He’s “all boy” which I found to be an annoying phrase before I had Wesley, but now that I have him I realize what people mean by that. He’s wild and insane but also loves a good fart joke and to talk about his butt. He’s still very sweet but also is already showing some of that teenage attitude. The sarcastic/annoyed, “I’m sooooorrrry!” accompanied by an eye roll and arms in the air is the thing I want to strangle him for the most now. THE ATTITUDE. Man, where do they learn that shit from? I’m assuming some hooligan at school because it’s always the hooligans, but I don’t know.

All in all? Better. Much better.