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.