number two: peas from different pods

It struck me recently that one of the main differences between my two children is the behaviour they exhibit when they are upset about something. Amy makes is abundantly (and loudly) clear what is upsetting her. I don’t think I’ve ever had to guess. Elliot shuts off when he’s upset, and does not want to talk. And I often have no clue as to why he’s upset. I can see when he becomes upset, but not why. Saying he doesn’t want to talk isn’t exactly accurate, either. He often says something while he’s crying that is really difficult to understand and I’m fairly certain he does it on purpose. It feels very much like he’s manipulating me when he’s angry.

Tonight was a perfect example. The kids and I were at a BBQ with our neighbours, and I was offered a sparkling fruit juice. I accepted, opened it up and started drinking it. Amy asked me if she could try it and I gave her a sip. Elliot came up a couple of minutes later and asked as well. Both kids don’t tend to like fizzy drinks, so I warned both of them before they tried it. When I gave Elliot his warning he burst into tears and stalked off. When I approached him, he told me to go away (which is common when he’s angry and something I find difficult to deal with).

What followed was typical. I approached him a couple of times, asking him what was wrong, and he would either cry and say something non-intelligible or stalk away from me. Sometimes this really pisses me off, sometimes I can be patient. Tonight it pissed me off and while I managed to keep my cool, I did tell him he had two choices: he could sit and sulk or he could tell me what was wrong and we could talk about it. Then I left him. He spent about 20 minutes pouting, but he eventually came over and joined us. He didn’t join me, he joined our neighbour’s daughter. And a little while later he was fine.

When this happens I have started talking to him about it later, when tempers have cooled. I did that tonight, and when I asked him what was wrong he got a bit weird on me but he did tell me. Apparently he had asked our neighbour for one of the fizzy drinks, and was told he could have one if it was okay with me. When he came over to me when I had the drink, it was to ask if he could have one. But he didn’t ask. He instead asked me if he could try it. And when I told him it was fizzy he interpreted that as a “no” and got upset. While I don’t fully understand his logic, I’m happy he can tell me about it later, as this hasn’t always been the case. I told him that I had had no idea why he was upset, and if he had told me right at the time, my response would have been a yes, and he would have gotten his drink. He changed the subject because he gets uncomfortable talking about this stuff, but before I let him change it, I asked him if he understood. He said yes, and we moved on.

As I said above, I do feel like he tries to manipulate me when he’s angry. Another scenario is when we excuse him from the dinner table for bad behaviour (which doesn’t happen very often) and ask him to go to his room until he’s ready to join us. He then doesn’t come back down, gets very upset, and when we eventually go up to talk to him he turns our words around and says we told him he couldn’t come back down. I’m a bit at a loss as to how to deal with it, but I have started trying to turn it back to him, and telling him that he’s making the choice to hear the words differently. Needless to say, this doesn’t go well in the heat of the moment.

Elliot’s anger has always been his hardest emotion for me to know how to navigate. I want to help him, yet often my own anger gets in the way. I think we may be making progress, but I think we still have a long way to go.

you have to see the humour in it

Today wasn’t the easiest day to spend with Amy. We did lots of fun things, but there was lots of screaming (from me as well as her), hitting and pushing. I had to laugh when I came across this post about Elliot, written when he was just a couple of months younger than Amy is now. Here’s an excerpt:

Throw sand at his mother? Check.

Throw sand at his father? Check.

Throw sand at his sister? Check.

Hit his mother? Check.

Hit his father? Check.

Kick his sister? Check.

Throw toys at his door? Check.

Throw his shoes? Check, check.

Along the same vein, here’s a synopsis of today:

Scream at her mother? Check.

Scream at her father? Check.

Hit her brother? Check.

Hit her mother? Check, check, check.

Hit her father? Check.

Push her brother into a metal railing? Check.

Scream before nap time? Check.

Scream before bed time? Check.

Thankfully she’s now asleep. Before she went to bed I suggested to her that tomorrow I could yell at her less, and she could hit me less. She agreed.

the balance

I go through periods where I feel like I’ve got it together…my family is healthy, pets aren’t dying, work is going well, things just generally feel “right”…and then I go through periods where I feel like I’m barely holding on. I think this happened before we had kids, but it seems more pronounced in the “AK” years (after kids). If I’d started this post three hours ago it would be full of swear words but I’ve since had some alcohol and the kids have been asleep for a couple of hours so I’m a bit calmer. Plus I’m blessed to be married to a very calming man.

My family is healthy, our remaining pet is not dying, and work is going well, but I still feel like I’m barely holding on, so there is more to it than that. I feel like I haven’t had much time for me lately. Which is odd because the majority of the last seven days I’ve only had one child to take care of. But this has been brewing for a few weeks. Elliot’s recent emotional state at daycare has been hard on me — it’s got me to thinking about his personality in general, and I worry that he’s going to have a tough road ahead of him. I think his sensitivity leads to his volatility, and it can be hard to be on the receiving end of it. And I’m sure it’s tough on him too.

When I titled this post “the balance” I was thinking about the balance between finding time to spend with my family and finding time for just me, but I realize it’s also about finding a balance with Elliot. Knowing when to push him past his comfort level and when to just let him be. Knowing when to walk away from him when he’s hitting or screaming and when to fold him up in my arms and just hold him tight. Continually wondering what the “right” thing to do is, to get him past whatever hump is in his way.

I recently had a conversation with my sister and she acknowledged (after saying how much she loved Elliot) that she has always thought that Greg and I haven’t had the easiest time of it, raising our son. I have never thought of him as difficult and would never want to put that label on him, but I was surprised at how validated I felt. He has always slept well, ate well, developed normally, etc., and I never really thought about the emotional aspect of raising him. But while I felt validated, I also felt a bit thrown off, like I was on unstable footing, and I’m still feeling that. He’s still the same kid, but I find myself looking at him differently, and looking at my parenting differently. And I don’t like it. I don’t think this is happening in the moment when I’m with him, but I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting when I’m not with him, and that’s when these feelings come up.

And perhaps that why I feel like I haven’t had much time for me — I’ve been investing so much time thinking about Elliot. I don’t blame my sister for making me feel this way. I would have got there on my own, as I watch my daughter grow and continue to take life very much in stride, laughing almost all the way. It’s such a stark contrast to her brother. And it makes me worry about him.

maybe i’ll sic fiesty little Amy on him…

So further to my last post about Elliot not being himself…earlier this week Elliot was colouring with Greg and revealed that Jacob, his daycare buddy, had told him that he didn’t want to be Elliot’s friend any more. Greg commiserated with him, but didn’t delve into any details. We’re not clear on when this happened, but it might explain some of the angst he’s been going through.

I felt bad for him, but I remember being a kid and I know this crap happens — it happened to me, I probably did it to others, and it sucks. Although I have to admit that I was a bit surprised it came from a four-year-old, and a boy no less. I thought boys were nicer than girls.

Greg talked to Elliot a bit more about it during bedtime, and we left it at that. We were both glad that he was able to talk to us about it.

Then yesterday after spending the day with me, the kids and I headed up to daycare for their annual Canada Day BBQ. As we were leaving, we walked by one of the play areas where Jacob was playing on his own. Elliot yelled out a cheerful “Hi Jacob!”. Jacob said something that I couldn’t quite catch, and Elliot turned to me and said: “Did you hear that Mum? He said he isn’t my friend anymore.” As soon as Elliot repeated the words I realized it was what Jacob had said. And I wanted to drop-kick the kid. Instead I said to Elliot that that wasn’t very nice. Elliot barely skipped a beat before he saw someone else and said “But Nate’s my friend”, which made me feel a bit better.

But it has left me wondering what happened. Sure, kids can be like this, but I was surprised that it was lasting more than a day. And again I’m wondering how much to talk to Elliot about it. My gut says to not dwell on it, and so far I’m going with my gut. Certainly if he brings it up again we can talk about it, or if he seems sad I might mention it. The other thing is whether to talk to his teachers about it. I don’t want to be the kind of parent who fights her kids’ battles for them, but it’s not that I would want them to do anything. It’s more that it might shed some light on what happened between them if I talked to them. I’m curious if Elliot actually did something to Jacob, or if this is just coming out of the blue. And I have to admit to feeling very protective of Elliot right now, and I really hope he’s not hearing this from Jacob every day. Because that would really suck.

Just feeling a bit out of my league here…except I know the most important thing is that Elliot knows Greg and I love him. No matter what.

my little delightful monster

As with everything, parenting has it’s ups and downs. Sure, we’ve been struggling a bit lately with Elliot, but we’ve had a better week this past week, and it’s reminded me of all the delightful things he does. Like making Amy laugh, telling me things he learned at day care, singing songs, teaching Amy new things, going to the bathroom by himself (yes, this IS delightful), giving “blow hugs”…the list goes on and on.

And I love him to bits, delightful and not.

my little monster

Throw sand at his mother? Check.

Throw sand at his father? Check.

Throw sand at his sister? Check.

Hit his mother? Check.

Hit his father? Check.

Kick his sister? Check.

Throw toys at his door? Check.

Throw his shoes? Check, check.

And so was Elliot’s day today…and this is after spending four entire days with just me, visiting family. No sharing me with Amy or any other kids, no sharing me with Greg, no sharing me with housework, and no daycare for four days. Maybe it was the shock of coming home.

If I had to bet money on whether or not he will outgrow this stage, I’d bet on him outgrowing out, but that’s just the rational part of me. The irrational part of me has a very real fear that this is never going to end.

I hate what this is doing to me. I over-analyze things, I get nervous every time I pick him up from daycare or come home after he’s been with Greg, anxious to hear the “report”. I have to bite my tongue after one of his meltdowns (for lack of a better word) to keep from harping too much on how he’s feeling, and what different things we can do with our anger, and does he understand why we don’t hit and blah, blah, blah. I alternate between wanting to shake him and wanting to hug him. I wonder where the hell these rages come from and I marvel at how quickly he can both escalate things and return to normal as if nothing happened. If only I could move on as easily. With each meltdown, my stress level seems to snowball.

And what frustrates me more than the behaviour is how the hell to respond to it. From what most people have said, we’re doing the right things. I want to see results, but in some ways I think it’s getting worse. My latest theory is I think we should just walk away as soon as he hits us. Totally disengage. The problem with that is you can’t always do it. If something happens to piss him off while we’re in the kitchen and he hits me, if I walk away he’ll start throwing things. And unlike his bedroom, the kitchen is full of breakable things. Ok, so get him to his room and then disengage. But getting him to his room when he’s in the middle of it is awful, because if we pick him up, he’s a kicking, screaming, mass. We literally have to pin down his arms and carry him sideways. NOT FUN. And if we go the other route and try to hug him to help him calm down, he just lashes out again.

So that’s where we’re at right now. This has been by far the hardest few months of parenting for me, and I can’t see an end to it. Despite what everyone tells me.

being a parent sure can suck

Through the last few months of Elliot’s less-than-desirable behaviour, I’ve said numerous times (both to myself and to others) that I’m glad none of this stuff is happening at daycare. It’s been reassuring to me that he saves his worst behaviour for me and Greg.

Today at daycare pickup I found out the line’s been crossed. Sandra, one of his caregivers, flagged me down to tell me that Elliot’s been behaving badly recently. Hitting, kicking, baby talk and screaming. It sounded all too familiar. My stomach sank as she described his last two days at daycare.

I found it very awkward to talk about when he was standing right there, which she understood, so we have a meeting tomorrow morning to talk about it more. But in the meantime I feel like shit. There are a few thoughts running around in my mind…maybe there’s actually something wrong with him developmentally…I don’t want his caregivers to stop liking him…what the hell will we do if he gets kicked out of daycare?…how are we going to fix this?

I’m hoping that Sandra will have some useful advice for us. I’m not sure what to expect out of this meeting, except that I want to feel better than I do right now. And I want to have a game plan of some kind.

I talked to my sister about this tonight, and the first thing she said to me is that Elliot IS a sweet child, and this is a behavioural issue. I have to remember that. I also have to remember that we’re not in this alone. There are plenty of resources out there to help us if needed.

The icing on the cake was after a perfectly good bedtime this evening, he asked for something that was in Amy’s room. I told him I couldn’t get it for him because Amy was already asleep. He proceeded to throw two cars that he had in bed with him. So I took them out of the room. He then threw his soother. I picked it up, gave it to him, and told him if he threw it again he’d lose it for the night. He looked me straight in the eye and dropped it on the floor. I picked it up and left the room. That was over an hour ago. I’ve just spent the last hour plus listening to him cry out for his soother. He’s apologized for throwing it, he’s pleaded, he’s screamed and I think he probably threw something else when I wasn’t in the room. I lay down with him for a few more minutes just now and then told him I was going to bed too, and I haven’t heard from him since.

Probably not my best parenting decision, taking it away from him (this will be the first night he’s EVER slept without it), but once I took it away I felt like I had to stick to my guns. But I wonder if any of it gets through to him.

I hope it does soon. I’m feeling quite helpless.

the play date

A few weeks ago, Elliot started talking about a couple of the girls in his class, and how he wanted them to come over for a visit. I told him that when I saw their parents, we could talk about having a play date. I wasn’t sure who these girls were, let alone who their parents were, so I wasn’t sure exactly how this conversation with the parents would take place. I was kind of hoping Elliot would just forget about it. His reason for wanting to invite one of the girls over was because she had the same toothbrush as him. I’m thinking that’s not the strongest base for a friendship, even for a three-year-old.

A picked him up a couple of weeks ago and he came running up to me with two girls in tow. One of them announced that her mother said it was okay if Elliot came to her house, the other one just smiled shyly at me (turns out the latter one was the one with the same toothbrush). I had a short conversation with the chatty one, but essentially I blew them off.

Then today we were driving home, and Elliot announces he wants to go to Sam’s house with his drum. I asked why, and he said Sam had a guitar and they were going to make a band. Obviously there had been a conversation about this with Sam…how I would have LOVED to hear it. Apparently the band’s not going to be on the road (?).

I’m guessing this is going to start happening more and more, and I have to admit I’m out of my element. While I want to encourage Elliot to make friends, how do I go about (and this is going to sound bad) figuring out if I actually want Elliot to have a play date with these kids? And if I can somehow surmise that I’m okay with it, how do I go about arranging it with the parents? I run into different parents every time I drop off Elliot.

I can just imagine myself writing a note to the child’s parent, asking for a play date, and the parent reading it, thinking “who is this desperate parent?”. And is this just all talk at this point? Does he really expect anything to happen, or are these just musings?

An obvious tactic is to become more involved at daycare, but seeing as I’m putting my kids in daycare so I can go to work, that’s a bit counter-productive. I will try to go to any events they have, but so far they’ve only had one. Another tactic would be to start having play dates with kids we DO know.

As an aside, Greg informed me that Elliot announced he’s going to Alena’s birthday party (Alena is the one with the toothbrush). We have yet to see an invitation, so I’m guessing he’s not invited.

And so it begins…I have enough trouble with my own social life. I am not looking forward to managing my son’s.

down to three

Elliot is visiting his Gramma for a few days, and once again I’m reminded of how easy it is to care for one child when both parents are around. It’d be easier if that one child would SLEEP PAST 6 AM, but seeing as she goes to bed before 7 pm, I can’t complain too much. (Well actually I can and I probably will, since 5:45 am is just plain too early!)

The last night before Elliot went off to Gramma’s wasn’t the best one. I had some trouble getting him into the bathtub, and when the hitting began I started taking away privileges. We managed to get through the evening without too much more turmoil, and while I was happy with how I kept my cool, I wasn’t happy with my choice of consequences for his actions. With the first hit I told him he couldn’t play after his bath anymore (that was how I got him into the bath, with the promise of some playtime afterwards) and with the second hit I took away his nighttime toys — a couple of cars he plays with for a while in bed.

The consequences I chose had no relation to his behaviour, nor did they happen in a timely manner. So I think they were pretty pointless. Problem is, I don’t know what to do about the hitting. And my instincts are failing me with this one. A more natural consequence would be to walk away, but he hits when he’s upset, and if I walk away, his emotions tend to escalate, and he becomes inconsolable. (It’s at this point that I wonder if something is wrong with him, other than the obvious hardship of being three.) I did reassure myself to Greg by recognizing that I’m not hitting him back…so things could be worse!

So yes, this is a break for Greg and I. And Elliot will surely benefit from having some one-on-one time with someone who loves him dearly, and who probably has a bit more patience, simply because she’s his Gramma, not his mother. Not to mention he can avoid the pink eye that Amy has picked up.

And Amy, my early-rising girl, can enjoy some time with Mama and Dada. (Or Mama and Mama as we are currently called.)