Total meltdown at school today.

I walked in the door right in the middle of it.  He had, quite literally, run over another kid out on the playground while in a hurry to find someone else and then refused to stop when called out for his behavior by the teacher.

Just kept going.

When the teacher took steps to intervene, to get him to stop, to take control, he lost it.  Hitting, kicking, screaming, biting, pinching --  he unleashed his entire arsenal in an attempt to not be controlled.  She was carrying him in the door to separate him from the other children when I walked in.  He ran to hide behind me, protesting that he was the injured party, hurt during the struggle to remove him from the playspace.  I checked him out, hoping that addressing his concerns would give us a much needed break in the drama so that he would calm down enough for us to do some problem solving together.  No red marks, no scratches, indication of any kind that he had been handled roughly.  Not that I had entertained that idea with any kind of seriousness -- a more loving, patient, understanding, compassionate staff/setting would be hard to find!  Sometimes he just needs that acknowledgement from me.  Those little gestures go a long ways towards reminding him that I will always take care of him first, that I will always love him the most, no matter who did what to whom.

I'm sure the wall of disapproval, the flush of embarrassment in my face, the hardened stance of folded arms that he turned into fanned the flames of his indignation.  I've been working on that -- worrying less about what everyone else might think and focusing instead on the situation at hand, but I'm horrible at it.  I hate being the center of negative attention.  I physically cringe at the idea of confrontation or at not being well thought of.  Oddly enough, the less I know a person, the more concerned I am about their opinion of me.  It's screwy, I know.  It's part of the reason I've been in therapy for the past three years.  But back to Aaron.  My words said everything that they were supposed to: Let me take care of you and then let's talk about what happened.  Let's see if we can solve this problem together.

My body language told quite a different story.

My little analytical, logical boy.  Not entirely unemotional, but unempathetic if that is even a word.  Detached.  Observant but somewhat dispassionate in the realm of social interactions.  How hard we've worked at learning to read the emotions of others based on  body language and the tone of their voice!  To watch for cues, to interpret facial expressions.  He's been a diligent student and, no doubt, he understood exactly what I was telling him.

I am not happy with you.  You are causing me discomfort.  You are embarrassing me.

My words said:  Your behavior is unacceptable.

My body said:  You are unacceptable.

And so the drama escalated.  Now he has two people trying to control him.  Now he's fighting twice as hard.

I know better than to add physical restraint to the mix.  I know that he's far stronger when he's angry than I could ever control.  He's three-quarters my height and three times as determined.  And yet?  Grabbing him, holding him, well, it shows others that I am doing something.  That I am not just letting him get away with it, passive push-over mother.  So we go into lockdown position -- him in my lap, arms crossed across his chest, my legs wrapped over his, holding him tight to my chest.  A human straight-jacket.  It's the position they taught us when I went through the training to work as an assistant teacher in the "Special Day" class.  The week before school started, I was moved into a second grade position, so those skills got little use.  "Safe restraint" I think they called it, though I often wonder when we're locked into each other on the floor just what kind of safety it is providing.  Still, no one can get hit or bit or kicked or pinched.  Occasionally he catches me off guard and throws his head backwards into my chin/cheek/chest, knocking the air and hubris out of me.

But I know it's not working.  We could sit like that all day and it still wouldn't work.  He's not going to calm down until he regains control and it's up to me to figure out how to relinquish just enough control to let him calm down without putting the responsibility of control totally on his shoulders.  Our little dance -- two step towards independence, one step back towards security.  Sometimes an unexpected spin sends us reeling, losing our footing on this already treacherous dance floor.

Let me go! he screams at me.  I'm letting you go, I agree, loosening my grip on his wrists, guiding his writhing body onto the floor beside me where he sits, kneeling, panting, one small hand searching its way into mine.  We sit like this for a moment, regaining our bearings, searching for the next compass heading.  We need to talk.

I have a headache, he sobs.  Yes, I'm sure you do.  It always makes my head hurt when I  lose control like that, I respond.  I need ice, he determines.  A teacher brings him an ice pack wrapped in a cool cloth to hold onto his sweat-soaked head.  She's been watching this entire interaction.  It takes all of my energy in that moment to push this thought aside and focus on my little boy.

Let's talk about what just happened, I say.

I can't think when I have a headache! He is still raging, though it's coming in waves now.

I know, I tell him.  So just listen for a minute and tell me if I have it figured out.  Here's what I think happened.  You were in a hurry.  You knocked somebody over and didn't go back to check on them.  The teacher saw that and you were embarrassed that she caught you. 

I had too much momentum!  I couldn't stop until I got to the bottom!  I said "sorry" really quick and quiet and he didn't even hear me!  And now it's too late and he's not ever going to listen!

I have a friend who sometimes teases me "...and then we'll all be homeless and have to live under a bridge!"  when I start getting all caught up in a crisis avalanche.  You know the old "if this doesn't happen, then that can't happen and then we won't be able to do this and then (she cuts in) we'll all be homeless and have to live under a bridge!"  Yet another trait it seems I've passed on genetically or by example.

So let's see if we can come up with a solution, I cut in before the avalanche can cut loose.  First, I say, we need to go check on H__.  We need to tell him how sorry you are for knocking him down and we need to find out if there is anything you can do to make him feel better.  Then we need to go find Miss T__.  We need to tell her how sorry you are for being fighting with her and we need to tell her that you will try to be more respectful next time.

But I don't want to go apologize!  I don't want everybody to look at me and to listen to me!

I know.  I know, but that's just something we need to do.  That's just part of growing up.  We have to take responsibility for the things we do and we have to make sure that the people around us are okay.  I'll be right there with you.  I'll help you with the words.  But you have to do this.  It's one of the consequences that comes along with the choices you made.  I stop, knowing I am talking too much, when what I really want to do is just keep talking talking talking talking talking until he finally internalizes my words and begins to bleed them back at me.

We walk out the door to find H__ but he sees someone or someone sees him or someone is in the general vicinity of his embarrassment and he is now attached to my leg and no amount of finding a quiet space where no one else is but him and H__ and me will do.  I see it and yet I continue.  He WILL make an apology.  He WILL be sorry and everyone else, all these little 3 and 4 and 5 year olds will see what a good mommy I am and how well I control his behavior.  So now we're sitting on a bench -- H__, me, Aaron.  H__ looks up at me, totally confused, as unsure of what is happening now as he is of what started it in the first place.  Aaron is burying his head in my leg, refusing to direct his words at H__, defying my attempts at patience and understanding, and, quite frankly, sucking the last of my willingness dry.

Eventually I give him the ultimatum:  I will count to three and you will either do as I say or there will be consequences and repercussions!  I thunder.  No lunch at the restaurant! No park after nap!  No ipad-touch-pod!  No TV!

Three comes and goes and so I turn to H__ and tell him that I am sorry that he was hurt, that I hope that Aaron will be more careful the next time and is there anything else Aaron can do to make him feel better?  He can say he's sorry, he says, leaving me back at square one with no recourse and so I stumble out an "Aaron is sorry" and send him on his way to rejoin the rest of the children.

On our way out the door Aaron wants to know if he will get to go to the park, the teacher wants to pull me aside to tell me that I did a good job of handling the situation, and I just want to find a deep dark closet to crawl further and further into until I am in Narnia and the only thing I have to face is the decision between Aslan and peaceful silence of perpetual winter.

At home I give him lunch in his room.  PBJ, carrots, apricot slices and a lecture about the importance of treating people with respect which he dutifully parrots back to me and then launches into one ridiculous scenario after another in which he is taking care of people and righting the wrongs of bad guys with pseudo-karate kicks and loud "hiyah!"s and I am wondering if I am just wasting my breath.  Maybe empathy can't be learned.

I can't give up on it, though.  I won't succumb to the simplistic notion that boys will be boys and it is harmful to hamper their testosterone driven instincts by insisting that they not immediately begin smashing the little creepie-crawlies on the bottom of the just-turned-over rock.  I won't capitulate to the masses that tell me that might=right and the mightier you are because of your guns or your muscles or your money or your education or your religion, the rightier you are and anyone who is foolish enough to get in your way has it coming to them.  I won't teach him through inaction that the past is always right and traditions are always good and that differences are meant to be disdained.

And so now I am headed upstairs to have him dictate letters of apology from his bedroom where he will spend the rest of the day, ostensibly to think about his behavior, but more likely to read through his bedroom library and play around with the settings on his alarm clock.  Tomorrow morning we will start anew.  Tomorrow morning we will start with "There is nothing more important than treating people kindly" and will repeat it the day after that and the day after that and the day after that until it becomes a part of who he is or my tongue falls out of my head.  


Amy Jo said...

I feel your pain. Lucy and Aaron seem cut from some similar cloth. Stay strong, and know that you are a good mother, a good person.

And I hope your tongue doesn't fall out. Who would I talk to on Friday afternoons? :)

susan said...

Amy - thank you. You've talked me down from more ledges than I care to admit to. No doubt in my mind, my strength comes, in part, from you. If I figure out any tricks that work for more than a few seconds, I'll be sending them directly to you. Then again, Lucy is smart enough she may have figured out how to get into your email and read them before you get to try them out...!

Lora said...

tough, tough stuff. I'm so sorry that you are going through this and I totally hear you about the whole caring what people think thing.

it might help (it helps me) to know that it takes at least 20 minutes for the hormones that cause these outbursts to dissipate from the brain and a person (of any age) to regain the ability to regain control. And that's assuming that only one "burst" of hormones happened. Sometimes there is the initial one and it keeps happening again and again and then it can take up to 24 hours to calm down. And in that time of calming, no one can think or act clearly. No one, especially someone with only 5.5 years of practice at life.


I'm trying this whole "Better Parenting through Science" thing. I'm not sure how well it's working.

I made up the phrase "Better Parenting through Science" in a desperate moment.

I love you.

susan said...

Lora- That does help. 20 minutes? It may seem like an eternity in the middle of the drama, but maybe keeping that number in my head will help me to breathe a little deeper and glance at my watch a few times before I give in to the panic of "This is never going to end he is always going to be this way I am a terrible mother everybody is watching me." Why is it always about me, anyways?

Better Parenting through Science. I love it. I love it so much that I'm going to try it. I love that you made it up. I love you.

Daisy said...

Susan, you are such a great parent, teacher and kind human being. I'm sorry that you had to go through this. Your son is wonderful, kind, lovable, funny, smart, interesting and beautiful. Kids test their limits and we all loose our tempers from time to time. I think you did an amazing job at not loosing your cool and remaining calm as the storm hit. Keep up your good work and just keep teaching him all that you do. He will remember the life lessons of his childhood.