I feel more and more certain that if parents all had, oh, three to five children, at least one would humble us to our knees. Increase our perspective and compassion towards other parents. Help us realize we just might fall short of the badass parents we thought we were going to be.
I have met my match. We’ve been having preschool drop-off challenges. Actually drop-off anywhere, challenges. He just doesn’t want to be separated from us. And he shows it with gusto. Hitting, kicking, screaming. The pattern has been that he calms after a few minutes and then enjoys himself, always exiting enthusiastically with lots of stories to tell. But the entrance. Oh, the entrance.
On the walk to preschool today, he was giggling like crazy as I made the stroller do crazy turns, wheelies and spins (“Oh, I just can’t help it. Whoa! It’s craaaaazy!”). We were both having a lot of fun. Then, a block or two ahead he spotted a tiny little boy wearing an adorable equally tiny backpack. I’m pretty sure that was his wake-up call. He had known where we were going, but might have conveniently forgotten during our walk.
Little Walking Reminder prompted a strong, “I don’t want to go! I want to go home!” I tried my best to be an empathetic listener. “I know you feel sad and nervous. It’s only been a few days and it’s still new to you. When I pick you up we’ll have lots of fun together at home.” “I WILL NOT GO!” He tried to hit me from the stroller. I kept walking, knowing if he got out it was going to be an epic chase. He’d run away, screaming that he’s not going to go to preschool. I’d have to catch him, hold him while he hits and kicks me, and then try to wrangle him and the stroller the next few blocks to school.
Thankfully, we made it to the landing in front of preschool despite his protests growing in volume. I tried to do more reassuring and echoing of his emotions, but he wasn’t having it. I walked a few feet away to sign him in (which is outside, so he’s stayed by the stroller). He started yelling, “I’m stuck!” I looked back to see that he had crawled part-way under the stroller. I tried to help him out but he only forced himself further in. “I’m not going!” he yelled, while in the BOTTOM OF THE STROLLER. He crawled all the way under the stroller seat, into the basket, as an attempt to hide. Quite a tactic. He’s smart, this one. The preschool teacher came over and nicely told him all the fun things they’re going to do. He didn’t budge. “I WON’T GO!”
I simultaneously saw the hilarity of this moment and was completely tortured by it. If I didn’t hold myself together, I knew I would be laughing hysterically and a blubbering fool. I looked at the teacher, “So, I guess we should just get him out?” She helped release his hands, I pulled him out and she carried him inside while he repeatedly hit her head and screamed, “NOOOO! I don’t want to leave my mommy!”
Out of his sight, I stood outside a minute to catch my breath, tears in my eyes. He kept wailing. I walked away still hearing his cries.
There I was, alone and teary-eyed, leaving a preschool that we’re brand new to as of the past week and don’t yet know anybody attending. I needed a hug. I needed someone to tell me he’ll be fine. I needed someone to tell me he’s going to get used to it and do better. I needed someone to tell me that we didn’t create this hitting, kicking monster who surfaces out of my equally intensely wonderful child.
I quickly pushed the empty stroller past my one of my favorite coffee shops with tears still in my eyes, not wanting to see my friend who owns it, knowing that a look of compassion would open the floodgates. Once past the business section of the neighborhood, I pulled out my phone and called a lifeline. Thank goodness for friends who understand. Thank goodness I’m learning to immediately reach out when I’m sad. This boy is going to teach me a lot. Hopefully a preschool teacher or I won’t get a black eye in the meantime.
I also want to take a moment to acknowledge that a hitting, kicking, screaming young child probably doesn’t come from a hitting, kicking, screaming parent. We both raise our voices on occasion, but it is rare. We’ve never hit or kicked our kids. Nor does our oldest do this to our youngest. This is just his current skill set for fear. He is scared about change, new to an environment, and dealing with it in full fighting mode. He is intense in all ways- the good and the bad.
I’ve been reading parenting books with hopes of understanding him better and finding ideas to help us all through this transition. One passage in a very popular book really upset me. The author answered “How do you handle a child who feels that violence is the only way to solve a problem?” with,
“This question raises several more: What is going on in this child’s life? Where is this child learning violence? Too much television? Too many video games? Too much punishment? A child’s environment and the role models he encounters provide many clues about that child’s violent behavior.
As a wise person once said, if you want to understand the fruit, look at the tree. Children do indeed learn what they live, and changing angry, aggressive behavior is best accomplished through kind, firm teaching about respect, nonviolent ways of solving problems, and watching adults practice what they preach.”
I find this response fascinating and horrifying. I do believe there are children acting out physically because that’s what they’re experiencing, but I am certain that it is not usually that black and white. Isn’t it ironic that such outright parental shaming resides in a book meant to guide parents how to teach children through positive methods? The purpose of this book is to give parents alternatives to shaming kids, yet it’s shaming parents. The parents should be addressed with the same compassion.
So, that’s what I’m going to do here. I’m just going to take a moment to address myself in the way that I need. Stick with me. It’s cheesy, but I’m desperate for encouragement and laughter this morning. I’m guessing at least a few of you are, too. At the moment, I need a motivational speaker so desperately that I might not even care if he lives in a van down by the river.
“Self, this is a really rough period of development. Three and half is notoriously difficult. Plus, he has had a lot of change. He misses having his big brother around. He misses having his dad work from home. He misses being with you all the time. He feels scared about his new experiences, even though he also enjoys them. He doesn’t know how to express all these emotions yet, and for him, they are big. Huge. So, he’s expressing himself how he knows best, with his body.”
“Well, la dee frickin’ da!”
“Thanks, Matt. Anyways. Self, keep at it. Shower him with love and fun. Keep letting him know it’s alright to feel scared. Keep dropping him off. Tune in to whether he’s staying enthusiastic about his experiences because if he’s not, maybe it really isn’t a good fit. But it’s probably just fine and this is a stage for him. A really awful one, but a period of development that will end. He is a very intense child and his current passion to not go will probably switch to a passionate desire to attend. Let’s hope for the best.”
“Otherwise, he’s going to live in a van down by the river.”
“Yes, Matt. He just might. Thank you. Anyways, it is hard to trust that he’s fine. It’s hard to not feel judged and like you’ve failed when your child is making the biggest scene and hurting people. Trust yourself. Keep calling your friends. Get support.”
(If any of my friends are worried about me after reading that very odd conversation with Matt Foley, please don’t hesitate to give me a call. I’m not so sure about myself either. But, this write-up has allowed me to funnel some of my nervous energy, while also accomplishing the goal of resting while recovering from a cold, icing my injured hip, and getting to write. Aaaah, it’s been forever- so glad to be here again. Now I return to my previously scheduled program- showering, eating and anxiously walking to pick him up and hear about how great his morning was. Or, get hit and kicked.)