It is strange how silent and still my house becomes at nap time. The blinds are closed, the lights are low, and the only sounds I hear are the purring of my air conditioner, the buzzing of my fridge, and a quiet — yet consistent — drip, drip, drip.
(Damn. Maybe one day we’ll fix our kitchen sink.)
But don’t let the stillness fool you: Less than an hour ago, my house was in chaos. Less than 30 minutes ago, toys covered every surface, and tears soaked our living room carpet. Because 15 minutes ago, my daughter had a meltdown. Six-hundred seconds ago, my daughter had the “tantrum to end all tantrums.”
Why? Because I said the one word she cannot stand; the one word she hates the most. I said no.
I don’t recall what I said no to exactly, I just know the very sound of that word triggered anger and rage; and before long she was face down on the floor screaming.
Before long, she was kicking, flailing, and crying.
And while I wanted to join her — we had been up since 5:00 AM and nothing will try your patience quite like sleep deprivation and a toddler tantrum —I stopped and inhaled deeply. I paused and held the air in my lungs until it ached, until my entire chest burned, and then I exhaled before say — thoughtfully and carefully — “I don’t understand you when you scream like that.” I turned and walked away, and then added, “When you want to talk, I’ll be right here.”
And make no mistake, I didn’t walk away to be cruel or callous; heartless or cold; I walked away because toddlers are volatile. Their moods are unstable. Their emotions are erratic, and they need consistency and support to thrive.
They need level-headedness even amidst the “chaos.”
So I’ve learned to become the patient and supportive one. I’ve become my daughter’s voice of reason, and I try to listen — even when I don’t understand. I acknowledge her feelings — even when they seem disproportionate and, well, irrational — and I validate them. I let her know her feelings are valid and OK. However, that doesn’t mean I condone lashing out, and while she has every right to be angry, sad, and/or frustrated, hitting, slapping, biting, and screaming are not acceptable actions because they are not nice.
Because those actions can hurt other people.
And I tell her that. Calmly and patiently I explain to her how to express her emotions with her words.
But I wasn’t always this “in touch” with my feelings. I wasn’t always this cool, calm, and collected. And it wasn’t until my own daughter became a tantruming tyke that I realized how unhinged I was.
It wasn’t until we were both collapsed in a heap of tears on our kitchen floor that I realized I couldn’t teach her healthy anger management skills unless I first learned them myself. Because for years I have coped with my own anger and frustration by swallowing it. I was the kind of gal who shut down, and shut up. But like a kettle on the stove, the contents within kept heating up. Animosity, rage, and resentment boiled just beneath the surface. And they remained there until I couldn’t take it anymore. Until the contents within collapsed upon themselves, and I exploded. Until I screamed and cried and said words which I still regret.
Until I said and did things which had the power to hurt other people.
But I didn’t realize how bad my own actions were until I saw my daughter’s anger and rage. Until I saw myself in her tantrums.
Now I try to practice mindfulness. I try to pinpoint my feelings, instead of burying them, and I try to check-in with myself — and others — multiple times a day. I try to write or run or meditate or breathe (just breathe) at least once a day, and I go to therapy.
Each and every week, I set aside a solid hour of sanity and “me time.”
And I do the same with my daughter. I mean, she doesn’t go to therapy, but we talk. We breathe. We take time-outs — i.e. moments of reflection where we both step back and calm down (or build tall towers with dozens of LEGO blocks) — and we find “other ways” to express our frustration which, for her, means running around the playground until her heart is content or sitting back, relaxing, and watching a movie.
Make no mistake: I am not perfect. There are many days when my patience fails. When I am short, snappy, angsty, and abrupt. But I am making a conscious effort to change how I react, to lead by example, and to say I’m sorry. (Yes. This mama will admit to her daughter when she is wrong and then explain to her why I reacted in a not-so-nice way.) Because, at the end of the day, my daughter is going to learn how to navigate her life based on how I navigate mine, and I want her to know how to sail through smooth waters, rough waters, choppy waters, and even how to make it through a storm not unscathed, but safely. Not without incident or injury, but without irreparable harm.