“What tired of your kids already?” A friend said to me the other day. To be clear, it was a gay man who has no children. That would explain why he used the word “already.” I mean after all, my son is two years old. Any mother will tell you that 730+ days is ample time for your kids to drive you a little bonkers. Especially after they’ve passed that 730 day mark.
I had to explain to him the current situation in my house. I cannot leave the room when my daughter and son are both there together. Actually, to be more precise even if I am in the room I cannot take my peripheral vision off of my son at any moment. Also, I must be one step closer to my daughter than he is at all times.
That is because if you turn your back for a second, look away at any moment, or god forbid leave the room, my son will either hit, pummel or knock his little sister to the ground. She is 9 months old.
The day that I told my friend this I explained to him how that very morning I brought all of my clothes into the living room to change (where both kids were playing.) As I was taking off my PJ’s I realized that I had forgotten my bra. My husband was in the room so I felt as though I could chance it. I literally ran down the hall (approximately 10 steps) to grab said item.
I had just landed the last step when I heard the telltale preempt to disaster: the sound of my son’s feet running across the floor. “J!” I yelled to my husband to try to alert him to the imminent danger of our daughter. But when I left the room I failed to take into consideration two things. 1. My husband was on the phone and 2. He had his back turned and was unaware I had left the room.
Jason did not hear my pleading yell, so the next thing I heard was what usually follows the pound of my son’s footprints: the terrible thud of my daughter’s head hitting the floor. Followed of course promptly by her crying.
This upsets me, as you might imagine.
Sometimes I feel that in these affairs, my daughter is more resilient than me. Often she finishes her cry and moves on, while my body is still pumping with the anger and adrenaline that this occurrence produced. Meanwhile she’s back to happily shaking her rattle or gnawing on that Tupperware.
My son also does drive by slaps of his sister as he is moving across the room, even if you are there. (Hence the required peripheral vision and closeness.) He does this just to annoy me. Truly. Experience has shown me that he does it because he gets a very strong reaction from me. It’s taken me a while to figure this out but now honestly, I can finally see the appeal. For my son it’s like the joy of remote puppeteering. Do this thing, and the person over there jumps up, all bug-eyed and starts yelling and freaking out. I can totally see where that would be entertaining. You never know exactly what the puppet (me) is going to do, but you know it’s going to be wild and unusual.
So I’m literally having to train myself not to react to this, or at least not in an outrageous way. Imagine having to train yourself not to react when your baby daughter is pummeled! You want to do some of your own pummeling. At the very least you want to freak out and yell at the culprit! This I’ve discovered only fuels his fire. Maybe not at that moment, but I’m learning that is the one thing that ensures a repeat act.
Let me tell you, it takes all I have to shift the energy that is screaming inside of me and say firmly and calmly, “Be gentle with your sister.” It’s like coming to a screeching halt in complete silence. So far, I am successful about two out of four times. Still, that’s an improvement.
Simultaneously you have to use other tricks designed for two-year-old brains. For example, you say what you want to have happen, not the negative of what did happen. “We don’t hit,” repeated constantly for a toddler translates in their brain to “hit.” So you say oxymoronic things that are completely contrary to what you want to do at the moment— like— in an utterly even and non-reactive voice, “Use soft touches Xylus.”
Forget about the kid, this is a severe boot camp for the mother (or parent). The whole process involves sustaining hours of bodily tension as you keep an eye on the culprit in every moment and anticipate any moves he may make and therefore you may have to make in response. I’ve had to start reminding my body to relax because although I may be just standing in the kitchen getting something off the counter, my son’s proximity to my daughter sends signals in my body that virtually shout, “PREPARE YOUSELF! BATTLE IS IMMINENT!”
Yesterday I was sitting on the floor knitting next to my daughter in my protective sheep dog position, shielding her from my son with my body as she crawled and explored, when I thought, “I’d love some music right now.” Sadly the thought was also followed by an understanding of the steps turning on the music would require. 1. Moving away from my daughter. 2. Taking my computer and cord out of the bag. 3.Plugging it into the wall. 4. Attaching the stereo speaker plug. 5. Finding Pandora online. That’s four steps too many, I realized. I’ve got time for one, max. Not worth it. I remained in place, knitting and protecting in silence, the ever-vigilant sheep dog parent in home boot camp.