By 9 o'clock in the morning there had already been 3 meltdowns.
First Holly screamed at Anna because she thought Anna was in her way, preventing her from observing the gecko getting a drink of water. (Apparently we now have a resident gecko in a terrarium who eats crickets.) While Holly persisted in screaming at Anna to get out of the way, the gecko moved on to other activities and Holly was faced with her overwhelming disappointment, which she expressed to me over and over at the top of her lungs. I held her on my lap, soothed and listened, tried not to let her see me cringing as her shrieks pierced my ears. I didn't bother to attempt to reason with her that surely the gecko would have another drink sometime that she would likely get to observe. What would have been the point? She couldn't have heard me over her own screaming, and she didn't care about seeing it again; she cared about seeing it when Anna had seen it. Eventually the wailing subsided, I gave her a final cuddle and she and I each moved on to other things.
A second explosion of emotion happened a few minutes later when Jasmine climbed onto the table to retrieve a few small stuffed animals she had seen. The animals had come out of Anna's private collection and Anna reacted with enormous grief and anger when Jasmine climbed back down with her little arms full. I empathized with Anna: Yes, those are your special animals. Yes, Jasmine shouldn't take your things without asking you first. Yes, she doesn't even play them and only wants to carry them around. Yes, it's hard to share your most special toys. Yes, being the oldest child can result in some very frustrating times. Then I moved from empathy to explanation: No, we're not going to grab the animals away from Jasmine and make her cry. Maybe we shouldn't leave things lying around if we don't want her touch them? Maybe we should find a special place for your things where you can keep them private? I comforted. I wiped away tears. I did not yank the little animals out of Jasmine's arms as she delightedly pranced around the house with her treasures. Eventually she was bored of them and Anna surreptitiously gathered them up and hid them away in parts unknown.
The third emotional eruption occurred when Jasmine went outside to find a new activity. I had just hung out a large load of laundry on the clothesline and she spotted her favourite shirt--a pink one with 2 kittens on the front. Of course she wanted it even though it was still wet. At first I said No, your shirt is wet but when the whining little voice saying "Kitty-tirt" switched to a much bigger, angrier voice screaming "Right now!" I knew it time to get the shirt. Well, the cold wet shirt on her warm little body didn't bring her quite the level of delight that she had anticipated (surprise!) and the crying continued.
By this point, I was starting to become undone. Exasperation, frustration, anger, annoyance: I had had enough. I played out a scene in my head where I walked away and closed the door. I imagined another scene where I yanked kitty-tirt off her little body and stuck it back on the clothesline and then walked away. I did not feel patient, loving or kind. I was frazzled and tired. I wanted to sit and be left alone. I wanted a significant span of time where I could be completely free from anyone else's needs.
In Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves Naomi Aldort writes:
Notice that when your child's action elicits your reaction, your mind puts words
in your mouth. It is like a computer running itself: Your child does
something and a window opens automatically in your mind. This would be
harmless if you didn't read what it says out loud. If you are upset, it is
the wrong thing to say or do and will only aggravate the situation. It is
not what you want to say. It does not represent your true intention and is
therefore inauthentic. The proof to this inauthenticity is that later you
regret your words and actions and they build walls between you and your child.
Fortunately I know what patience, love and kindness look like even when I don't feel them inside. I picked up Jasmine and held her on my lap while she wailed long and loud. I didn't know if she was upset about her wet shirt, or that I had initially said No or if something else all together was in her little head. But I held her and smoothed her hair and before long her angry wails turned to sad sobs and then she asked to nurse and though it is extremely uncomfortable at this stage of pregnancy, I smiled and granted her request. She was satisfied in only a few seconds and then she sat comfortably against me for many more minutes before getting up to investigate what her sisters were up to. By then, I felt nothing but peace, love and connection. I was able to let go of my initial reaction and be the kind of mother that I truly want to be.
I tell the children that we love each other by being patient and kind, but the truth is that I don't always feel patient and kind. Love is what we do when we don't really feel very loving, right? Patience and kindness are the vehicles that take us down the road to connectedness, harmony and joy. And even when I'm not sure how to get there, just embracing the goal can be a big help.
I'd like to reach the point where I don't get frazzled and almost come undone. I don't know if that's an achievable goal or not. But I can't very well expect the children to be patient and kind with each other if I am not patient and kind with them, right? I'm learning.