Monday, January 12, 2009

1/12/09 The broken heart

Just how many times, for how many days in a row and weeks on end, does one have to repeat to their children in the morning: "Get dressed! Eat! Get your shoes on! Get your jacket on! Get in the car!!"? How much is too much? At what point is a mother justified in completely going off the deep end?

I don't have an answer about the justification, but I do have a data point about the deep end.

This morning, as I was attempting to herd my little clan for a hectic Monday, I found Gabriel playing with his slot cars, again, instead of putting his lunch in his knapsack and getting ready to get into the car. Maybe I'd have more patience for this if I weren't also pushing putzy Julian through brushing teeth, and keeping Katrina on track as well (though she's uncharacteristically cooperative in the mornings) (mostly) (usually) (where you have to calibrate "cooperative" to "Katrina."). But the nonstop pushing and cajoling and teeth-gritting reminding every morning, without fail, was too much when I saw him putzing around playing, again.

I was furious. I picked up his slot car track and violently dragged the fragile plastic behind me as I went to get a plastic garbage bag. "G E T Y O U R K N A P S A C K R E A D Y >>>> NOWWWW!!!! <<<<< " I screamed with complete, sincere, total venom. He resisted, and I lifted the slot car track and threw it into the corner. A few pieces of black plastic sprayed upon impact. "NOOO!!!!!!" he cried out -- you could hear it echoing in the canyon. He furiously got his things together and got in the car, crying and screaming the whole way.

Naturally, it didn't end there. On the way to school, he hurled every threat he could think of at me, saying bloodcurdling things that kids a few decades ago would get lashings for. I was shaken and still pretty mad, and tried not to respond. "That was a CHRISTMAS PRESENT, Mom!" he choked out furiously, so upset he couldn't quite cry. "It didn't even last to my birthday. YOU BROKE IT!!!" No amount of repeating that he might have had something to do it sank in. "YOU HAVE TO PAY ME SIX MILLION DOLLARS!"

When I brought him to the CDC, he refused to go with me. I had to drag him across the street, then he hid and made me find and run after him to drag him into the CDC, where I shoved him inside the door and slammed it behind him. "I don't love you anymore, MOM!!!"

After dropping off the other two, I went to my planned Y workout, but I couldn't concentrate. I knew he deserved something big, because with Gabriel, taking away a sticker just doesn't cut it. But I'd gone too far. I didn't just break his slot car track, I broke his heart. "You broke the part with the ELECTRICITY!" He knew it wouldn't last forever and wanted to get as much out of it as he could.

Gabriel doesn't cry easily, and he doesn't like to cry, so his crying is often accentuated by anger at being put in that position. Embellishing, dramatizing, playing victim, manipulating, trying to get attention by crying -- not in his DNA. He's no actor. He means it. Even beyond that, he rarely leans on me for emotional support, and always handles problems on his own (to a fault) -- to see him so upset cuts right through me. So the thought of his crying furiously really ripped into me as I forced myself through a drudgerous mile on the treadmill.

As I was wrapping up a quick ab exercise, I decided to take a shower at home instead of at the Y, as I'd planned. I counted the seconds at every light and rushed as fast as I could into the door to inspect the damage. There were only a few broken pieces, one critical, but the most fixable. Though I was sweaty, uncomfortable, and late for work, I pulled out some superglue and set about to repairing the damage. (I was not just a little irritated that such fine closeup work in a poorly lit room on tiny black objects is becoming downright difficult. Even if I had any idea where my reading glasses are, I doubt they'd do much anymore.)

I did the best repair I could, tenderly holding each piece together until the glue set, and hoped that by the time he got home, whatever good the glue could do would be at its best. Worst case, I'd get new pieces, or a whole new box.

But didn't he deserve some serious consequences for not listening to me for the 1000th time? And as Dave pointed out, he doesn't leave us a lot of choices. Still, his disappointment and grief were deep. Slot cars are the closest thing to true love a 6-year-old boy has, he feels it deeply. I was OK with him being mad at me, that happens -- the comment about not loving me didn't bother me at all -- but his intense loss was too much for me to take. If anyone made him feel that bad, I'd do anything to make it better for him.

I think it's official. No one can break my heart the way my firstborn son can. My husband used to hold that sole honor, but he has to share it now. And that's what I was doing this morning instead of going to work, squinting and straining to see while placing tiny pieces of plastic together with tweezers: fixing my own broken heart.

I didn't tell Gabriel I fixed it, and avoided the question when he and Julian both asked. I wasn't sure it would hold. But he was playing with it again this evening, able to enjoy its natural life. He'll accept its inevitable demise, but he doesn't have to accept an early one. He was happy. That took the edge off my shame.

And tomorrow, if he putzes around in the morning, I'll take away ice cream.



Louise said...

I admire that you are willing to share this story; sounds like it was painful for both of you.

I wasn't going to comment until I saw this article in the NY Times:

I think you're both going to be okay :-)

mommieN. said...

She threw a box of crayons? That's it? And then talked to her boys about it, and they understood the concept of not cleaning up someone else's messes? And felt bad about it? And a lesson was learned?!?!!

This did not occur in any universe I'm aware of! Where's the next rocket ship?!

We'll be OK. Thing is, they respond much better to the same words spoken un-yelled -- if they're heard at all above the din. Being completely ignored, on the other answers.