Monday, July 26, 2010

7/26/2010 The Reminder

For the most part, Katrina gives me the most headaches around here, primarily due to the mismatch between her age and tantrumy personality.

Remind you of anyone? Gabriel's difficulty been greatly mitigated by maturity, but everrrrry so often, we're reminded again who we're dealing with.

I can't even remember how it started -- something about having to be told numerous times to come inside and get ready for swim lesson. As he was putting his bicycle away, with me angrily standing over him, I commented to be careful with the handlebar in a tight area, I didn't want to get whacked by it. "That's YOUR problem," he retorted.

I look right in his face and inform him that he may never speak to any grownup that way, even me, but he isn't in the least bit intimidated, let alone remorseful. His rude responses make me raise the bar, and it keeps getting worse, with numerous interruptions and natural graceful exits when I have to pay attention to the other two.

Still, there was plenty of opportunity for offenses. A few minutes later at dinner, he held up his fist in an apparent threat to punch, but then claimed he was actually just threatening to throw a piece of hot dog at me. I'm leaving out a lot, but the last interaction was my warning him that ONE more rudeness and he'd go straight to bed after swim lesson.

Swim lesson changed the venue and all was forgotten, even my internal smoldering (mostly because of a bowel emergency of Julian's that required a lot of attention).

But after PJs and past bedtime, Gabriel came down to ask for dessert. Dave right away said it was too late, and I followed up with that sometimes, I'll make exceptions, but not on a day that he was SO rude to me. Big mistake. Once again, the fist went up. Dave asked him what that was really for, and he said without any fear that that's how you punch someone.

That's when the trouble really started. I stayed out of the major escalation, but it involved Dave implementing one serious consequence after another, with Gabriel reacting with yet more rudeness, defiance, threats and violence. I stepped in to play Good Cop when he was on his bed, though he was again in an aggressive stance and hurling threats.

He was so angry, yet still so defiant. Now his focus had shifted to his lost items -- all his money, his electronics lab, his Nerf gun, and numerous other favorite toys. Yet he still wouldn't back down. I sensed that now he was ready to get out of his tizzy but didn't know how.

So I talked to him. I told him I knew how he felt with being really angry, and that it's OK to feel angry. I suggested he punch his pillow, and talked to him about finding ways to feel better -- just a little teensy bit better. I distracted him by asking if he knew what a vortex is, and described a vortex in terms of a huge sinking ship, like the Titanic. I told him that it takes a long time to learn how to make things better for yourself, knowing that he was still completely focused on his lost things and not on my philosophy lesson. His reactions were all with gritted teeth and angry tones, but finally I heard a quiver in his voice. He was calming down not so much from my words, but from hearing me talk. I left when he started to escalate again, ready for Round Two and starting to demand his things back, but most of the storm had blown over.

My son. How can I guide this powerful personality?

He becomes so blinded with rage, so focused on what's lost that he makes things so much worse for himself. I remember SO well as a kid feeling completely overcome with outrage at the injustice, feeling like I was going to go CRAZY and that there was no way out. I hated feeling so helpless. It takes years to learn sunk cost, how to accept and grieve what can't be changed, how to make the best of situations, how to move on. I'm so much better at managing emotions and frustration now (believe it or not), I have outlets and coping strategies and recognize self-destructive tendencies. And I'm still a rank amateur.

It is SO hard to watch my son tear himself -- and everything else around him -- apart while he is in the throes of anger and helplessness. Talking to him tonight did finally help pull him out, but that's never a given. Quite often my attempts to talk him off the ledge only backfire and re-escalate. It absolutely doesn't work until he's on the downhill side of the arc and is out of ideas. Even then, like tonight, sometimes it just gives him a breather to regroup, and he's ready to resume the fight anew.

Most of learning how to cope with these feelings will be up to him, but I hope so strongly I can still guide him and help him somehow in the meantime. Whatever I've learned in my several decades -- and still am learning -- just doesn't apply to an 8-year-old. He doesn't want my wisdom, he wants his Nerf gun back.

But I'm hardly a model to follow. Dave spent some frustrating time tonight trying to fix a bifold door whose hardware got bent when it was closed improperly. Er, that would be, slammed in anger. And he's got me to teach him?

Heaven help the world when teenage hormones flood in and drown whatever tenuous influence I might have on this 46-pound fortress.


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