I wrote this post months ago, before I met the Most Amazing Man In The Universe. Due to changing from Blogger to WordPress (which, by the way, is going quite swimmingly after some earlier teething problems), it got lost in my Drafts folder and only just re-emerged. I hate to throw words away… I figured I may as well publish it anyway.
It was difficult to read, without hurting for myself… I hadn’t realized how much easier having someone who loves me- someone to laugh with- had made things.
“How do you get teenage boys to talk? …You don’t.”
From a post on Widow’s Voice.
There’s a pendulum swing, a shift that occurs every now and then when you have kids. Actually, scratch that- it’s not having kids that causes it. When I think about it, it’s the same phenomenon that occurs with everyone I’ve ever known and loved.
Some days, other people seem to be light and laughter, their thoughts on harmony with your own. You crave their company, miss them when they’re not around.
And then, other days, the weight shifts. Call it hormonal fluctuation, or the tide pull of the moon, or just human nature. Whatever. But, occasionally, the people closest to you just grate at your nerves, and you really can’t stand them. Today has been an irritating, cycling film roll of harassment and screaming and tantrums and whining and “Bump, I cannot understand you with that dummy in your mouth!!”.
God help me, this is hard. Too f*cking hard, some days, when I’m stressed and strung out and there’s just me. No one to laugh it off with. I remember, vaguely, this occurring in the Before– one of my darlings screaming hysterically at me, irrational and inconsolable, while I stubbornly gritted my teeth and held firm with my ’no’… for their own good. But I also remember what would occur when I had chance to recant and retell the story to my husband, later that day… he would make me laugh. And that would piss me off, slightly, frustrate me that he could never take anything seriously. But it was exactly what I needed, because I would laugh in spite of myself, and so would he, and that hard, stressed, acidic tenseness in my stomach muscles would disappear.
And things would feel better again. And I wouldn’t feel so guilty, so much like absolute shit, because he would give me some perspective– all kids do this. This is them, not me. I’m not doing any worse than anyone else. I can tell myself that, over and over until its ground a monotonous tune–track into my mind… but it’s never as convincing, never quite the same.
He’s not very well, poor kid, some kind of indistinguishable virus giving him a cough and slight run of mucus from his nose, occasionally throwing in a baking fever that causes him to be lethargic and miserable. It’s just ‘one of those things’– a kid virus that can only be treated with rest, fluid and ibuprofen. But having my children ‘rest’ is near impossible when they’re not quite sick enough to be lounge–bound with blankets and water bottles and Sponge Bob; but not quite well enough to tear around the garden, harassing the cats, on a twenty seven degree day.
I have what I sometimes consider to be much patience for the Chop’s distressing, alarming screaming fits, especially as they’ve dissipated as he grows, filtering out gradually the same way as nappies and dummies and waking up five times a night, so quietly I barely even notice them leaving.
I love to say ‘I get it’ in relational to his tantrums, that I understand the feelings that motivate it, the passion of the injustice of being four–but–almost–five years old and a big kid who is not allowed to do anything. I used to get it, once upon a Before.
The patience I had then was cooked and steamed from memories of my own tantrums. I remember what it was like to lose your temper like that, to snap and not be aware it was happening, and then realize you were screaming, seeing the look on your mum’s face and the tears of stress forming in the corners of her eyes where a line of pretty, frosty blue eyeliner always sat, slightly smudged, always tired. I remember knowing I should stop, wanting to stop, being ashamed of losing all my control like…but being unable to keep it in, too ashamed to cease and face the humiliation of backing down. The only thing to do- keep screaming until you were exhausted, hiccuping, needing a hug more than you needed to assert your will.
So… once upon a Before, I empathized so deeply with my son. I promised myself then– and I keep it, now– that I would teach him by example that apologizing for yelling, apologizing for being angry… that was OK. Saying sorry didn’t have to bring shame- it was a godd thing.
And I promised myself I would never make him feel guilty, never deny him a hug if he asked for one in the aftermath of such a frenzy of anger. I would tell him it was OK, that I loved him and forgave him, and we’d talk about what happened, why he was angry, why it wasn’t OK to do that, what we both could have done instead…
I think I keep that promise, too. Most of the time. But I do understand now, more than I ever possibly could as a child, that my mother reacting to me the way she did often wasn’t out of guilt… but more out of resisting the urge to slap me, hard and square, straight across the soft flesh of my cheek.
I grit my teeth, often, and fight the very same kind of impulse.
I wouldn’t do it, I’m almost sure of that… I haven’t done it yet. ‘If he were an adult…’ says a part of me that has never liked yelling, but now, riddled with PTSD as if it were cancer, cannot stand it. To be screamed at, especially by my son who is so much of his father… it releases all kinds of physiological distress signals in my mind, tightens my muscles with acid distiller of a primal, survival adreneline. It’s a strange kind of deep heating, a resigned fury that leaves my body feeling hot, smouldered, burning of overworked sulphur and smelted copper. It’s like the aftermath of watching a boxing match, or eating too much red meat for days on end. It feels like a room full of pissed off blokes in a country pub and I dislike it intensely.
It feels the direct opposite of harmony, as if it’s slowly corroding the part of me that’s zen and loving and at peace with the world (if not the universe) and her place within it.
The same faction of my soul that inherently replies to ‘If he were an adult…’ with ‘He is just a baby, my baby… And he’s hurting.’
And that’s where I no longer get it, anymore, not really. The temper tantrums I remember having we’re literal child’s play, an innocents mocking of anger; in comparison to what my son must feel, the rage he must keep inside, how ripped off and pissed off and thoroughly confused he must be. I remember, just months after Tony died, a relative of his becoming distressed over the Chop saying, in the innocence of a then–three–year–old, that he hated his father (and what on earth was I putting into this child’s head?!).
Personally, I have no doubt that some days he probably does hate his dad, as much as he misses him. I know I do. And some days he probably hates the universe, the world, me… perhaps himself as well, as much as that thought pinches and hurts at my insides.
And I hate to admit that, about my own child. But I think I know it’s true, and it’s worried me more and more as I sink back into reality, back into the everyday. It’s not a definite, and I’m aware of self-fulfilling prophecies as much as the next person. But I’m also wary of what could happen here… and when I’m strong and brave, I can admit to myself that I see it happening, just a little bit- my son’s self esteem, doughy and dense, like bread that refuses to rise.
At least, I think to myself, I’m recognizing that now and not ten years from now. And I’m doing all I know how to– talk, be honest, compliments where deserved and discipline where necessary. Build him up, make him real, make him believe in himself as an awesome little person in his own right. Try and plug the leaks, damn the holes where self-belief trickles or drains or floods out in gushes. I feel like a contortionist, using every finger and toe and limb I have.
And sometimes, inevitably, I feel as though I’m failing, as though I’m a cartoon character in a five minute skit where every hole I plug forces more to open, my eyes comically wide and my arms and legs scrambling, pinwheeling, flailing against a rising tide.
I know nothing about raising boys. Men in general are somewhat alien to me…. I just don’t understand how the male mind works. In the same way men never seem to be able to figure out me.
I never needed to know anything about raising boys. I was never going to do this by myself. Truth be known, the thought of birthing a boy–child terrified me. The only comfort to that fear was my big, tough man’s man of a husband. My main concern was, once, too much testosterone and boy time for my son, not the absence of it. (If I could have the worries of my Purple Life back again… what a blissfully happy person I’d be. Blissful without ignorance, this time around.)
We talk, my son and I, as much as we can. As much as either of our segmented, grieving consciousnesses will allow us to. But while my little girl, my Bump, expresses her sadness in pouts and tears and big blue eyes full of an indignation she doesn’t even understand yet; the Chop is stoic, mindful, tougher than you’d want your four year old to be. When he speaks of his dad it’s always in the positive– we did this, or we did that, he was like this or he was like that. Only occasionally, sporadically and without warning, announce that he misses him, especially if I’ve confessed to it first, his tiny sister a Greek chorus in the tragedy.
But he never cries, my baby boy. Never have I seen tears of simple sadness, simple ache for his dad roll down those perfect cheeks, even the first time he understood what I was saying, which was the second time I told him. He was angry– “No!! I want my daddy back!!” and it hurt so much I was too blunt, to realistic. “I’m sorry baby. I want him back, too. But he can’t come back. He can’t.”
And I kissed him, read him a book, asked if he was OK, and escaped his tiny bedroom on the top floor of the Purple house just as quickly as I could, trying not to remember that my boy and his dad had been wrestling, laughing and thumping the floor (“Do NOT stir the child up right on bedtime, Tony!!!”) just six days beforehand.
I don’t think I’ll ever get over punishing myself for that, of handling that so badly, for allowing my own pain and trauma to superstate the needs of my child. But, at the same time, I allow myself some forgiveness, shaking my head in pity at the electrified, terrified, screaming state I was in.
I read the blogs of other widows occasionally but infrequently, my own insecurities keeping me away from a community that would, probably, embrace me wholeheartedly. I don’t want to internalize the status of ‘widow’. I’m so admittedly, ashamedly and un-feminist-ly craving a new relationship, wanting to belong to someone again, that I worry irrationally. If I take on the mantle of ‘widow’, doesn’t that hinder the prospect of me ever being someone’s wife again…?
But when I do read the blogs of women in the same situation as me, I always glean some wisdom, some understanding, some new ideas and a bit of perspective. (And this is why blogging is awesome, yes?) In my guilt over my little boy’s lack of discernible tears (whether facade, or he is fantastically resilient… the jury’s out. I’ll get back to you on that one, once I’ve had time to pull the tangle from it in my head), I seemed to have forgotten and overlooked the fact that the human male is, perhaps, the species of the natural world that finds communication the most difficult and bothersome.
That’s just men… and there’s the sadness of it.
I don’t think there’s a cure, a black and white directive here– this is as messy as grief, and life, itself. I’m reassuring myself that any communication– be that in the form of positive memory affirmations or screaming, blistering tantrums– can be a good thing, a channel to more communication. Especially if I can react effectively, teach my son to use what emotional resources he’s got and channel that anger toward social acceptability.
I worry incessantly about his lack of male company– suddenly going from a three year old who had just been bought a punching bag (much to his mum’s pissed–off–ed–ness) by his dad for Christmas; to a four year old watching Mega Builders on the lounge while mum tries to pretend she’s watching,too, her feigned interest no match for his suspicions… that’s quite a culture shock. A huge change for such a small child.
Little kids are so awesomely adaptable. I watch my little man grow, bettering himself over and over despite my parenting fuck ups… I’m so proud of him.
My gorgeous, strong, deep, compassionate, funny little boy. My heart beats for him, aches for him… if I could give him the entire world at once, I would.