This is more of a story of Mommy NOT dropping the hammer so much as trying to build relationship with my traumatized kids while also surviving the roller coaster. My husband had to go out of town for two days, which seems to have really wreaked havoc on the kids’ security. It is SO much harder to do this without a partner, Oh my goodness. I’m so grateful for him and how involved he is with the kids.
So yesterday, day two of my solo parenting voyage, a friend called in the morning and invited the kids to come over and play to give me a break. What? YES! We’re getting in the car right now!!!
Our friends are musicians, so our kids got to play drums and make all sorts of noise for over an hour while I went to the office for a tiny bit of work and a bit of administration. After I picked them up and was driving them home, another friend called and offered the same thing, and to make them spaghetti for lunch. Do I have good friends, or what? So I took them up there, played with them for a little while, and then went back to the office, (and then to the bank, the post office, the hospital to pick up Ellie’s prescription, and a quick trip through the grocery store)! It’s amazing what you can get done with out the little guys. By the way, they were all thrilled with these visits and (seemingly) happily waved goodbye when I left.
Anyways, We messed with the schedule a bit, and we messed with their comfort zone a bit, and it all came back to bite me. I brought home three exhausted kids about an hour and a half past their normal ‘quiet time’. They have quiet time every day and usually they both sleep during it. Eliana was so tired she couldn’t stand up and went right to sleep when I put her in the crib.
The boys, I suppose to express their anxiety and their continuing frustration with their life being out of their control, started screaming. For once, I didn’t really care because you could drive a truck through Ellie’s room and she wasn’t going to wake up. So I let them do it and went downstairs. They kept it up for 20 minutes. I decided what they probably most needed and wanted was time with Mommy, since we’d been apart for three hours. So I went back up, and I opened one of their favorite books “Simba’s A to Z” (from The Lion King), to a page where young Simba has his mouth open in a roar. Whenever Melkam sees this page he mimicks the expression and lets out a little scream to show what Simba is doing. Anyways, Melkam had stopped screaming, but Alex was still at it, and with a most defiant look on his face. I showed them both the page, pointed to Alex and said “Good job Alex! Just like Simba!” I got a tiny smile out of him, and a big laugh out of Melkam. We did this for a while until they both started laughing, then I invited them into my bed with me to read books together. Ah, order restored? Maybe, for a moment.
Alex proceeded to be super cuddly, something we’ve not seen thus far. He wanted to sit on my lap, he took my arms and wrapped them around him, he asked for hugs, he adjusted his body for maximum contact, and he pretended to fall asleep in my arms. They both listened to the books.
At this point let me say that none of the kids were used to being read to, and it took a while before they could sit still. Remembering that they can’t understand much of what’s in the books, we sometimes read a little, but mostly tell the story in the picture using words they know. For example, we have a book about the story of David and Goliath. Melkam will go through the book and care only about identifying which are good guys (Gobez) and which are bad guys (I can’t remember the word right now) on every page. Or they will both focus on relationships in the picture, for example, which person is Mommy, Daddy, baby. Or friends, or brothers, etc. Baby board books would be more appropriate for their level of understanding, but they don’t want anything to do with those.
I have to recommend Spike Lee’s “Please, Baby, Please!” which has VERY simple words that they understand, and big beautiful illustrations with all black characters. In the book the baby does things like eat sand, or throw a tantrum when her Mom wants her to go home from the playground. The boys can tell from the illustration exactly what’s going on and they will point to the baby and say “Impe!” to point out that that’s what SHE’s saying in the scenario. Ironic, they can see exactly what bad behavior looks like even if they looked just like that naughty baby two hours before! So it’s pretty funny. And they love the repetitive “Please, Baby, Please!” that’s on every page.
Also, I’d like to recommend Shaun the Sheep videos. No words at all, excellent claymation, and it totally captivates both the boys. Must be nice for them to have a break from the stress of trying constantly to understand what’s going on in words.
Anyway, so the boys didn’t really sleep yesterday afternoon, but we had a very restorative snuggle time following the screaming session. Then we got up while Ellie still slept and we made chocolate chip cookies together. Each got to measure, break eggs, stir things, etc. They liked it, although their attention spans are incredibly short! We saved cookies for after dinner. Dinner went ok, but after dinner Alex spilled his milk and fell on the floor, devastated. Took maybe 15 minutes to recover from that one. I told him it was ok, Mommy’s not mad, let’s have our cookies, etc. Nothing doing. So we moved on. Time for our chaotic dog walk: Mommy walking with Eliana in the Ergo and Noah on leash. My boys riding bikes way too far ahead of me, but relatively minding when I yell at them to stop at every intersection to wait. They are learning to look for cars, and we work on left, right and straight when we talk about which way we are going next. We ride to the park at the elementary school, about six blocks away.
Melkam promptly has to go number two, so we run over to the port-a-potty, which is SO filthy, to take care of business. Ugh. And the hand sanitizer is almost empty and I didn’t carry my diaper bag with baby wipes or sanitizer. Ugh. Get over it.
Both boys are tired and whiney and demanding me to push them on the swings. Eliana wants to roam, but of course in the direction of the swinging children who threaten to kick her in the head. The dog is tied to the fence. It’s a useless situation and I finally just announce that we are all going home. No complaints, I think they really were ready for sleep.
So we get home, they have NOT listened well on the way home and I’m beginning to worry that I’ve lost the opportunity to instill consistent safety habits for them while riding bikes around the neighborhood (I know we’ve only been working on it a couple of weeks!). I tell them it’s time to go to bed (it’s about 7:30 by this point) and we go upstairs to change. Alex wants to watch a movie downstairs before bed and I tell him “No, tonight we can read two books but then it’s time for sleeping.”
Oh boy, here we go again. The boy who was sweet and cuddly four hours earlier becomes a raging monster, screaming like an animal. Like an animal. I’m not kidding. Ask my friend who happened to stop by to borrow something right in the middle of it. Again, I’m not participating because A) I’ve learned that at that level of meltdown the only remedy is time and B) if he’s not hurting himself or others or destroying property, there’s nothing I can do unless I want to hold him down. Since he’s in his room, I just let him scream.
He strips his bed, throws a few toys around the room and bangs on something. Hopefully not his head against the wall. He continued for almost an hour. Finally he got quiet and came out and sat in the hallway. I went into his room and offered to sit with him in his bed and read books. He declined, but Melkam climbed in my lap FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER and we read a Clifford the Big Red Dog book together. When there was a picture of Clifford rescuing a drowning girl, Melkam pointed to him and said “BOAT!” He’s so cute I can hardly stand it (and he sat in my lap and read a book with me, yay!).
Alex stayed in the hallway. I went downstairs to make a bottle for Ellie, who had woken up. He sat in the hallway for another 45 minutes, refusing to move. I came back up and sat in Ellie’s room singing to her while feeding her. Melkam fell asleep. Alex desperately wanted me to let him sleep in our bed, but that’s not a trend I’m interested in starting, so when I’d put Ellie down I sat with him in the hallway and asked him if he wanted to hear Mommy’s song. Yes, he nodded. So I sang a few verses of Amazing Grace and told him it was a song about how much God loves us no matter what. I told him how happy I was that he was in my family and how much I love him. Then I told him it was time for sleeping and led him to his room. He planted his feet at the door and refused to go in. I gently said it was ok if he wasn’t ready yet, and I left him and went downstairs to wash the dishes.
He came down twice, silently, to find me. The first time he refused again to go into his room. The second time I coaxed him in and told him I’d sit with him in his bed. He fell asleep within ten minutes and I was able to extricate myself without waking him after another fifteen. What a process!
So in retrospect having them go to two friends’ houses while Daddy was out of town was probably compounding an existing anxiety. At the same time, I really needed a few hours away. For the first time since they’ve been home, I had the opportunity to miss my kids! They are all really cool little people and I’m so proud of them for what they are doing to deal with this crazy transition. I was actually excited to see them when I went to pick them up! The good news is, everyone slept well last night.
One more recommendation: Dodge Ball. Not the movie (although it is hilarious). I mean throwing soft rubber balls at each other and running around. It’s a great way to vent frustrations and the kids particularly like throwing a ball at Mommy as hard as they can! And of course, I can’t say that I don’t enjoy pelting them back. It’s a good opportunity to talk about rules, like don’t throw them at someone’s head or face. I’m so grateful for the big gym at our church with a giant basket of dodge balls they let us use. On a rainy day (like today) to be able to meet friends for some indoor running around and screaming is what gets us through.
Gotta go, the little dears are waking up…