Last night my older son Louis had a meltdown. If you’ve been following this blog, you know what that means: screaming, physical aggression, destruction of property. It’s been happening a lot lately, ever since school began, after a wonderfully tantrum free summer (to learn more about Louis go to http://runninginwater.com/2012/08/11/my-story/ ).
This evening was super-bad, prompted by Paul taking away the children’s end of day TV. It had been a long, unsatisfying day. The boys had hung out with their cousin, which had gone poorly. They had already been fighting on and off for days. They began to go at it in the living room, and Paul, who was dealing with his own issues of self-regulation, began to get unfairly angry at Louis. I called for a break; that each person go to their room, with said electronic and unwind. Louis, who was watching a show on the big TV, promised he would behave. I wanted to give him that chance (although to be honest, more than 50% of the time he has no control over himself and can’t get it together), but Paul said not to give in, that it was either him or the TV. What could I do? I stuck by Paul, despite Louis’ desperate crying, begging and pleading. Which soon escalated to screaming, throwing and hitting. Some of the screaming came from Paul. I finally chased Louis into his room, where he lay face down on his bed. I laid my weight on top of him, my chest on his back, partly to help him calm, partly in anticipation of an attack. It was at that moment that Paul came in. The neighbors had stopped by, angry that we were having another night of “a screaming fest.” It was a hot night, and all our doors and windows were open.
Paul and I were taken aback. Would they call the police? Had they heard Paul lose his temper and yell at Louis? We both suddenly felt terrible, although for very different reasons. For Paul this was the first time someone had mentioned his temper. Regulating his anger was an ongoing issue since Louis’ arrival in our lives. For me it felt like we were failing as a family. I come from a long line of abusive families with mental health issues. This only reinforced it in my blood.
Yet the night wore on, and even Louis calmed under the pretense of our neighbors listening. The next day I awoke feeling sad and heavy, with every movement feeling like I was walking through emotional mud. It had been a long time since I had felt so down, and I couldn’t help remembering 4 years ago, when I felt like this every day. It felt good to know we had grown as a family, yet I dreaded the conversation I knew I had to have with my neighbor. It would go like this: I would explain about Louis, Aiden and our family. They would be initially aloof (Paul said the wife was pissed), but then warm. I knew this because this had been our experience with our old neighbors, when Louis and Aiden were small.
I took the dogs for a walk and inhaled deeply. I gathered my courage as I did a bouquet of flowers, and walked next door. The husband answered, with a soft face. I sincerely apologized as I handed him the bouquet, and gave a brief synopsis of Louis and Aiden. He was genuinely appreciative, and said that he and his wife figured it was some parenting issue we were struggling with. My turn to warm; there was no aloofness, only kindness. We parted on good terms, and as I walked away a hummingbird sang his song.
I went from feeling heavy to elated in the span of 5 minutes. It wasn’t nearly as rough or sticky as I was expecting. If anything it was fluid, a positive exchange of energy. This was more than I could’ve hoped for, and I wasn’t even expecting it.
It felt really good.
How can I bridge this kindness to my family? How can I help us function as a unit, where we aren’t always fighting, reprimanding, scolding or yelling? I do know this: I can’t be the only one in this family who wants it. Despite my kids’ issues, I know their hearts are pure. They want peace as much as Paul and I. It’s a matter of catching that desire and fueling it, so it becomes first an interest, and then a habit. I’ve had lots of ideas thus far (building a family totem pole; hiking a certain number of miles together), but no successes.
I am not giving up.
Photography by Diana Ray