Editor's Note: This is part one of a four part series from Bilerico Contributor Paige Schilt about parenting, anger, and attachment. Read part one and be sure to come back all week for the rest of the series!
In Which the Unsuspecting Heroine Encounters Raw Aggression (Size 4T) and is Unsettled by Her Own Reaction
Lately I've been writing about Waylon's precocious, insightful moments. I knew it was time for a reality check when my friend Seth sent me a note saying "That child of yours is too sophisticated--does he want to meet me for happy hour?"
A few weeks ago, Waylon was in "time out" for hitting. At the end of time out, Katy or I usually sit down with him and talk about why he got punished. On this particular day, as I settled down on the floor for a little chat, Waylon flung himself on my head and started pummeling me, crushing my glasses in the process.
To understand how this affected me, you must know that I have been nearsighted since childhood. My glasses are like a cyborg extension of my head, and messing with them is something akin to pricking a bull in a bullfight.
I was mad, and I couldn't conceal it even if I had wanted to. When I finally pulled him off me, I tried to express myself in the words I have learned from Waylon's preschool teachers: "I don't like it when you do that. It hurts me and it makes me angry."
"I don't like it when you do that. It hurts me and it makes me angry," he repeated, in his most sing-songy and obnoxious voice.
He was mocking me. I felt like one of those old-timey cartoon characters whose body suddenly morphs into a thermometer with the mercury rushing to the red bulb-y top like it's going to explode.
"THAT IS TOTALLY INAPPROPRIATE. YOU ARE REALLY IN TROUBLE, YOUNG MAN!"
Young man? What primitive recess of my brain did that come from? As if I wasn't already channeling my mother, I suddenly become enraged that Waylon wasn't looking at me.
"LOOK AT ME WHEN I AM TALKING TO YOU."
Then, the piece de résistance, the moment that reveals just how emotionally sophisticated a tantrum can be: still looking away, Waylon opened his lips and let a stream of drool spill from his mouth and just hang there. For a non-verbal gesture, it pushed me over the edge with amazing precision. At this point, I was standing up--no more pretense of being on the same level, no more empathy--and really yelling: "I AM SO ANGRY WITH YOU!"
I sentenced him to 4 more minutes of time out and retreated to my bedroom, where I proceeded to writhe on the bed with guilt. I know that Waylon needs to understand how his behavior affects other people, but my anger had gotten the best of me, and I felt like the least effective parent in the world. I just kept thinking about how he's small and I'm big and my anger feels so intense.
And while I was worrying that my anger felt scary and overwhelming to Waylon, I realized that it definitely felt scary and overwhelming to me.
(To be continued. Tomorrow: one mom explores her family legacy of discomfort with anger.)
For great resources on keeping your cool during a tantrum, check out Parenting with the Brain in Mind.