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03/03/2010

Breaking news: Local mother, supplanted by cat, finds parenting challenging

I don't get discouraged very often.  Oh, I have my isolated hours of weary frustration, my moments of tooth-gritting, my fifteen-second flashes of What if I just kept driving?  I note for the record that those last do not occur during drives with the children in the back, like the one we took yesterday afternoon.  The screaming (Ben's) and recriminations (Charlie's) were enough to make me suspect that our hybrid runs not on electricity but on filial discord.  The louder you whine, the faster I drive.

It's been a rough ten days.  Since we got back from our trip, Charlie's behavior has been almost uniformly rotten.  Defiance, rudeness, and aggression have been floating so near his emotional surface that the smallest provocation — or sometimes none at all — results in an outburst that confounds all our attempts to defuse it.  I can usually weather the occasional storm with good humor, and even lately my lips twitch as I try not to smile; there's something hilarious about being berated by a five-year-old who hasn't learned to swear.  "You are a...spoiled...lady!" he sputters.  True, but I was really hoping for something in an inflexible harridan.  Shall we try again?

But at the moment I'm frazzled.  This time I'm having a hard time recovering my optimism.  Every moment is a battle, and the stress is beginning to get to me.  A few nights ago I achieved a dubious milestone.  Charlie was complaining, as he does every night, about one of the few regular jobs he has — "You always make me set the table.  It's not fair.  I hate to set the table.  It's no fun." — and I finally said it.  "I don't care," I told him, in a pleasant conversational tone.  "It's your job, and you need to do it anyway."  It was the first time I'd ever told him explicitly that his feelings were immaterial.  That felt worse to me than it does when I sometimes raise my voice, because I perceive a big difference between For the fifth time go get dressed and It doesn't matter what you think.  But it also paradoxically felt better.  It was a relief, if a temporary one, to be honest about my own frustration for just a moment.

[There were three paragraphs here detailing recent clashes.  It felt good to write them.  It felt better to delete them.  Because ultimately, what does that serve?  Charlie's five years old.  I'm now 39.  As demoralized as I am, I do remember that.  As irritating as his behavior is, I can still sit alone in the dark and drink.]

I have some guesses as to the origins of all this.  It's hard to come down after a vacation.  There are changes afoot at preschool that might be throwing him a bit.  (I told them the rack was more effective than the wheel, but did they listen?)  He doesn't, I suspect, get enough sleep, despite an 8 o'clock bedtime.  He's certainly chafing at the new incursions Ben gleefully makes into previously uncontested territory.  And on top of all that, it'sprobablyjustaphasehe'sgoingthrough.  But I suspect there's something more, something I'm missing.  And Charlie can't be of any help.  He doesn't know why he's being such a punk.  Gentle queries about his mood and behavior have yielded only the information that Paul and I are mean and always stop him from doing what he wants to do and are not very nice parents at all because you are always supposed to be nice to your children and I don't love you I only love Dad and the cat and N-O and S-T-O-P and [angry poking gesture with his dinner fork].

So I don't feel I truly know what's going on, and I just don't know how to change it, and I'm not even sure I know how to weather it.  I'm sure not doing it very well.  Last night after dinner, Charlie followed me into my office, the better to continue his litany of complaints about I don't even remember what, and I was just so beaten by it that I asked him to leave.  "Please go out of here," I said to him.  He stopped for a second, and then, deciding I hadn't meant it, started following again.  "Go out," I told him, and he did, bewildered.  I closed the door behind him, then sat in my chair and cried. 

We had a good talk at bedtime.  I'd like to believe I got through to him, but lately we've had several good talks at bedtime, with little enduring change.  Yet I know it will get better; the single lesson I can confidently say I've learned about being a parent is that everything, bad or good, changes.  And then changes back.  Sometimes with nauseating speed.  Repeatedly.  Until you and your children have reached the perfect peace of nirvana, having extinguished all destructive longing and achieved freedom from human suffering, in which case I now understand why you were wearing yoga pants all over town and I apologize for mocking you.  Or until you decide that maybe this Sunday, just this once, you won't visit them in prison.  Whichever.

I know it will get better.  At the moment, though, I'm just tired, worn out by the turbulence.  Discouraged, which is in itself discouraging.  I've been liking five so much.  Shame it's trying to kill me.

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