There were words missing from the word search in the little boy’s homework packet this week.
The words were listed on the bottom of the sheet, but they didn’t appear in the grid of letters above. And the word “built” was backwards.
My son couldn’t handle that. “No backwards! No backwards built!”
He gasped that out through lumpy-throated, head-shaking moans. Then he flew into a raging tantrum like I haven’t seen in a long time.
He ripped the paper into six pieces, wadded up the bits and threw them to the floor with a scream.
Next, he reached for the pencil bucket.
He used both hands to send bunches of sharpened projectiles into the air over his head.
Most of them rained down on the china hutch and computers behind him. His scissors and the hole punch landed halfway up the stairs.
I snapped at him to pick up immediately. He didn’t.
Instead, he up-ended a basket of his school papers and sent them sliding to the floor too.
I was mad and I yelled. Nine years, and I still instantly feel like such a rookie in the face of his upsets.
I fought for calm and grabbed a piece of paper. I drew a scale – one to ten – and tried to make him understand that the missing words on the homework sheet were just a “level 2 frustration” and not the “level 10 mad” he had just displayed.
He stared at me, a little catatonic, but with a spark of understanding. I actually think he knew what I meant. He watched in stillness as I taped the word search back together.
I talked to him quietly about his homework. I told him we would put it away for now and try again tomorrow – maybe even make our own word search. He seemed okay or, at least, distracted from his rage.
I stood up and I told him I was going to make dinner for daddy. He had started drawing, so I left him at the table.
In the kitchen, I put on gloves to peel and slice some garlic. I should have predicted it wasn’t the best night to do that. He interrupted me on the third of ten cloves.
“I want to take a bath.”
It was a routine, even-tempered, and perfectly articulated announcement, but it was much earlier than usual and I wasn’t ready to go upstairs with him.
I showed him my gloves and knife and the cutting board too. I even told him to smell the garlic, so he would know my fingers were too stinky to touch the shower curtain or the faucet, much less the shampoo bottle or his hair.
I reminded him that last night we talked about what a big nine-year-old boy he is and how he can take a shower by himself now.
He looked at me and started to shake.
Clearly, this was not the time to begin a new independence. I cut the garlic faster and told him to wait a few minutes. He couldn’t.
He started looking around for something to throw. He used his arm to clear a binder and some loose papers off of the new glass topped dresser in the kitchen. He looked at me and then turned back to the dresser and tried to push it over and the glass off too.
That was the final straw for me.
I yelled at him to stop, I pulled off my garlicky gloves and I followed him out of the room. I was defeated and he had begun whining, slapping himself and flailing his arms back and forth.
He wanted me to come with him upstairs, but he was so mad and I was too.
I am embarrassed to confess that I lectured him all the way to the tub. It really didn’t help or make either of us feel any better. I am an ogre.
He got in, turned on the water and yanked the curtain shut. I left the bathroom and went back downstairs to cry and finish the damned garlic.
I knew I had only ten minutes until he emerged from the shower, failed to dry off, and came dripping downstairs, expecting me to get pajamas for him.
That time limit made me cry even harder and chop even faster.
Sure enough, he came into the kitchen, naked and damp, just as expected. I kept chopping.
He said nothing and left the room. I heard the laundry doors open and could hear his little whisper voice talking about something in the hall.
I was weighted by his tantrum and couldn’t even muster a smile, but I had finished the garlic, so I washed my hands and went to get him the pajamas.
Much to my surprise, he was already in them!
He was even wearing a pair of shorts that he typically rejects. He did it himself and he made a compromise too. I was speechless. Something sunk in…and it kind of melted me.
In the day’s sea of frustration and tears, my smart little boy extracted some useful tidbit and took a step toward more independence.
It may seem like a teeny step, but it’s big enough for me.
Happy Tuesday, indeed.
Good little boy. 😀
God, I’m tired.
P.S. Look at the new hibiscus now…so pretty. Thanks, husband. 🙂