I don’t know what did it, whether it was the incessant whining, that I was tired, or that my brain was going nonstop thinking about back to school bullshit for all three kids. I don’t know what did it. But something turned me into Leave Me Alone, Your Cries Mean Nothing mom. This did not bode well for the boy wanting attention, especially when I am usually the one who gives it to him.
I was fine at dinner. And then, bam! something in my mind switched off. He refused to eat other than the sour cream and cheese off the baked potato. He wouldn’t taste the turkey. He wouldn’t eat the corn. He proclaimed he was done and wanted more juice. Normally, this has no effect on me. He eats like this occasionally and I just hold his plate to the side for when he inevitably comes back 30 minutes later asking for it. Or fruit. Sometimes he just has a banana. It usually does not upset me.
But last night, I was furious, seething inside. Because I’d made it, dammit, and you’re damn well gonna eat it.
Of course I didn’t say this. I don’t think I even felt this. I let him get down from the table. I let him go about his usual mode of play. But inside? Inside I was done. Looking back, it probably was just that I was tired (I am always tired), mentally drained, and still hungry. I cleared the table and hid in the bathroom a few minutes to collect myself, ask myself just what was up because I knew it was something. I just couldn’t figure out what the something was. Two minutes passed and then I heard the footsteps. He began to lightly tap on the door, then bang, then kick, then demand I open the door because, “I come iiiiiiiiiiiiiin.” It was like all the anger disappeared. I simply didn’t respond. I lost all desire to argue through the door, yet again, about how important it is for mommy to have private bathroom time. I lost all desire to speak period. I remained in this trance most of the night, uttering “yeah” or “uh huh” to the girls, but I couldn’t find the words to address him. The two-year-old. I was giving a two-year-old the silent treatment. I am a fucking parenting force of greatness, I tell you.
My oldest daughter had something she wanted to show us online. As she described this absolutely fantastic house she’d created, the boy stood beside me and howled. First, there was no more sour cream. He cried. Then I wouldn’t let him on my lap. He screamed. I wouldn’t look at him, wouldn’t acknowledge him. He literally threw himself to the floor. Who is this android woman unaffected by my wails and when is mommy coming back? The next time he tried to grab my hands, I put my arm out to signal he needed to back up. He dropped to the floor again. For a split second I wondered if I’d pushed him down. I instantly felt bad, but just as quickly, that feeling was gone and I was once again resigned to “oh well.”
How does this happen? Why was this happening? I have NEVER not cared that my child was screaming, even if yes, there was nothing I could do about the cause of his screaming (outside of going out to buy more sour cream, but that wasn’t happening). Sure, he was also screaming because I wouldn’t look at him, but at the time, I honestly couldn’t have done anything for him. I would not have been able to soothe him or rock him or whisper goodness in his ear because I was devoid of all of that and I don’t know why.
Later, I folded his laundry. He asked to help. I ignored him. He cried. This couldn’t be because he didn’t eat. Something else was at work here and it was strong enough to make me not want to fight it. I let him stay up a little later than usual. When it was time for bed, he wanted to watch Dora like we usually do, just one episode. I told him no. A point blank no, no explanation like usual. No discussion about how it was too late. Just no. There have been few times I’ve given him an absolute no. Usually it involves him doing something that could end up with him being hurt. What was different last night? I realize I wasn’t being mean to him; I simply wasn’t my usual giving in self.
I brushed his teeth, washed his face, put his pajamas on. All the while he just stared at me. I realized it wasn’t that I didn’t want to look at him. I couldn’t. I could not look my boy in the face knowing how he’d needed me, even if it was over something as stupid as sour cream, and I wasn’t there. I checked out when he needed me. I gave him his blanket, turned on the “pretty music” (he listens to WETA classical), turned out the light, and walked out. I walked into my room and sat at the mirror trying to understand what happened over the past two hours. My shoulders slumped. Ten minutes later I walked back into his room and held his hand. He didn’t say a word, just rubbed my hand. I apologized to a two-year-old. He smiled and said, “I fart. You scuse me?” If you’ll excuse me, I think I can excuse that.
He woke up an hour later to use the bathroom. We didn’t exchange one word. I got him out of bed, took him into the bathroom, and sat on the side of the tub. He held my hands. When I took him back to bed he held my cheeks and kissed me. Was this a wordless understanding? A silent OK to sometimes not know why we act the way we do? Hell, maybe he was sorry too because now he knows that screaming and crying and snot dripping won’t always end positively.
I wish I knew what happened to me last night, what caused me to be unmoved by his crying. I usually jump to his side the minute he makes a sound hinting at sadness or displeasure. I have the theories of just needing some time and space and knowing that he wasn’t hurt or sick might have made it easier to ignore him. But, he seemed so genuinely hurt when I wouldn’t respond to him, wouldn’t look at him, acknowledge him. That’s what’s scary. I knew this was hurting him and still I didn’t respond when he needed it.