Yesterday morning I chucked a hair brush across the room. Not at anyone, thankfully, but in response to my frustration over brushing an uncooperative, and argumentative seven year olds hair. It was only 10am, and I was losing at parenting. I knew that at some point in the relatively near future I would see my poor behavior in the mirror. Fairly recently I caught Jillian getting up abruptly from her spot on the living room floor and grunting “I’m done” as she stomped out of the room. Immediately I could feel my cheeks and neck turn red with guilt that this move that she so quickly executed had been demonstrated by her mother. So as I was wiggling socks onto Luke’s feet as I tried to usher our family out the door to church, late as usual, I apologized for catapulting a hairbrush across the kitchen and explained that throwing things was never a wise choice, regardless of the motivation.
Later that evening as we were cruising toward bedtime I began listening to one of my podcasts as I crawled around on the playroom floor putting toys away. One of my true crime podcasts was going to have a one night event on TV and it was about to start in a few minutes. Rarely do I have the opportunity to watch something other than Daniel Tiger or Word World so when the idea of setting the DVR occurred to me I had no earthly idea how to do it, or more importantly how to do so while not causing a Mark meltdown because it would require stopping his show. As I plotted my next move, Ike suggested that I take Mark upstairs so that I could free the TV downstairs for my recording. So I scooped up my trusty Luke barnacle and with very little protest I was able to coax Mark upstairs to play. Happily back downstairs I set the DVR, and began picking up foam alphabet letters from the floor as I listened to my show. A few minutes later we heard a crash from the top of the stairs. Mark had thrown the DVD remote down our staircase. Ike ran upstairs to check on him. He could tell that Mark was agitated so he made sure that a Daniel DVD was playing upstairs and came back down. Within minutes I heard an even louder crash and boom. This time when I ran up I could see that he had trashed the upstairs bathroom. Books in the toilet. Water everywhere. Toothbrushes and hair brushes chucked. Sound familiar? Out of frustration from being taken upstairs away from his brand new season ten Daniel Tiger, he had taken out his frustration by throwing things, just like I had done that morning.
This has struck me for so many reasons. We often talk about the concept of presuming competence and I think it’s easier to think about that in academic or therapeutic settings, yet in the course of our family life I managed to completely neglect his feelings and preferences, and inaccurately presumed that he had none. I also underestimated his ability to observe and internalize his mothers poor coping mechanism.
If you have a Daniel Tiger fan in your house you know that new seasons happen somewhat infrequently so when a new one comes along your little fan will soak it up. I didn’t stop to think about how if this was Jillian there would be no way of prying her away from her show, not without a serious fight or negotiation of some sort. I made the inaccurate assumption that he could be torn away without discussion or considering his feelings.
Recently he’s been learning more and more about emotions. When he’s upset he blurts out every distressing feeling he’s been taught. He’ll wail “I scared! I sick! I hurt! I tired! Hungry!” even when he’s none or only some of those things. He’s beginning to understand the value in communicating his feelings and we have been soaking it up because one of the things that makes me the most emotional about our life is being in the dark about his feelings. So this time, he lacked the words for feeling ignored, overlooked and brushed aside, and he very clearly communicated that he not only had feelings about what had happened, but they were big, explosive and needed to be felt.
Mark Timothy, I see and feel you, and just like I promised Jillian that I would do better, I promise to do better for you too.