My son is screaming, his voice hoarse and occasionally choked with sobs. He’s kicking the door, punching it, grabbing the handle with such determined ferocity I have trouble holding it closed.
It’s upsetting, of course- it’s always distressing to see your child in such an intense emotional state. But truly, after gritting my teeth and enacting small punishments over my son’s smart, smug, smirking harassment of both his sister and I all… freaking…. day, this kind of meltdown only serves to p*ss me off.
I think the worst of it is the verbalising, the great gulping shuddering sentences that inflame pyres of matriarchal pity and protection that are, at this stage, more rooted in my biology than any genuine sympathy . “Pllllleeeeassee Mummy, please!! I n–n–n–n–n–eeeeeed a t–t–issssssssssssssuuuuue. Please Mummy!! I love you!! I’m sorry, I’m very sorry!! I’ll be good, I promise, just LET ME OOOOOOUUUUUUUTTTTTTT!!!”
There’s nothing like being on the very sharp verge of losing your temper with a just-turned-five-year-old to make you feel like a totally awesome, fully grown, responsible and competent adult. Despite knowing that you’re ‘doing the right thing’, that you are ‘doing the best for them’… Squatting in your hallway, holding your son’s bedroom door knob tightly shut from the outside with both hands and all your weight (when did he get so strong?!), silent tears rolling down your face and pooling at your collarbone while your little boy screams at you that you are “NAUGHTY!! And I don’t LIKE you!!!” (And recently it’s graduated a step up to “I HATE YOU!!” and I try not to let it get to me, because I remember saying the same thing as a child, out of pure spite).
“Mumma?” says my Bumpy girl, all worry and concern etched on her pretty face. “Are you OK, Mumma? Is Chop OK?” She frowns. “You should let him out, Mummy, he’s sorry!!”
I momentarily laugh and smile, a sunshine spike through continual rainy tears. “I’m OK, baby” I whisper to her, the concerto of her brothers screams still rising on the opposite side of the cheap wooden door that doesn’t feel fragile against his anger yet, but no doubt would in years to come. “Chop’s OK, too. But he has been naughty today, and he is not allowed to hit you…”
Poor kid has a massive welt, about the size of a five year old boys hand-print, on her upper arm. And already she’s campaigning for the release of the perpetrator. I worry about my girl, sometimes… Possible UN ambassador. Possible international espionage expert, all pretty smiles and gorgeous blue eyes. “He’s got…” I glance at my phone, the stopwatch ticking over bright fat luminescent numbers– “another 90 seconds, then he can come out and we’ll talk about it. OK, baby girl?”
The Bump nods seriously and meanders herself back to the lounge room to chatter with her Barbies (”They don’t like me!!” She runs to me crying a few days ago now, “They don’t want to play with me!!”; “Who, hunny…?” I’m thinking she’s actually probably talking about the cats, not letting her dress them in bonnets and baby bibs as she is inclined to do. “My… my… my…. Barbies!!!!” She is devastated, heartbroken, her feelings clearly quite hurt. I don’t know at to make of that, either.)
The next ninety seconds feel long and I breathe in, out, insides turning to ice so I don’t lose it, so I don’t freak out and start screaming right back at him. Because I’ve done that before- I think most of us have. And it helps nothing at all, just complicates everything with guilt and fear and feeling-like-Parent-Of-The-Year-ness.
From inside the room, I hear my son’s screaming begin to slow and lose its desperation. My own breath becomes deeper as his evens out towards hiccuping tears, still hitching with occasional “I’m s-s-s-s-s-o-o-o-o-orrrry-y-y Mummy!!”
And it’s over, thank goodness. It’s over and I open his door and I cuddle him and we talk, we discuss all the things that are relevant and how we ended up here, both of us crying, the whole house distressed, in the first place.
As much as I adore my little boy, I hate this- I hate the screaming. It gets to me in places I don’t even understand. It would be so much easier to just give in, just let it go. Because short of taping the child’s mouth shut, I’m never exactly sure what to do in this situation.
Except grit my teeth, hold on tight to the doorknob… and don’t let go.