One Lousy Hour

I wasn’t planning to participate in today’s blog bonanza on discipline. I loved The No-Cry Discipline Solution, but I thought I’d said all I had to say about it, and discipline. Or maybe I just didn’t want to think about discipline anymore. It’s like thinking about global warming, maybe; you know that your thoughtful action will make a difference, but sometimes you just want to pretend things’ll change on their own, without you.

But in fact, I do buy those twisty light bulbs, compost, recycle, and turn out lights when I leave the room. I also spend an inordinate amount of time saying “use your words” or “calm your body down” or “take a deep breath with me” and reminding Ben that his actions, like his brother’s, like mine, have consequences.

Which is why today, less than thirty minutes after we’d arrived at his friend’s house, a half-hour drive from ours, I packed him, kicking and screaming, back into the car, and drove home.

Maybe I should have seen it coming. I’ve been feeling lousy all week, and so haven’t been the most present parent. The boys had been up less than half an hour this morning before they were fighting over a spoon, and although I handled that fine, I didn’t see it as a sign of things to come. I suppose if you took every struggle as a sign of worse to come, you’d just crawl back under the covers. Sometimes it gets worse, but sometimes it gets better, and the uncertainty generally leaves me pretty optimistic.

Meanwhile, the end of preschool last week brought a fun week of vacation this week, but also a dizzying lack of schedule and routine.

Also, his good friend, one he’s known since before he was eating solid food, the one we tried to visit today, moved to another town.

Also, the week’s been hot and sunny– weather I soak up like a chameleon, but which leaves my fog-raised boys a little out of sorts.

So there we were: me, dosed up on advil and pseudo-sudafed, pretending I felt well enough for the excursion, dressed in my pretty new Goodwill sundress and a bangle bracelet Tony’s dad made in the 70s; the boys in shorts and t-shirts, wriggling through my careful application of sunscreen, eager to just get there already.

They sang a song about garbage all the way across the city and over the bridge, but even though it was tuneless and repetitive, they were happy, and I was happy, and I didn’t complain, even when it turned into shrieking.

When we got to our friends’ house (because of course these are my friends, too, the mom a person I treasure for getting me through some comically low points – like ten minutes with 2 toddlers, a crawler and a newborn in one grimy bathroom stall—with incredible good cheer), Ben told Eli he couldn’t play in the basement playroom. We got through that one.

Then Ben and his friend started running back and forth from playroom to living room, bringing out a toy stroller, a batting helmet, toy guitars, setting up for a concert. The halls are crowded with boxes (they just moved in last week), and Eli kept nearly getting knocked over. I asked Ben to keep the toys in the playroom, to open the sliding door into the backyard (“Look, this can be your curtain!”) and make the yard their stage. He started arguing with me about how far backstage (the playroom) needed to be from the stage (the living room), and I tried to have the reasonable conversation about concert hall lay-out, but I’d already lost him. He was shaking and shouting, red-faced, crying, still upset that I’d let Eli in the room at all, flailing his arms and legs the way he does when he wants to hit me.

So I asked him to sit with me a minute and try to talk, but it was too late. I suggested maybe we should set up another game, but he was stuck on the concert idea and couldn’t let it go. And then I pointed out that maybe if he couldn’t listen to my ideas we should leave, but that just made it worse, and then he did kick me, and being hit by a 45-pound 5 year-old hurts pretty badly, but I still didn’t lose my temper, just said I thought it was really time to go.

Eli was watching all this calmly, unsure what to make of it, and Ben’s friend and little sister were looking on in surprise at this uncharacteristic outburst from their friend. Their mom, bless her, strapped Eli in to his carseat and put all my other stuff into the car because I had my hands quite literally full with a kicking and flailing boy who wouldn’t walk out the door. I had to push him into his booster seat and he got a few more good kicks landed while I buckled him, and then he screamed the first 8 miles of the drive home. I know, because I was watching the odometer, willing myself not to cry, because then we’d just get in an accident and that would make one lousy hour last a whole lot longer.

So there it is. I think I did the right thing, but sometimes even doing the right thing doesn’t feel so great.


  1. elrena says:

    Oh Caroline. You poor thing!! I’m so sorry you had such a lousy hour, and I hope Ben cheered up afterwards and that the rest of your day was better. Kudos to you for being able to do what needed to be done, and leave when you needed to leave, and staying calm throughout — I’m so impressed. 🙂

    I hope you can see your friend again soon, and on a better Ben-day!!

    And why is it always silverware with your guys??

  2. Marjorie says:

    Oh, Caroline, you did, you DID do the right thing! It’s a bummer that doing the right thing is so hard and feels so sucky … but you’re a stellar mom.

  3. Susan says:

    “Oh Caroline” is exactly what I was going to type. I feel for you! I really do. I had so many of those hours, most often with my elder, but sometimes with the younger, too. Restaurant dinners with one parent sitting in the car with red-faced, screaming child while the other bolts down food and pays the bill. Leaving in the midst of school picnics, birthday parties, playdates, museum outings and the like. It’s happened more times than I care to remember. I do think you did the right thing. I guess the other thing would be to give some kind of warning to Pull Oneself Together in five minutes, or else we will get in the car and go, and if they can manage, YAY, and if they can’t, well, it’s one of those miserable drives home.

    Sigh. I really feel for you! I hope you can have a warm bath and a glass of wine, soon.

  4. Libby says:

    Oh, Caroline. (me, too!) Ouch. You’re right, this is one of those times when doing the right thing doesn’t necessarily feel good–but it’s the right thing nonetheless. Hurray for schedules and routine–and better days to come!

  5. Daphne says:

    It is so hard to keep your composure in those moments. One thing that helped me is to think of it as a plea for limits from my sons — and even though they are much older now they still ask for limits in their teenagerish ways. I really like limits! I think it’s scary for kids to be out of control like that, too. At that point, they really can’t discuss anything, and neither can you.