Seriously, forget about that whole “we’re Jewish” thing. I need to schedule an exorcism ASAP to deal with the demon that has inhabited my son.
I almost don’t know where to start. I feel like my blood pressure is through the roof, my heart is racing, and I’m liable to fall down in a heap at any moment. Such is parenting Daniel at age 2 years, 11 months.
When he is good, he is very very good. He is curious and inquisitive, always asking how something works, what we’re going to do next, and “what kind of thing” is his version of “why” in the realm of never-ending toddler questioning. He is incredibly charming. If he is so inclined, he can work a room like nobody’s business. We’ve been out for lunch and had several waitresses fawning over him and people coming over from other tables to compliment him. A barista at our local Starbucks is positively in love with him, and has started insisting I bring him in on their birthday next month. He has delightful manners, lots of spontaneous “Mama, may I pweese have X?” and casual “oh, sanks” when you give him something. He is funny and silly and bright and highly verbal and has a memory like a steel trap.
And sometimes I would like to clamp him in a steel trap.
Because the other side of Daniel is a complete psychopath. There are scarcely words to describe it. Defiant and contrary doesn’t even begin. When he’s in a mood, and I don’t think I’m exaggerating to say he spends about 50% of his day in this kind of mood, he is nothing short of a nightmare. Picking fights over everything, from what to have for breakfast to putting the toilet paper in the toilet. I’m not kidding. Sometimes it’s a pursed face, a pout, angry eyebrows. Silence. Daring me. I ask him to do something. He covers his eyes with his hands, face still angry. I count to 1. Staring me down. I count to 2. A shrieked “NO!” and a stomped foot. That’s three, into time out.
My kids have always handled time outs pretty well. Very often I could just send them and they’d walk there themselves. They almost never got out before I told them to. Sometimes there was crying, but not always.
Now? Now, with Daniel, it’s another way to test me. “NO! I DON’T WANT A TIME OUT!” He gets up. I put him back. He stays there, but lashes out. Hits anything in reach – the chair, the door, a book. Screams and yells at the top of his lungs. Sometimes just an angry “AAHH!” Sometimes a positively furious “NO!”
I ignore it. If he’s in his time out and not destroying anything or hurting anyone, I ignore it because I know he just wants to further engage me in another fight. The screaming continues well after the timer beeps and I (as quietly and calmly as I possibly can) tell him he may get down. He keeps right on screaming.
And then, as quickly as the nastiness begins, the psycho switch flips and he walks out. “Mommy, what are you making?”, he asks with wonder and curiosity and reverence. I tell him I’m making lunch. “Oohh. Peanut butter and jelly sandwich?” Yep. “Ooohhh. Sank you, Mommy.”
Literally one sentence, one second to the next. He flips from having a complete temper tantrum to back to his normal self. I have emotional whiplash from the back and forth. Because it goes back in the other direction just as fast. Sometimes I know what is likely to set him off (naptime, OMFG), and sometimes it’s a complete shock.
We were in Starbucks this morning, I gave the kids a warning that it was almost time to go home. Daniel responds with, “oh, OK! I’m ready to go now.” Tosses his chocolate milk in the trash, gleefully shouts “see you later!” to the entire staff, and practically skips out the door. I ask him to hold my hand while we cross the parking lot, and BAM. “I DON’T WANT TO GO HOME! I DON’T WANT TO HOLD YOUR HAND! WAAAAAHHHHH!” Bucks in the carseat so I can’t get the seat belt on. Shouts at his sister. Get home, and he refuses to take the seat belt OFF. More crying. Another disastrous time out. Another freaky switch back to normal behavior. Back and forth and back and forth, all day long.
There are people who meet him and think I must be crazy. What a delightful child you have! He’s so sweet! So funny! So smart! So charming! But I know. I know it can, and will, turn on a dime.
I am completely, emotionally, mentally, and physically drained. I try and try not to lose my temper. I try to stay calm, stay quiet, not engage with the fight-picking and power struggles. I try to be consistent and predictable. I try not to hold a grudge from the awful times and to encourage the good ones instead of launching into a tirade about how awful he was behaving and why it’s driving me over the edge. When he flips back to nice-Daniel, I try to act happy and pile on the good attention and compliment his nice manners.
It almost goes without saying that sometimes I do a whole lot better than others. Sometimes I don’t do very well at all. Sometimes I yell. Sometimes I slam a door. More than I’d really care to admit. It’s not pretty. But I try.
I’m at a loss, to be honest. I’m not sure where to go next. I don’t know how to get rid of this insanely bipolar behavior. If there’s an effective punishment to be had, I’m not exactly sure what it is. (Did I mention he’s become a retaliatory urinator? Yes, intentional peeing when he’s extra pissed off and I send him to his room.) I’m not sure how to reward the good behavior enough for it to have an effect but without going overboard. But it’s awful. I re-read this post and know that I’m not even doing justice to the insanity. M and I sometimes just stare at each other with our mouths open, wondering what the hell just happened.
I know, from reading blogs of some of you moms with slightly older kids and talking to friends, that this is pretty well within the realm of “normal” behavior for this age. I know that the testing limits is developmentally appropriate. But, alas, that knowledge does not stop me from wanting to smack the taste out of his mouth, and we are NOT a physical-discipline family. I just want more time with my sweet, sweet boy who is so funny and so smart and so delightful. But even when that sweet boy appears, I’m still on edge. Waiting for the other shoe to drop (or for it to be picked up and thrown on the floor in a fit of rebellion).