|Brotherly love. These boys are so sweet. At least in this picture...|
Bean shows himself to be more like me every day. That mirror held to my face - remembering how hard it was to be a child, and seeing that I have only adapted and not changed so that child is really still there - it is searingly painful, but somehow so liberating and healing.
On Valentine's Day, we were coming home from a lunch at the boys' school when A-Train grabbed a couple of Bean's Valentines. Bean started out sweetly saying, "A-Train, give those back," but added a rough and rude "now!"
I repeated the lines The Beast and I have spoken countless times. "Bean, you've got to start by asking nicely, and staying calm. Moving straight to a fight just makes it a fight. He resists more, you fight more..." I really want to get him a Chinese finger trap so he can maybe see the cycle in action while not freaking out.
But what happened next was the mirror held to my face. Bean burst into tears and sobbed "I'm horrible! I'm a horrible boy! I can't do anything because I'm a horrible boy!"
I was so stunned. Thankfully we had pulled into the driveway, and I immediately got out and opened his door and wiped his tears and snuggled him and told him "you are absolutely not a horrible boy! You are a sweet, smart, wonderful boy who is working on really hard things. Staying calm is hard! Negotiating is hard!" Then I calmly said to A-Train, "give Bean back his cards, ok?"
"Otay," was the sweet reply and he handed those things right over!
When Bean was ridiculing himself, all I could think was "who in the hell told my child he is horrible?!? WHO NEEDS A GOOD TALKING TO?!?"
Me. It was me, in not so many words. I said it to myself. On more than one occasion. When feeling like I haven't succeeded at anything, haven't met my goals, haven't even been able to keep my kids occupied...I've stormed off and said, "I fail at everything! I'm just a horrible person!"
It was me who told my child that trying and failing makes you a bad person. It's me who needs the talking to!
And then tonight. Tonight Bean was having a hard time a bedtime. He was tormenting his brother (again), had already been told that reading was done for the night, had already laughed in the face of a stern Beast. His door was closed and he started banging something against it. Repeatedly. Louder. And louder.
I opened his door expecting to see an angry kiddo bashing fists or feet against the door, but instead I found a grinning knight wearing a helmet and preparing to charge me with cardboard sword and shield at the ready. I grabbed the shield and the sword, snatched up a Duplo creation that I later learned was a mace, and said "you are supposed to be going to sleep, not fighting your door. You can have these back in the morning. It is bedtime. I love you. Goodnight."
I walked out, hid the weapons, and returned to sitting on the couch getting some work done.
Bean was in despair. "I need them! I can't go to sleep without them!" He raged and kicked and got in our faces. I finally carried him back to his bed, tucked him in as best I could, and said, "you are having a hard time tonight. I would like to help you calm down, but you will not be getting your sword and shield tonight. You can have them tomorrow."
I left him caterwauling after a warning that more asking would be nagging and would result in a longer-term disappearance of his weaponry. Another minute or so of screaming and he whimpered, "Mom? Could you come here?"
He asked me if I could please snuggle him. "Snuggling" these days means he wants to talk. So I tucked him into his blanket, lay down next to him, told him I love him and he is still my sweet, smart, wonderful kid. His sniveling gave way to crying again. "I didn't mean to do it! I just...I just thought 'I will do this!' and I did it! I just wanted Dad to read more! I didn't mean to be loud! I didn't mean to do it! I didn't want to do it!"
I hugged him tighter. "You just didn't even think, huh? You just thought of it, and you did it. You were already having a hard time. You had bullied A-Train, and you had been rude to Dad, and you just wanted everything your way and maybe wanted to make everyone else as angry as you felt."
"No! I didn't want people to be angry! I just felt like I had to do it! I just thought of it...and then I did it!"
All my feelings of not being in control as a kid came flooding back. Feeling like I didn't have a reason for anything, and everyone always wanted a reason. They wanted to know what I was thinking...but I hadn't been thinking. I lacked impulse control! Instantly I felt so connected to him, like I finally got it. "Oh sweetheart. This is part of learning. This is part of being five years old, and you're not even five yet! You make bad choices, and sometimes you don't stop and think. It's normal. You are not bad, you are still sweet and wonderful and learning."
He perked up and said, "So maybe when I'm 8 years old I will stop making bad choices?"
"Nope. You will just make different bad choices, and maybe you'll be able to handle the consequences better. But then someday you'll be a teenager and you'll make really bad choices. And probably you'll do dangerous things, and Dad and I will get scared and angry, and we will always love you and help you fix what needs fixing."
"...why will I make really bad choices when I'm a teenager?"
"Because your brain will grow and change and not really work quite right. Making bad choices - having ideas and just doing them without thinking it through - is kind of part of being a teenager!"
With an uncomfortable but amused giggle, he said, "I will just skip being a teenager. I don't want to do that!"
We talked a little about being a teenager. He said if anyone ever suggested fighting with real swords, he would go tell a teacher. There was talk about gun safety! Then, as a total non sequitur, he told me that he informed someone today that he had fought a tiger. "Do you think fighting a tiger would be a good choice?" I joked. He laughed and said he had only been pretending. "Maybe you'll want to fight a tiger for real when you're a teenager."
"I'm not going to do any of that stuff! That sounds terrible!"
"Well I hope you still feel that way when you are a teenager!"
Sounding a bit concerned he asked, "...so when will I stop making bad choices?"
"I'm thinking never, sweetheart. I make bad choices every day. Some worse than others. Some I know right away, and some I don't know until later. But every day! And I'm 32!"
"Like what did you do today?"
I told him about how I accidentally overheated some oil and ended up charring garlic and having to throw both away and start over, all because I tried to do too many things at once. "But I didn't get angry or say mean things to myself afterwards. I just threw everything out and moved on. I think that might be what is easier to do as you get older."
We talked a little about what this might look at a 99, 199, and 250 years old. ("Still bad decisions, I think. Just less reaction because you know everything is going to work out like it always has!")
He asked me what kinds of dangerous things teenagers do and I told him about things I've seen, things I've done, and things I've heard about. I actually found myself explaining marijuana an cocaine to my preschooler! (Incidentally, his biggest concern about pot is that it sounded like it might cause him to at least temporarily forget how to fight with his weapons!) At one point he insisted I had to tell him three more things before I could leave. He was fascinated, but also rather horrified.
As I walked out his door he picked his head up and said, "I hope I'm never a teenager..."
I left thinking that we might all survive the teenage years after all.