In the Midst of a Meltdown
***The following is a depiction of actual events, partially written while rocking in a chair feverishly during a fairly epic tantrum. The rocking and the writing seemed to help me find my way back into the good graces of #loveofmyleif, and I thought maybe there might be something in this story that you needed to hear, or maybe I just mused my way out of the torture?!?***
Right now, I feel like I am at a complete loss.
My toddler is screaming at me. Shouting and throwing punches.
Verbally with his "I hate you, you're the worst mom ever" and physically with his tiny fists and his tear-filled eyes.
He wants me, and he doesn't want me all at the same time.
I love him, and I want space from him all at the same time.
I pause to try and soothe myself, so I can respond to his big emotions without unleashing mine.
It's not working, and it feels like it's getting worse. I take a few more deep breaths and try a few other techniques I know in an attempt to calm my nervous system, which is on the seesaw of fight and flight.
Mostly flight— like fantasizing that I'm fleeing from his assault on a first-class trip destined for a yoga retreat in Bali or some other spiritual Mecca.
My fight response shows up in the form of the stream of swears that can only be heard in my mind because the last thing I need at this point is for him to start cussing at me too.
Internally I observe my blood boiling. I want to growl or screech just like him.
I'm in my low brain, my primal instincts are kicking in, and I feel like I understand why people breakdown and hit their child, but please trust me I never could or would. I’m grateful I am able to recognize this feeling and that I have impulse control.
I reach out again to offer my support. I am keeping my voice low and calm, I know that raising my voice would be like hitting the wrong button on a nuclear reactor, he's sensitive to anger.
"I see that you are upset, how can I help you with your feelings?"
He wails louder and goes for another punch, connecting with my back.
I share, "I am also feeling upset, and I can't let you hit me. I feel like I might need a break."
He shakes with fear when he considers that I will leave him.
I contemplate a "timeout," but I have never found that old school approach to align with my new aged mindset. I have also just observed the terror on his face at the mere mention of my abandoning our conflict. I am all for understanding consequences and having clear boundaries but my knowing of my child and past experiences inform me that moving away from him will make this escalate further.
I opt for a "time-in" thinking this is clearly an attention ploy however ass-backward his tactics may be.
I decide to pick him up and hug him close, he flails, screeches like a banshee and struggles to get away from me.
I carry him across the room to sit down and start rocking. I'm breathing long audible breaths attempting to release this intense energy.
I'm just rocking with my agitated adversary—because that's what it feels like— like we are in a battle and I don't know what else to do.
I tell him that I love him, and I see his frustration. He lets out a shrill squeal and escapes my bear hug, running out of the room slamming the door on the way out.
I stay put, I am not chasing after him.
Another wave of irritation, mixed with sad confusion rises within me. I sit in the chair and rock faster. I'm just rocking myself now. Listening to the cry in the distance, "I want my mama!"
I close my eyes and breathe.
I wonder if he is really ready for me now, am I prepared to try again?
It's tiring— this whole emotional rollercoaster of being a big human trying to hold space and guide a small human— who loves me and hates me, all at the same time.
Emotions are so challenging to understand and allow ourselves to be with. It is difficult enough to manage our own and another level of challenging to weave through the entanglement of emotions that show up when we conflict within relationships, especially the ones that are the most meaningful.
I try to stay with compassion and see with empathetic eyes, and sometimes it feels like a lost cause. In times like these when I feel like I am in a dark tunnel, I go with self-compassion because it all just feels hard AF.
I am momentarily comforted by my act of love and kindness for this challenging circumstance, then guilt tries to take me out, and shame wants to chime in too. Then the shitty shoulds'.
"I should have handled that better."
What does that even mean? Better?
I'm am doing the god damn best I can. I took the pause, the breath, the space— I conclude sometimes you can do "all the things," and it just doesn't matter.
I'm still rocking, thinking this all through— feeling and trying to work with my energy—breathing and allowing myself to be with every aspect of this emotional state that I'm in.
Somewhere on this motherhood journey, I learned to feel my feelings rather than resist and deny them. I feel like I want to cry.
He's still crying. Now right outside the door. "I want mama."
He's waiting for me to open the door, probably to yell "checkmate" because this still feels like a match.
I think I'm ready to surrender, to give it up to all the higher powers.
He's banging on the door but still won't open it.
He is strong-willed, full of fire; he is wise and innocent simultaneously.
Here goes nothing.
I open the door slowly, I'm low to the ground, preparing to sit down.
When he sees me, he shouts and runs away down the hall, stopping halfway to look back at me, he's waiting for my next move — looking for a reaction.
I'm sitting in criss-cross apple sauce. I say, "I love you," he responds, "I want my mama," crying a little softer than before. I reach out my arms, "I love you."
He moves to the top of the stairs sits and gives me a curious glance, he's whimpering now.
I move very slowly to sit with him, and he retreats halfway down the stairs.
I take another easy pose at the top and in my calmest voice with all the authenticity I can manage I repeat "I love you" numerous times before adding in "I'm sorry we both are so upset, and we are having a hard time working it out."
He holds his position and says, "come to me mama" to which I reply "I feel unsafe on the stairs, would you come to me?"
He doesn't budge.
Now I think, hmmm maybe it's time for a diversion— distractions can be quite useful.
"Do you want to play trucks with me?"
"I want to go in the hammock!"
Ah the hammock, the crux of this entire blowout.
You see this whole hurricane started because I would not "rock him in the hammock," which means swinging him back and forth wrapped in a blanket, something he enjoyed when he was much smaller. This great past time somehow popped into his head out of nowhere and when a toddler becomes fixated on anything, and the answer is no, well, a shit storm can swirl-up fast.
My explanation that it would hurt my back to do so was not sufficient. He has no empathy yet for the safety of my body and the preservation of my energy.
It is an essential and regular practice for me to be mindful of where he is at developmentally and what he is capable of emotionally. I have to constantly check in to see if my expectations are unrealistic, they often are when I'm fired up.
It gets blurry when small children amaze us with feats we didn't think they could handle, only to follow up with what seems like they may have amnesia when trying to do something you were sure they had mastered.
Side note, I am not sure humans are ever truly masters of anything.
We progress and regress. We are capable and a mess at the same time. Toddlers make that more obvious than adults, or they aren't afraid to admit it, in their unknowing way, of course.
My sweet boys need to be swung like a baby was all that mattered to him. After all, he is only 3 (well 3 & 3/4 as he would proudly tell you) and he is very much in turmoil with wanting to be small and big, all at the same time.
I remember this, and I find my empathy.
Then somehow, the clouds part and the sun shines again. He draws close to me and whispers, "Mama, I just want a little swing in the hammock."
I take him in my arms, swinging him as wide and high as I can muster without injuring myself. His smile radiates in all directions, and his eyes tell me that he once again loves me (although I know he always does despite these fallouts.)
Perhaps we could have found this compromise at the onset and skipped the dramatics. However, I have come to believe in the midst of these meltdowns; with awareness — MAGIC can occur.
I'm certainly not saying I enjoy tantrums—mine or his— but if everything were easy how boring would that be? And I would like to think these occasions are for learning how to handle our big feelings together.
At this point, I am willing to accept that this wild ride consists of moments that are meant to test and teach us. That with motherhood, we can heal and transform ourselves. That these events that feel like breaking points are exercises that help us learn to bend and realize inner resource and resilience that never knew we had.
We are emotional beings, there is no way around it, and answering to the call of the name "Mama" is sometimes like traveling on a steep winding road with a cliff on one side and a stunning flower-laden meadow on the other.
One minute your feeling like you could slip off the edge and the next your mesmerized and intrigued by the beauty.
You keep driving feeling lost but determined to keep going.
You have no idea where you are because you split coffee on your map (that as it turns out is outdated anyway) and you can't read the handwritten directions from that stranger who tried to give you a "shortcut" aways back.
You start to find your way, but you can't think straight on account of the miniature backseat driver that is shouting "go the other way" while pointing in the opposite direction of your known destination.
You set out for this ride with no idea where you were going, feeling the excitement and joy of seeing new sights while also experiencing the trepidation and terror of feeling out of control, lost and trying to navigate bravely in this new strange world.
At some point, you start to become more familiar with your surroundings, you start feeling at home, and then things change because they always do.
Something feels broken again, you pull over for repair, you're trying to figure out how to get yourself back on the road but your not a mechanic, and then you realize you just might be a magician.
The amazing thing is that however weary you may be, you keep driving. The beauty you have seen, the joy and laughter you've experienced during the times you are just cruising along, keeps you going.
Yeah, I think mothering is like that, and the magic that has come to me amid the meltdowns—
We need to serve and protect our energies through all storms, during every aspect of our journey, we need to schedule "tune-ups."
In whatever way that suits you— you need to make space for yourself consistently— and in these hard moments, we Mamas need to process our big emotions, all of them.
Emotions are energy and it needs space to move as energy that becomes stuck can and most likely will result in dis-ease of the body, mind, and spirit— so its best to perform regular energetic services and maintenance.
When all else fails, tap into the energy of LOVE, let its light hold you and guide you, look to your child and their blissful innocence fill your tank right up. Remind yourself that you created this tiny miracle and because of them you have grown in so many ways.
**Please share the magic you have gleaned from the madness, drop a comment or shoot me an email, and if this resonated with you hit subscribe! Help me reach others and pass this along to another mama, we are in this together.