Friday, August 30, 2013

The Crappy Parent Diaries: Meltdown Alley

A storm moved into our area today. One minute, the sky was overbearingly sunny and bright. The next, it was a dark blanket of rain, lightening, and whipping winds.

Pretty much indicative of my day.

When my big girl came home from school today the first words out of her mouth were, "Mama, I had a bad day." She was fighting a losing battle against her tears and was on the brink of a complete meltdown. I was concerned, but also trying to rationalize her abnormal behavior. She was up late last night. School just started, so she isn't accustomed to the new schedule yet. It's disgustingly hot and sticky outside and I could tell she was exhausted. This must be the culprit, I thought, as she sat down and started to talk.

"The kids at school were mean to me." Now my big girl is smart. Very smart, actually. I'm not one of those crazy moms who is uber-interested in benchmarks and development. You've gotta believe me, this kid is very, very smart. As she's saying these words to me, I'm thinking about my past reactions to comments like this. I was bullied as a child and overreact quite quickly when I hear things like, "kids...mean.....cry...."

So I thought, hmmm....maybe she's saying this to mask what really happened. She knows how Mommy will react and obviously wants Mommy's full attention and sympathy. So I let her tell her story, listening with a biased ear and trying to tune out the list of things I needed to get done. She was cut off by her little sister, though, and soon enough we were whipping around the house trying to get out to the store and back in time for dinner.

On our drive home the storm hit. It knocked the power out. I panicked....we have well water and a septic system, but no backup generator. Our basement flooded twice this past week and I couldn't stand the thought of more water rushing into our home. We'd just purchased lunch meat and I needed to blog. Did I mention the youngest one doesn't sleep without her noise machine? I was on edge.

At some point, for whatever reason, my big girl asked me if I was going to be home from work this coming Monday. I will be, for the holiday. I told her as such and her face fell, just slightly. Confused, I asked her what was the matter. She said, "Nothing, I've just had a really, really bad day. I thought maybe I was going to Grandma and Grandpa's on Monday." My heart broke, at that moment. You would've probably heard it, had you been there. Her face had fallen because I was going to be home...which meant that her normal day-off-of-school caretakers, my in-laws, would not be watching her. "She'd rather be with them" rang through my heart and my head and it took everything inside me not to burst into tears right then and there.

Working moms, or moms who have worked, or even moms who have taken a long weekend away from their kids, all share one thing in common: they understand the heartbreak and physical, gut-wrenching pain of leaving their kids. I think about my daughters all day, every day, wishing like hell I could have the best of every world and painstakingly agonizing as to how my absence will affect them. To have that time with your kids, even if it's just for a day, is something you look forward to for weeks. To say I am sensitive about working or staying home would be the biggest understatement of the century.

But instead of reflecting on this known part of myself, and fighting against unnecessary negativity, I gave in. Oh boy, did I ever give in to my insecurity.

"Is that why you're looking sad? Because you will be here with me instead of over there?" She shook her head no and started crying. "No, I'm crying because I had a hard day." I started to ask her questions again....what happened at school, why were the kids being mean, how did your day get so bad.....and she couldn't give me a straight answer.

Now at this point, I'm thinking she is either 1) hiding something or 2) afraid of hurting my feelings. I began to get frustrated and the situation quickly deteriorated. Within minutes I was yelling, "Why won't you just tell me what's the matter!" and she was hysterically crying, "I can't tell you! I'm crying too hard!"

Would be a great time for a break, yes? Oh yes, Jen, let's take a break! We'll feel better after everyone calms down.


Instead, this is when all my hurt, irritation, fear, and exhaustion of the day came catapulting through my brain. I reached out, grabbed her face, brought it directly in front of mine and shouted, "ENOUGH! STOP crying and TELL ME WHAT'S GOING ON!"

I wish this could be the point in this sad story where I tell you how awesome my maneuver was and how quickly she calmed down and opened up to me.

This is not that point.

My yelling frightened her and caused her to start crying even harder. Sobbing, she choked out the reason her classmates were mean to her. She had put her folder on someone else's desk. They tattled on her and her teacher had to speak to her. "All----d-d-d-day," my big girl said, "s-s-s-someone was yell-yell-y-yelling at m-m-mmm-me, either my fff-f-riends, or mm-mm-m-my teacher, and now y-yy-yyy-you."

She started to breath very fast.

"She looks like what I look like when I'm having a panic attack," I thought. "Dear God in Heaven, I'm causing my baby to have a panic attack."

I reached for her, pulled her into my lap, and just started rocking her. My sweet baby. The beautiful girl who had a hard day and tried to tell her Mama about it. The good student who wanted to make her teacher happy. The socially-deprived sweetheart who wanted to please her peers. The adored baby who just wanted to be loved on by her grandparents.

I've done some serious self-loathing, but nothing comes close to the harsh, searing pain of realizing you've wrongfully put yourself before your kids.

My bad day, my inability to focus, my over-analytical brain, my sadness and hurt, my my my my my.....

My failure.

I've done it before. I'll do it again. And so will you. This is the most blessed part of life...learning.

All is not lost, contrary to that overwhelming feeling of "ALL IS LOST" when something like this happens.

Take your kid, wrap them up, and apologize. I took mine, snuggled her in my bed, and dabbed her with a cool cloth. I told her I was sorry for yelling at her and acknowledged how hard her day must have been. An awful day for my wee little angel.

She was giggling within minutes, slapping the wet washcloth over my eyes and getting a kick out my funny faces when I peeled it off. I could still see those red eyes, though, and my guilt cried tear after tear inside my heart. But this wasn't about me. This was about her, making her feel better, putting her first. I would find another outlet for my pain after she was tucked safe and happy in her bed.

Congratulations, you, and the six ounces of Moscato next to me, are my outlet. Merry Christmas.

After everything settled down, Aaron and I developed a plan to reduce her anxiety by really accentuating the good she does and taking time everyday to sit down with her and let her vent. We'll never be a meltdown-free home, but we can be a home of acceptance, compassion, and most of all, forgiveness.

Not too bad for a house full of crazies.

Enjoy the weekend, everyone :)


  1. Wow how you make me feel better. I definitely get so frustrated by my little baby. But because of my guilt and frustration! thank you for letting me know i am not alone.

    1. I am so glad you're here and thank you for reading :)

  2. Rock on, girl. I am super proud of this, and can I just how AMAZING it is that you are self-aware like this? Honestly, recognizing these patterns and getting ahead of them to break them (IMHO) is the hardest part. There are so many parents out there that are way too self-absorbed to even acknowledge these patterns (or care!). Your babies are lucky to have you as their mama.

    1. Thank you so much Jill!! I have such a tough time facing my demons sometimes...but I have to admit, this blog helps, as do the wonderful readers!!!!! :)