It’s Payback Time

I’m guessing I was about six at the time – old enough to remember it clearly, old enough to know better, young enough to do it anyway.

My parents took my sister, brother and I to a performance of The Nutcracker. Nice, right? It might have been until I spotted some unmemorable Nutcracker trinket in the theater gift shop that I HAD TO HAVE.

I asked for it. My mother said no.

I begged for it. My mother said no.

I asked if I could use my birthday money to buy it. (Genius! There’s no way she could say no to that!) My mother said no.

I lost my shit.

In my crying, screaming fit of righteous brattiness I shouted that my mother had stolen my money from me. 

Imagine this: In a moment of possibly insane parental optimism, you buy expensive tickets to the ballet for your family. Oh the music, the ballet, the magic! My sweet bright-eyed children will love it! Chances are your sanity has returned by the time you cross the theater’s threshold.

And then your child starts screaming, in a crowded theater, in the small community where you and your husband live and work, that you STOLE HER BIRTHDAY MONEY.

Kudos to my mother for not killing me. Kudos to my mother for somehow convincing my father to also not kill me, and to take me back home with them.

I recently recalled this particular scene from my childhood as I dialed Goodwill to see if they accept donations of gently-used children.

My kids’ shockingly obnoxious behavior is completely embarrassing. Behind closed doors, Luke calling me stupid is horrible. It makes me question his character and my shortcomings. But Luke calling me stupid in the supermarket? at the doctor’s office? in the playground? at a family gathering? in front of neighbors? Humiliation. Blood pressure spike. Prickly sweat. All sorts of thoughts that hold no resemblance whatsoever to I love my son so much and am so grateful to be his mother.

He does this to see what I’ll do. Which means that he is fully aware that I will be embarrassed. He just wants to see if I care more about throttling him or about appearing normal in front of other people. (This is where I should say that my reaction is totally consistent regardless of where we are. This is where I should say that as his mother my responsibility is to him alone, my own social standing and happiness be damned. So, let’s just pretend I said those things, m’kay?)

When I loudly accused my mother of stealing my money, over and over again, I knew very well that we were in public. I wanted to embarrass her. Of course she hadn’t stolen my money, but it was the meanest thing I could think of that might make some kindly stranger step in, tell my mother how horrible she is, and save me by buying me the trinket and possibly arresting my mom. To steal her adorable fancy-dressed daughter’s birthday money? For shame! She’d learn her lesson alright and she would never maltreat me again. Of course, at six, these thoughts weren’t quite so well laid out. It was probably more Captain Caveman-ish: Me mad! It her fault! Shame her! She bad!!!! Waaaaaaaa!

My mother did not kill me that day, or any other day for that matter. And she did bring me back home with her, albeit by dragging me unkindly through the parking lot while using her scary-quiet voice through gritted teeth. “You just wait until we get home!” Probably all that happened when we got home was me crying and quaking with fear, and my mother yelling something about something. That part I don’t remember.

Likewise, I have not killed my children and I keep taking them back home with me. I have a mean scary voice that when combined with gritted teeth has the desired effect of scaring the living shit out of them. My kids won’t remember every time they’re sent to their rooms or lose out on a toy or privilege  They won’t recall the words that I scream at them when I’m screaming at them. (Let’s pretend I don’t do that.) But I bet they’ll remember The Look. I’m certain they’ll remember that scary voice. And I look forward to the day when they remember some specific incident from their childhood when they each acted like a tiny raging asshole, because they are dealing with their own tiny raging assholes.

In the end, our vindication does not come the way we imagine it at six. It’s not police at our door telling our parents that they’ll go to jail if they don’t get on board and buy us at least one Cabbage Patch Doll, since every other girl in the universe has, like, a hundred of them. Vindication happens much later. It’s when our own children experience the awful humiliation of having unhappy children in public places, the bitter disappointment of a special treat or surprise turning into a nightmare outing.

My mother will read this and tell me that it’s not about vindication. That she would prefer it if I never had to endure this stuff. But that’s not all true and I know it. No one drags her daughter out of The Nutcracker after that scene without wishing for her to get what’s coming to her one day. So, Mom, rest assured; I’m getting what I deserve. In spades.




(Stress) For Sale by Owner

In 10 days all of my worldly possessions will be boxed, loaded into trucks, and carted away from my home. This is the only home Sally has ever had, and the only home Luke remembers. While I’m excited about the new house, and I know that it will eventually become home, now it’s somebody else’s house, on somebody else’s street, with somebody else’s neighbors.

But what of those neighbors?

I am not great at first impressions. Ask just about any of my friends and they’ll tell you that they didn’t like me, were afraid of me, thought I was a bitch when they first met me. I think of it as my hard candy shell. It protects my inner chocolate and I won’t melt in your hands. But since having kids, I can’t afford to make that first impression. I need friends. STAT.

I’ve faced the issue of Mommy Dating before with limited success. But this time it’s more important. At 6-years-old Luke needs friends to hang out with on the regular. I need to model how to make friends even if it makes me uncomfortable. In this vein, I will go to my neighbor’s houses to introduce myself and my kids. I will introduce myself to parents in the library, playground, and anywhere else we find them.

But what about when Luke acts, well, Luke-ish?

My allegiance is to him first and foremost, which means that my reactions in front of new friends and neighbors need to be the same as my reactions at home. Which means that I need to suffer embarrassment and judgement as I deal with behaviors that may seem shocking and egregious. I simply can’t come down on him for everything he does. The occasional (frequent) “I hate you!” “You’re stupid!” comments, the occasional (frequent) tantrums, hits, and kicks, get a different reaction from me than they would from a parent of a more typically-demeanored child.

(Just in writing this I can feel the judgement coming from some of the readers. I fully know what they’re thinking and what they may say in the comments. And I understand why they think and say it. If you have a typically defiant child, then your stern admonishment in the face of flagrant disrespect are necessary and effective. So of course I should sternly admonish Luke for saying and doing these horrible things. If I don’t, it’s my fault he continues to behave that way. Those are easy assumptions to make, and certainly the ones I would have made as well. But, what they don’t know is that they have typically defiant children and I don’t. What works for most children, does not work for Luke. My non-reaction (when I can manage it) is actually the right thing to do.)

So, how can I get to know new people in the face of my anxiety about meeting them coupled with my anxiety of waiting for Luke to do something that will cause them to look at me expectantly, then judge me?

Do I open with, “Hi, I’m Allison. This is Luke and this is Sally. While Luke is the kindest and most thoughtful person I know, he also acts rashly and says things he doesn’t mean. So, I may ignore him or physically drag him out of here under a barrage of punches. Please judge my parenting based on my interactions with Sally,”?

Of course not.

Luke picks up on my anxiety the way a chameleon picks up the colors of its environment. I need to convincingly pretend that I have all the confidence in the world that he will behave appropriately. (Which he totally can and does sometimes.) If he detects a chink in my confidence, and he will if there is one, then he will meet my low expectations and then some.

Luke also picks up on my stress. I’ve been so stressed during this moving process and his behavior has reflected it in spades. We’ve established some toxic habits these last few months that I’m not proud of. I need to somehow release all my stress and anxiety the moment I cross the threshold of my new house. Can I do that while surrounded by boxes and up to my ears in the work of moving in? I have no doubts about my inability to do this. I need to somehow make the chore of unpacking fun. I need to set the tone for the family – a happy, cooperative, copacetic, calm tone of familial well-being.

Essentially, I need to take me out of the equation.

stess for sale


Can I get a WTF? Has something been put in the water to make my 5-year-old child act like a raging lunatic lately?

As a special treat, T decided to take L to the lake today while S naps. All L ever wants is time alone with is dad. And a solo trip to the lake? Could it get any better than that? One would think he’d be over the moon at the prospect, and on his best behavior, right?

Well, he was over the moon. He got his swimsuit on, put on his own sunscreen, and was ready to go. Then T has the audacity to ask L to go upstairs and grab a change of clothes, the very clothes he just took off.

L lost it. A total fit. Complete with sass, kicking stuff, throwing stuff. Complete assholery. WTF?? Who acts like that when we wanted to take him to the lake – the most awesome treat in the world?

So the threat was put out there: knock it off or you won’t go to the lake. Why would we take someone acting like this to the lake?

“No! You’re stupid! I won’t!”

The plan for the day was to take the boy to the lake, then to a party this evening. Now the plan is to sit around here and be miserable together. Fucking great.

This has been a theme here lately. On a dime everything goes from happy and normal to L losing his temper and going crazy. This is how he was at 3 and 4, but he’s been so much better lately. What’s going on to make him this way again?

I can’t understand it. I can’t figure out what sets him off, how to predict it, how to head it off, how to calm it down. I’m living at the mercy of a crazy person. He can ruin a day, a week, a life. We are a family of four suffering because of a 5-year-old’s out of control mood swings. Sucks.