Tuesday, March 17, 2009

head nut

I woke up around 7:30, happy as a born-again Christian. Sipped my coffee, wrote in my journal, gazed around the room approvingly, even pored over a thick interiors book with Stella cozied on my lap, and somehow didn’t think to look at the clock to wake Hamish until 8:39, six minutes before I usually start schlepping everyone out of the house (at least my goal every morning is to leave by 8:45.) With only six minutes to get ready, there was no time for breakfast at the table, so I got them out with the promise of Pop-Tarts in the car. They’re fortified, people. 

Stella was a gem, agreeing to eat hers raw but Hamish would have none of it, and so in the commotion of grabbing shoes, gulping coffee and finding jackets, the damn thing burnt to a blackened briquette, and I started sobbing to my son right there in the kitchen, throwing Hamish into a catatonic stupor. It’s always a winner, the whole grown-up cry-fest in front of the kids. They really know how to shut down like an old VCR when they witness Mommy losing her mind, don’t they? Which is probably why he didn’t take my passive-aggressive bait and valiantly agree to eat an un-toasted toaster treat, so I went to toast him another one, furious at both of us, and I was already plenty furious.

Outside, I opened the passenger door, freshly washed from the day before, now sporting a nice new white streak of bird shit, and BAM. My head cracks against the roof of the doorway. I slumped into the passenger seat, too demoralized now by this heavenly-turned-hellish morning to even cry, though I wished I could. Stella said over and over, “Are you okay Mommy?” Hamish said, “Do you have my Pop-Tart?” which was a harbinger of the doom to come. I buckled them in, half-waiting for God to come wafting down on a sunbeam to save me from my misery, muttering a stream of curses all the way around to the driver’s seat.

It wasn’t until I returned home, went up to my office to type a paragraph about how the morning had shaped itself, to, you know, let off a little steam, that I realized I was suddenly exhausted. I started the walk downstairs to grab a bowl of cereal before yoga, and discovered that I was dizzy, exhausted, and knew even though just a few minutes before I was raring to go, that there was no way in hell I was going to yoga. I ate my cereal, noting the slight nausea, weaved over to the sofa, daydreamed a bit, and burst out crying. Bryan immediately started Googling “concussion” on his laptop. He said something about the doctor, and not to fall asleep and then I was sobbing again. It was like a full-blown hormonal breakdown.

I spent the rest of the morning in bed thinking about my next novel, and the tears started sliding again. I didn’t sleep, but I lay there, alternately welcoming death, marveling at the beauty of my sparsely furnished bedroom, the fabric on the chairs, the spring sunlight streaming in through the skylights, the reddish buds blooming on the Japanese maple outside, and then my fogged mind oozed into a mild panic about maybe dying, maybe dinner, or the Herculean task of simply surviving the day, I don’t know, but I noticed that my fingers had turned icy and I felt like I was encased in a cloud, and God, it felt so good. Like drugs. If only I could have lain there like that all day. But I got up. I’d heard Bryan scream, “Jesus Christ!” at Stella and I was up, changing out of my yoga clothes and into my usual uniform of jeans and a sweater. Not healed, but no longer on death’s melodramatic doorstep.

Later at soccer, in the same fog, I couldn’t concentrate on anything beyond twelve or so inches in front of my face, which for most of the hour contained Stella and her little friend E, and my friend K, E’s mom. Whatever Hamish was doing way out there in the gym was a misty blur. Until he came lurching over to me because coach Chris frightened him and a couple other kids with his impersonation of a robot coming to get them. I tried to console him, but felt aggravated by his neediness from the beginning, tried to pry him off my lap but he wouldn’t go for it. The kind mothers around me tried to entice him. “Look, you can go wear a pinny!” And when Hamish’s protests morphed into pleas to go to the Head Nut, our favorite nuts and dried fruit, tea and candy store like, ever, my friend K brilliantly suggested making a plan to go there together, but only if he joined the other kids. He wouldn’t budge. I could feel my anger rising, thick and hot, and the only thing I could utter was just how aggravating he was being.

I’ve gotten to the point where I’m a deer caught in the headlights every time my son asks for a special treat, which has been almost every day since his birthday. So it’s been about a week and a half. His fifth birthday, like so many other kids, was filled with special treats, presents and cake, and suddenly he thinks it’s an everyday occurrence. Just yesterday when he awoke, the very first word out of his mouth was, “Toy.” As in, I. Want. A. He wasn’t awake one minute and already I wanted to hurl him out the window. Bryan says we shouldn’t have bought him all those little treats at every museum gift shop. Maybe he was right, because here was my son, writhing on the gymnasium floor in front of everyone, fully unraveled into a blatant, frothing tantrum, wailing as if I’d kicked him in the kidney, “I want to go to Head Nut!!” 

I kept cajoling, kept trying to pry him off my leg and nudge him with my Ugged foot back into the soccer game, but my wits were not about me, and so mostly I sat there helpless and fuming, wishing I knew the answer, certain that the other moms and the soccer coach never experienced anything like this with their own children. I felt exposed to the naked core for my obviously misguided parenting, judging both myself and my son through the eyes of the harshest critics, who I know really reside in my head, but even with all those dog-eared Buddhist truths swirling in my head like so much chicken soup for my addled soul, in that moment, I was frozen.

Finally it dawned on me that my dream of Hamish extracting himself from my lap and re-entering the game was futile at best, and I stood up, a novel idea, exclaiming to K and anyone else who cared to cringe in our direction that I couldn’t take it anymore. I got him and Stella outside. Once we reached the car, Stella uncharacteristically chose to disregard our safety rules and giggled her small self away from the van and into the parking lot, so I snatched her up with a force that could have drawn blood if she weren’t wearing a winter coat. I jammed her into her seat, where to my satisfaction she started to cry. 

Hamish was still teary and whining beside her about the Head Nut, and my friends, I tell you, the wave of fury that I unleashed at that moment was so strong, I swear they could hear it back in Brooklyn. I lost it like I have not lost it in a very long time, friends. Like to the point of feeling possessed. Shaking. My voice gravelly and low and ready to bite. To the point of not even feeling guilty about it. I didn’t strike him, but I told him how much I wanted to. God I wanted to bash in his beautiful little crying face. Do you feel for him? I didn’t. And of course I felt like the only mother on the planet who’s ever gone this far, this deep, this dark into her rage at her child, the very child she promised to protect for the rest of his life on the day he was born, swaddled and fresh in my loving arms.

In the car on the drive home, my iPod playing British pop songs from the 80s, I told him I didn’t want to hear his voice. I told him to shut it. I told him that when we got home I would take away every toy he got for his birthday and then he would really know what deprivation felt like. I told him no dessert, no TV (already reneged on that one) and not to come near me for a very long time, that I didn’t even want to look at him. When his whimpers crescendoed into full blown sobs, I cranked the volume on Under Pressure so high I thought the hubcaps would explode. I sang along with David Bowie and Freddie Mercury in one of those super-soft voices usually reserved for nuns, or deranged serial killers.

We got home. He sniffled his broken self out of the sparkling van. I marched into his room and collected his new Transformers, firehouse Lego kit, astronaut helmet. I caught sight of the red blinking light on the landline in the kitchen. Dialed into my voicemail. Paced the dining room while I listened to our patient neighbor on the next street so similarly named that she often receives our mail, telling me that a package had arrived there for me from Harlequin. The Mother-Daughter Anthology. The perfect pretext for a walk around the block to cool my head. 

I explained the situation to Bryan, who’d used our time away to shear his hair in the yard. In the background Hamish meekly asked, “You’re going to keep my new toys forever?” I couldn’t even muster an answer. I’d never been this mad at my kid before. I've been mad thousands of times, but this was a whole new level. And I consider myself a girl with rage to spare. Anyone care for any? Is there any value to it at all? I considered this and more on my walk and the only thing I came up with is that I wish I’d dragged Hamish out of soccer sooner. To at least spare everyone the interminable tantrum. But even now hours later, I can still feel its tendrils. Waving gently in the breeze. Waiting. Or maybe it’s all in my slightly traumatized head. In either case, it's going to be a while before Hamish gets a new toy. And it might be a while before I learn how to do this parenting thing better. 


kristi said...

ok, i could go on and on about how much i love what you shared here, listing phrase after phrase that is just plain inspiring writing (e.g., "I woke up around 7:30, happy as a born-again Christian" for starters, of which i confess to be, but still think this is completely hysterical)...but at the risk of just sounding creepy and stalker-ish, i won't do that.

instead, i just want to thank you for having the guts to share this completely personal, completely raw and honest account of those moments in motherhood that we ALL have.

i am really tired of moms not being real about how they feel, because when are real about this stuff, we can support each other. this is probably why i have only 1 mom friend...i try to stay away because everyone is always so busy acting like their kids are friggin' angels. :)

i am going to share this all over the place...thanks again for taking time to write it down.

elise said...

thank you kristi! and thank you to everyone who has given me such support for this entry. I tell you I wrote the thing with one eye closed, fearful of the cops showing up at my door. Your support validates my choice to share the dark stuff. May the force be with us all! xo

Anonymous said...

This would have been a really handy item for you!

Love your writing! Hope you're feeling better.


Anonymous said...

Maybe my link didn't work. It was for one of those toasters that you can plug into a cigarette lighter.