02 November 2006

Drawn to Drama

I have never been so happy to read about someone else's bad day as when I read Arwen's post about why she's not been blogging much about her kids of late. I read this post with Curious Girl asleep in my lap, around 7:30 p.m., and while I am often reduced to a bundle of sentimentality with a sleeping CG in my lap, tonight I was very in tune with Arwen, who noted how she feels in response to her son's emotional antics these days:

I feel sort of *move to Antartica-y*. I feel sort of *why aren’t you in school yet-y*. I feel definitely *kid, you don’t pay me enough-y*.

Curious Girl shrieked for 75 minutes tonight before falling asleep, exhausted, on my lap. She's in a phase of disequilibrium, and her disequilibrium sure was catching tonight. Neither of us were at our best, but I am sure feeling better to know that I'm in such good company, and that CG and Ripley share a flair for the dramatic. Misery loves company, and I'm feeling much happier already.

Disequilibrium is a term I learned from the developmental series by Louise Bates Ames. Ames' books deal with each year of a child's development, and while they are dated and sexist, they are pretty handy. She posits that children move between equilibrium and disequilibrium, and this is a normal part of development. So a sunny, serene period is likely to be followed by a turbulent period, and parents simply have to wait it out. I generally like her descriptions of development--they're written with a broad enough brush that they don't seem tyrannical, and she does a good job guiding a child-centered view of the situation. And the notion of developmental spirals is helpful. They are hopeful books, full of practical tips.

I've not been so patient with four year old Curious Girl as I have been before, and that's been hard for me. Maybe we've both been in a bit of disequilibrium, maybe I've been challenged by my new job, but I've not felt so patient this fall. I've been starting to feel more in my parenting zone again, but tonight, geesh. Part of me wants to go wake CG up and apologize profusely for my own poor choices tonight and part of me wants to get on a plane for Vancouver to grab Arwen and suggest we both head to a spa for the weekend.

So what happened tonight? CG got distressed, a little, when it was time for bed, and I helped her put away the game pieces we'd been playing. "I WANT TO DO IT MYSELF!" she announced, but since self-cleanup was taking too long, I helped. I jollied her out of whining fit #1 by singing "Hey What a Crab" (from Rhinocerous Tap), but then when we got upstairs and I suggested using the master bath for a shower, she started whining again. My suggestion that she stop whining and use words led her to shriek, and when I simply picked her up and said, "ok, right to bed then," she got hysterical. "I WANT A BOOK!" "Right to bed" actually meant "let's skip a bath or shower," not "let's skip our whole bedtime routine," but that's clearly not what she heard. And she shrieked so loudly that I couldn't convince her she was going to get a book. And then I got mad, and walked away to take a break. So she got lonely, and shrieked louder. And then I would say to myself, "Susan, take the high road, she needs connection, go hug her," and I would go back, and snuggle, and she would keep shrieking. And so I would leave the room again. Argh.

So I wasn't handling it well, but she was totally drawn to the drama. She crawled into the hallway and watched me work at the computer, and when when she stopped crying, I said, "oh great, you're calmer," she said, "no, I just stopped for a minute. SHRIEK!"

In the mini-moments of calm we had some discussion about whether she wanted to sleep in her own bed or sleep in the bed in the guest room, where I was working. But the choice of the guest bed lead to hysterics about the lack of her "favorite, super duper blanket," whose description was so garbled in her tears that I couldn't figure out which blanket she wanted. I hate nights like this, which are thankfully not common. But I got mad at her, then mad at myself. I didn't like my own reactions: CG really hates being left alone, and I don't like it when my own impulses leave her alone. Even though I know that sometimes, walking away to get calm is the thing to do.

And what gets me about this tonight is that it was all about the drama. Curious Girl has her own self-calming techniques. She goes to what she calls a thinking chair sometimes, or she asks for a hug. She's much more likely to ask for a hug than go to the chair, but she's learning that she can control her emotions enough to talk about them and process them. She's also learning, clearly, how to let them rip, too. She must be working through the power of emotions, or maybe her own fears (since at some point in a tantrum, she starts making dark forecasts about herself. Tonight she informed, between sobs, that something "popped right out. And now I'll never have another dream again. Not when I'm grownup or a Mama or tonight.") She scares herself a little sometimes, and worries about the consequences. But she also seems to want to be all upset sometimes.

And I should let it go. And mostly I do, or I sing a song, tell a joke, redirect. I turn toward her, not away from her. But tonight, I let it sink it. I moved away. Not fun.

But hey, I'm sinking with Arwen, so how bad can that be? If Ames is right, in another six months we'll both be blogging up a storm about our peachy-keen emotionally stable kiddos.


Angry Pregnant Lawyer said...

Oy. Sorry about the disequilibrium. Hope things normalize quickly.

Phantom Scribbler said...

You know, I commented (twice!) on that post of Arwen's, and both comments got eaten. So I'll comment here, and maybe both of you will see it...

I was telling Arwen that I have been COMPLETELY in that position, and, just as you say here, eventually we moved out of the constant disequilibrium and back into equilibrium.

I know all too well how it can feel like bad parenting when you turn away from the drama and let the, ahem, dramatis personae draw on their own resources to resolve the crisis. But I have to say that in my experience thus far with LG, backing away from the drama is far more effective than trying to engage it or deflect it. There are times when I can help him through whatever the issue is, but when it ceases to be about an issue and just becomes about the drama itself, he does better on his own. It builds his self-confidence, too: he feels more like he can handle himself.

Anyway, I wish a rapid return to equilibrium for both you and Arwen, and in the meantime, I've got plenty of sympathy and a vat of hot chocolate for everyone.

Rev Dr Mom said...

Berry Brazelton talks about how kids seem to have an awful period right before making some developmental leap, and I think that is the same thing Ames is talking about. But it sure does make parenting "interesting" doesn't it? Hope things setttle soon.

chichimama said...

I love the Ames books as well. And we are going through a similar phase with C. I hate it. I feel like such a bad parent most days, even though I am pretty sure I do an OK job. I keep waiting for the leap to sanity.

It sounds like you did exactly the right thing, even though it didn't feel that way at the time. Hang in there, I hope the return to equilibrium comes soon...

liz said...

I sometimes have to do the "time out for mommy" routine, because I feel the urge to just. shake. him. And I don't I won't I will NOT shake him. At those times, I tell him: "I am having trouble using my words. I need a time out."

And I go sit on my bed with the door locked. And he'll generally scream and bang on the other side of the door, but I'm not shaking him.

Round is Funny said...

Oh, wow, do I ever hear you on this one - this week especially. Hang in there. Hope it's a quick turn-around.

Suzanne said...

I just had a bedtime experience like this; literally, about 15 minutes ago. I had to walk away from my daughter because I simply could not be right next to her while she was shrieking and refusing to put her pajamas on. I may or may not have kicked the wall a little bit, too.

I hope that the equilibrium returns with CG, and you, soon.

Arwen said...

Oh my GOD Phantom. I'm sorry that the comment got eaten. I bet it got caught in my spam catcher, and because I've been writing so much, I didn't check it, and I hate when that happens. Very, very sorry.

I had the stunning turn around happen in Ripley, over the past two days. Why? I have NO idea. It just did. Is this a temporary break? Might be. I'm not a betting woman.

But I think we have to take space. There's this pre-parenting me that sits over my left shoulder and frowns that "This is not the parent I thought I'd be", when I lose my temper, or just detach. Detaching bothers me a lot; because if the tantruming goes on all day, I'm detached all day. But I hear Phantom: maybe it was detaching that helped. Oh, I don't know. Maybe it was the alignment of the planets.

And hey, Susan; Vancouver? A Spa? I'm here for you... *g*.

susan said...

Welcome back to calmer Ripley!!

You're right, Arwen, it's the detachment that is so hard. It makes sense that sometimes they will need their own space and time to work things out--but since my own sense (and likely all of yours) about how to work things out rarely involves tantruming for that long, it's hard to appreciate. And when your parenting philosophy is built around connection and attachment, it's hard to deal with the detachment amid hysteria.

I'm really glad of the company here.