Crying for little to no reason at all. Mood swings. Hitting people. Screaming “NO!” at the top of his lungs. Deliberately disobeying even the smallest request.
My son has officially turned into a monster. If Lady Gaga wants him, she can have him.
We’re pretty sure it’s because he’s getting his final molars in. And I say pretty sure because, a) we can’t actually get him to let us feel around in his mouth, and b) there’s just no other realistic explanation, short of demonic possession. And we know possession is out because we can’t get him to sleep without singing a medley of his favorite Jesus songs before bedtime.
It’s been frustrating, to say the least.
Now, I don’t know if this is just particular to me, or if it’s a common occurrence across the parenting spectrum, but whenever my son goes grade-A nutzoid, I feel a tightness in my chest that panics me. It’s not a heart attack-type feeling (at least, I don’t think it is), but more of an emotional anxiety that grips me right there in my heart. It’s a feeling of helplessness mixed with annoyance mixed with a frightening anger. It just sits there, dead center, as if it were a piece of food I can’t swallow. And the more Jonathan screams or whines or disobeys, the more it builds.
I don’t know if this feeling comes more from being incapable of helping my son or from being tired of hearing the crying. I can’t tell if I’m just a normal parent experiencing normal parent emotions, or if I’ve somehow become psychologically unstable and need to be medicated. I just know that I hate feeling that way about my child. I want to feel nothing but love, nothing but magic, nothing but the sweet tenderness of a Hallmark moment.
"I thought I told you to go to bed...does Daddy need to come in here?"
But life is so infrequently like that. I mean, half the time it seems like I vacillate between Ward Cleaver and Jack Torrance, despite my desire to be a good dad. Some days I know I’m three good seconds away from grabbing an axe, hacking through a door and shouting, “Heeeeeeeeeeeere’s Johnny!” not because I hate my family, but because I genuinely feel that close to being out of control.
And maybe that’s my real issue – control. I like for things to be smooth and conflict-free, and that just ain’t life with kids (it’s rarely like that with adults…). I’m not a certifiable control-freak, but I have grown to appreciate the predictability of my five year-old; in fact, I almost prefer Ella’s age precisely because we’ve already bypassed all of the crap we’re currently going through with Jonathan.
Which makes me wonder if part of my problem too is the feeling of “Haven’t we done this before?” There’s a small kernel of resentment, maybe, at having to train another kid all over.
But even in the monster madness, there are moments that make me laugh and remind me that I love, LOVE, the boy. Take bedtime last night – I put Jon down to bed at 9:15, way later than normal, and, because of the time, I abbreviated his bedtime routine and plunked his little butt down in the crib. He was quiet for almost an hour, and then began screaming his head off for no apparent reason. I went in and shushed him, but by the time I walked out of his room he was at it again. I could feel that familiar clutch in my chest, so I sent Rachel in to deal with him. She walked in and got a robust “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”, and promptly turned around and walked out.
So it was Daddy or nothing.
I went back in there, fully prepared to either scold him severely or punt him through the window, but once he saw me, he stood up, held his arms out and said, “Daddy, peese.” I walked over to the crib and he wrapped his arms around my mid-section and rested his head against my stomach. I could feel his little fingers working over the fabric of my t-shirt as he attempted to get a better, bigger hug on me.
I picked him up. He nuzzled his head into the base of my neck where my jaw meets my ear and he let out the most contented sigh you’ve ever heard. It wasn’t huge, mind you – more on par with a simple exhale of breath than anything else – but the satisfaction I heard in that release was immense. Jonathan ran his fingers through my hair lazily and within three minutes was sound asleep, his little chest rising when mine fell, our breathing intertwined. His skin, so soft and warm, was damp from the tears he’d unloaded, and in the few minutes that I rocked him, I felt the stress/anxiety/anger melt away because I knew he felt just as pained as I did.
Having kids is easy. Raising them borders on mind-shattering insanity. But being a kid is equally as tough. Every experience in childhood is somehow different from the one that precedes it, every day brings some new emotion or word or developmental milestone. It’s no wonder kids go crazy and take adults with them.
But it doesn’t last, thank God. At least, the early stages anyway. There will be growing pains of a different sort in three years, or ten. I don’t know if I’ll ever truly be able to be at ease around my son until he’s an adult; and even then, I’m not so sure. I think it is just the life of a parent – to be perpetually on edge around your child; not so much because of them, but because of the world that surrounds them.
Right now my son is a monster, and I probably need a good dose of fluoxetine. But he’s my monster, and I love him. Here’s hoping his molars, and the other 5700 developmental breakthroughs ahead of him, arrive soon.