My mom always says that when kids act the worst they need the most. I try to remember this tidbit these days as I watch Abby and Henry tail spin in the hormones, emotion and passion that are the lives of a five (almost six) year old and a two (almost three) year old.
Sometimes, they’re just doing their jobs. Five-year-old girls are, at times, sassy, emotional firecrackers. Two-year-old boys do, at times, act as if the devil has taken residence in their behinds. The fervor and territorial prowess I’ve seen rendered over whose turn it is to hold the year-old broken piece of some long-ago-discarded toy is quite incredible.
Abby can break down over what I see as the smallest nuance. Yesterday, for example, she started crying because I cut her toast the wrong way. Sometimes, she’ll tail spin into oblivion because I got her brother out of the bathtub first. Others, she will say through quivering lips that she just needs an extra long goodnight.
Henry is at what I hope is the pinnacle of the terrible twos. A good day is one where a tantrum only lasts 15 minutes. The sobs I hear when we’re out of “yellow gum” (sugar-free, Zebra Striped) might make a passerby think that I’m pulling Henry’s toe nails out with coal-hot pliers. As I watch him convulse and buck because I won’t let him have a fifth glass of soy milk, or because I didn’t answer the “are-we-having-a-bath-tonight?” question correctly, I wonder. Am I raising a boy or breaking a horse?
In the height of the emotional spiral de jour, I try to ask myself: what does this child need? Are they crying because they’re exhausted? Do they need a bit more mommy? They, at their worst, need my attention, love and patience. (What I need at their worst is an entirely different blog, but it involves glasses of a dry, full-bodied Cabernet, dark chocolate and a Grandma’s house.) Once I have cultivated more patience, I focus on determining what they need and how to best support them. How I deliver this parental support is as varied (and random) as their moods. Predictably, there is no easy answer. Many times, there is no answer.
Just as predictably, that unanswered question raises others. How do I manage to raise well-adjusted, humble, good-manned, confident, intelligent children without crushing their independent, beautiful spirits? How do I balance their perceived needs (which are very real to them) with their other needs? How do I remain calm and sane in a house of tantrum and emotion? How do I grant them a happy childhood, but not a spoiled one?
So I sit, with my many questions, on the fulcrum of tranquility and lunacy. Luckily, asking questions usually yields some answers, even if they aren’t the answers for which I think I’m searching. Today’s answer is simple: I am just like my kids, and they are just like me. What they need and what I need are very much the same. Some days, at 36 (almost 37), I want to kick, scream and punch the bed because things don’t go my way. Sometimes I need a kind word and a hug. Others, I could cry (and do) because someone hurts my feelings. And on others, I just want my Mommy.
I let that answer settle over me. And tomorrow I’ll ask again,
“What does this child need?”