Yesterday I got so angry with my sweet four-year-old I broke the dustpan from the dustpan and brush set in half, right there in front of him.
His crime was to point-blank refuse to do a simple thing that I’d asked him to do. I can’t even remember what that was now, but at a guess it was something like getting dressed, putting on his shoes, going outside, brushing his teeth, or eating. If this child doesn’t want to do something, he just says ‘no’ and nothing reasonable will make him change his mind. Mostly, I manage just fine with this.
It’s his personality. Ways can be found to move around his stalwart immutability. Imaginative crumbs can be scattered around to encourage him to do what it is I want him to do. He can be coaxed; straight-up bribery with a lollipop works, obviously. Making things into ‘a game’, in that perky pre-school teacher way, works.
Some days though, I just can’t deal with the endless repetition of NOs. I get tip-toe-y about my plans. The question of whether NO will arise (er, yes) precedes everything I plan for the boys, plans which are limited anyway in these long lockdown days. Let’s go out on our bikes. Let’s scoot around the square. Let’s get dressed. Let’s have lunch. Let’s draw. Let’s watch this particular programme on TV. No, no, no NO! Things get spoiled for the other boys, normal things like: let’s go out and play. NO.
On certain days, occasionally, there will be a no that crosses a line for me. It will be nothing to do with the task he’s saying no to, it is the ‘no’ itself. There has been one ‘no’ too many. I lose it. Anger erupts, crazy wild gusts of anger, hurtling through my body. My brain goes offline, words come out of my mouth that are ridiculous. Recently I ranted ‘I will send you to boarding school!’ – something I actually dreamed of being sent off to as a child, midnight feasts and all. Now it had emerged from my subconscious as a dark threat. On this occasion, breaking the dustpan was the thing.
A fine demonstration, to my four-year-old, of how to hold my temper. How can he, I reflected later, learn to control his temper tantrums with this kind of appalling, unrestrained example from a grown up? Of course, he can’t.
He fluttered upstairs to his bedroom, curled up on his bed. The anger dissolved as quickly as it had erupted, the horror of breaking something so cleanly tempering my brute red reaction. What is wrong with me anyway? I thought. He just said no to getting dressed. Again.
That’s not ok mummy did that, I told him upstairs, crouched beside his bed. Mummy should have taken a deep breath and thought of a better way to react. It must have been a bit scary to see that, I said. ‘Yeh!’ his face lit up. ‘It was really scary.’ He curled his face into my neck. ‘Mummy I want to get dressed now.’
Sure, I said. Let’s go get dressed. Shall we go outside then, go play hide and seek?