Dropped the kids off, had coffee, did a bit of Christmas shopping, went back to the museum. Paused outside the younger kids' group, and a mom waved me in. Little Guy was having problems with frustration.
Uh-oh. Things had been running so smoothly with outside classes that I'd completely forgotten to prep Little Guy for this one. Our usual conversation goes something like this:
Me: What's the price of admission?
Little Guy: Co-operation.
Me: What will you do if you get frustrated?
Little Guy: Some deep breathing.
Me: What else?
Little Guy: Get someone to help me.
Little Guy: Take a break.
Me: And what if you make a mistake?
Little Guy: I try to fix it.
Little Guy: I figure out a way to deal with it.
Note to self: do not forget to have this conversation for the three thousandth time.
So the class was basically over, and the kids were doing a craft. Little Guy was overcome with how great the project was, and his vision of what he was going to do was sky-high. But he made a minor mistake, which of course transformed the terrific into the tragic. Snuggler tried to fix the problem for him. But she didn't do it to his satisfaction, and when I arrived Little Guy was sputtering angrily that it was all her fault, and everything was ruined.
Once Mom was there, it was apparently safe to fall apart completely. So he did.
I tried to get him to take deep breaths. He was still rational enough to hear me tell him what to do, but too far gone to do what I said. I wanted to remove him to deal with the problem in private. But the mention of leaving sent him into full-state panic, because (duh) if we left there would be no more opportunity to fix the craft project. So there I was, stuck.
Maybe there's a right way to handle situations like this. I know there are worse ways and better ways, and I know the number one priority is to calm the kid, because nothing else can happen until that happens. But I couldn't calm him down -- not there, not then. And of course he wouldn't panic quietly, couldn't restrain himself from talking back whenever I said something, and we were in public, and I alternated between feeling like Ineffective Parent of the Year and Bad Mommy of the Month. Yuck.
Meanwhile Snuggler -- reminded, perhaps, of the many times when Big Guy had meltdowns in public, and life spun out of control -- began to cry quietly, and to complain that her stomach hurt. She was embarrassed by Little Guy's behavior, and hurt that in return for having helped she somehow became the one to blame.
Snuggler curled up in a fetal position; I rubbed her back, wishing I could make it better for her. (Did I say how mortifying this was?) I whispered, "I'm sorry you had to go through this. I'm really sorry. I should have stayed in the class. You shouldn't have had to be the one to help him." And then, because she was distraught she didn't listen clearly to the instructions for the last step on the craft, and cut something wrong and messed it up. (Bless you, Cindy, for trying to help her fix it.)
Fortunately the last five minutes of the class ticked themselves away, and it was time to leave. I kept Little Guy behind, so we could debrief and calm down and handle the situation. At that point he became hysterical. (It didn't help that it was lunch time, and he had low blood sugar.) But separated from the others he could focus on what I said, and I could enforce listening. After a solid 20 minutes he was able, still hiccuping the occasional sob, to rejoin the group for lunch. But it took 15 more minutes before he could say he was sorry to his sister, and it wasn't until an hour later that he was able to accept that there might have been another way to look at the flaw in his craft.
And me? I was utterly wiped. Felt like a complete failure. Wanted to patent a portable/collapsible rock for moms to slip into their bags so there's always a place to climb under when the time is right and anonymity is the most wonderful idea in the world. I thought perhaps I could stock it alongside the pop-up brick wall to bang my head against, or by the primal-scream swallower that allows parents to express themselves without having their kids freak out.
More reminders to self:
- Handling a situation poorly is not the same as being a poor mom.
- Feeling defeated is not the same as being defeated.
- If the first 645,214 times you do not succeed, your child will provide you with ample opportunities to try, try again.
- Courage. Life goes on.