Dear Eldest son,
Tonight you scared your mommy and daddy by leaving our backyard where you were having an after-school snack, and went across the street to our neighbor’s front yard to play with their kids without asking us first.
When we saw you across the street, we had the now-famous mix of elation and anger that parents achieve in times like this. I calmly called you back home, but you had to have known you were in trouble. You fought me coming back in the house, and once inside, you had the meltdown of your life. Believe me, we thought we had already seen the worst.
Normally, we don’t do time out because that just doesn’t work with you. We often do calm down time together, working on breathing, etc. Tonight, I was so angry with you and I had been so scared that I put you in time out because I needed a time out. You sat there telling me how mean I am, that I am a bad mommy, that you think I am stupid. That you hate me.
I took away your story time, something that I would normally not take away, but I wanted you to notice. I wanted a punishment that you would feel. I was reacting to my own hurt.
I managed to sit nearby so you would not feel abandoned during your big emotions and I went to my happy place. I tried deep breathing. I tried focusing on the sound of your little brother’s whining that was starting in the next room, no doubt in sympathy of your pain.
I realized that nothing worked. It hurt me to see you furrow your brow and hurl insults my way, and there was no getting around it with intellectualizing where you are developmentally, and that you don’t really mean those things.
You hurt me. The one who loves you unconditionally. The one who carried you in her belly, and who thinks of you 1 million times a day. The one who will advocate for you and love you every day of her life. My heart was broken.
But I stayed with you. I outlasted the wall punches and floor kicks. I braved the storm, and was there when you collapsed on my legs in pitiful heaves and moans as you sought the comfort that you find in me. I rubbed your back, I pulled you close, and I made you laugh. You are four. I get it.
We got through this, kiddo. It may not be the last meltdown, but I hope that we both learned something today. Me, that I have the strength to have my heart broken and still give you my big love without yelling back. You, that I will always be here for you, and that the best thing you can do for people you love is to sit and listen, and do your best to understand what they really need. Even if it is to just be near and quiet.
I am sorry I took away your books, but I had to keep my word. You get your stubborn side from me.
It’s my job to keep you safe, both physically and emotionally. It’s also my job to do the same for myself. Together, we will grow. I promise.