The storm started in a quiet moment when I was working a puzzle with Simon in that dead-zone before it’s time to get dinner ready but after all the positive energy of the day had been spent on school and surviving the afternoon. “Look! I found Iron Man’s hand,” I beamed because even 40-year olds need victories after a long holiday weekend. Sadie’s fury began to gather steam by the window. She was trying, unsuccessfully, to tape a valentine to the window. Her solution was to stomp her feet and sigh loud enough to get my attention.
So that’s how this is going to go, huh?
I told her in my genuinely calm voice that when she was ready to ask me for help, I’d happily help her execute her vision of taping the heart to the window. With great effort, I focused on the puzzle and let her work it out. If this escalated, it wasn’t going to be my fault.
Of course it escalated.
Soon I was using my fake calm voice, and she was way past discussion. My words were like a match to her flaming fury and when she spat at me, I felt my own pilot light flare and surge with blue-white heat.
I should just absorb her rage– I’m the parent, the adult, the one with the therapist. I should not be reacting.
She ran and I followed, the air crackling with dispensed rage. When I reached her, I held her as she squirmed like a feral animal. My instinct was to hold her tighter– not to hurt her but to let her know that I am stronger. I am stronger than her rage and her fatigue and her boredom and her frustration at being little in a big person’s world. I wanted her to know she could test me with all her might, but still, even though I was angry, I was still stronger and I could take whatever she was dishing out.
I wanted her to know. I wanted me to know.
I spoke first. Real-calm had returned to my voice. She sniffled, unenthusiastic about making eye contact. I touched her chin, “Please look at Mommy.” When she did, I tossed my script about appropriate behavior to the curb. Instead I said, “You’re angry with me, right?” She nodded. “I feel angry too. We’re angry at each other and we had a fight. That’s what just happened. We had a fight.”
She smiled. I’d finally made something simple instead of more complicated. A parenting first. ”It was just a fight, Sweetie. We gotta learn how to fight fairly, though, okay?” She nodded.
The air moved with the pulse of our newly-won peace. “We had a fight,” Sadie said, testing the words like she tastes a new food. Tentative. Willing but unsure.
I looked at Sadie. “It probably wasn’t our last, Sweetie.”
Two beats passed. “Definitely not, Mom.”
I felt closer to her when it was over. There was an intimacy to all that rage. But I still hated it. I want to get along with my preschooler. I want to keep my cool. I want her deplorable and age-appropriate behavior not to trigger me. I want it to be our last fight.
But it’s definitely not. I’m struggling to make peace with that.