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The War Rages On

Yesterday John was getting ready to leave for a wedding when Quinn woke up from his nap and asked if he could go to the pool. I cringed when I heard John say over the monitor, "you'll have to ask mom, because I'm leaving." I didn't want to have to take both kids by myself. Quinn requires so much extra attention, even if he's wearing a life jacket - he is very clingy and if I move more than two inches away from him or don't allow him to clutch some part of my swimsuit at all times, he screams and cries like I've just dumped him in the ocean and sped off in my getaway boat. It's endearing the first seven or eight times as I "save" him from being out of arm's reach for 15 seconds and he holds onto my neck and laughs with glee, but after that, as I try to deal with that AND respond to Bryce's constant requests for me to watch him jump in the pool or put his face under the surface without getting water in his nose, I get that tight feeling in my chest, my brow furrows, and I start to notice my tone of voice becoming more irritated with every response to either child. Knowing all of this was a possibility, I agreed to take them to the pool anyway. By the time we returned home an hour later, I was hissing at both of them about not walking away in a big public place without telling me where they're going, not running, obeying the pool rules that we've been over a million times, not throwing other people's goggles into the pool and then running away laughing, and threatening not to EVER take them back to the pool AGAIN (yeah, that's realistic).

As I've said before, once I enter the Frustration Realm, it's very difficult for me to come out of it. I draw my kids into it and by the end of the day we're all tense with each other, every interaction is a tacit argument or challenge. I feel out of control of the entire situation, and end up doing a lot of heavy sighing and guttural growling after everything I say: "I told you to stop fighting over those books! You can find a way to share or one of you can go upstairs! RRRR!" That's what has happened this weekend. Even though both kids almost always wake up happy, by the time they've been up for 20-30 minutes, they are either arguing, physically accosting one another (pushing, grabbing things out of each other's hands, etc.) or have joined forces in chaos by running around the house screaming at the top of their lungs. Usually, when I'm not in the Frustration Realm, I pull out my arsenal of Consistent Parenting Techniques and diffuse the situation. But this weekend, the pool experience threw me into the Frustration Realm, and when the usual bickering and chaos started, my chest tightened, my heart rate increased, my movements became more agitated and rough, and anger was all that came through in my voice, even if all I was doing was listing off breakfast choices or granting a request for milk. The kids took their napkins and waved them like flags, reaching over the table to each other, each intending to take the other one's loot, each one's arm threatening to send full cups and plates clamoring to the floor and littering the freshly mopped tile with greasy, moist bits of sausage and muffin. "SIT DOWN RIGHT NOW. YOUR NAPKINS ARE FOR WIPING YOUR MOUTHS AND HANDS, NOT FOR PLAYING WITH! STOP IT! RRRRR!!" I turned back to the stove where I was scrambling eggs and with a flourishing, but only mild bang of the spatula, emphasized my disdain for the whole scene. Bryce finished chewing a bite of muffin and said, "Mom, when you growl like that, does it mean you want to get rid of us?"

"Of course not, Bryce!! Why would you say that?"

"Because every time you growl, you say, 'I wish you guys would just act better!' and that means you want to get rid of us."

That deafening shatter you hear is the breaking of my evil, black heart.

After I pushed aside the instinct to stick my head in the oven, I pulled Bryce to me and apologized for the way I expressed my frustration, and said I would do my best to find a better way, to which he responded, "Yeah, I think that's a better idea, mom."

It's 10:00 on Sunday morning. The kids go to bed at 8:00 p.m. The way I see it, I have approximately 10 hours to salvage the day. The problem is that even if I do, I've only won the battle. The War on Frustration will begin anew tomorrow morning with an as yet unpredictable skirmish.

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