Ok, Daniel the Tiger, I get it. This show was really written for parents.
Sure, the cute animation is for the kids, the age-appropriate dialogue, the borderline annoying songs – but more than once the content has been explicitly aimed at …well, me. And I know it’s on purpose. I am on to you, PBS.
There are a lot of days when I feel like I am failing this bootcamp. Like there just isn’t any way I am going to get out alive or whole — certainly not with a scrap of ego intact. I am not getting stronger, it’s just breaking my spirit.
Today is one of those days.
Today I experienced the lowest moment of motherhood to date. Worse than feeling like I had failed at breastfeeding, worse than the time he wandered alone into the neighbor’s driveway, worse than him face planting off the porch steps, worse than when he came crawling out of the bedroom with a pocket knife (seriously, wtf??), worse than when I pulled out of his mouth two ibuprofen he had found on the floor, worse than the afternoon I forgot to pick him up from daycare, worse than finding him on the kitchen table with an open pack of cigarettes. (Oh my god, should I publish this shit? The cigarettes never touched his mouth, I swear.)
I yelled at my two year old this morning. I mean I really yelled.
In a childish reaction of pent of frustration and rage after several really rough nights, a stressful work load at work, taxing physical pain and in the wake of the emotional wreckage that accompanies the sleep-deprived toddler, I lost it.
It was the whining. It is always the whining that does me in. It’s not the full-blown flip out, the red-faced screaming tantrum, that sends me over the edge like the persistent, high-pitched sound following me around the house not allowing the completion my own thoughts and activating undiagnosed nervous facial tics (or it that just the feeling of actual brain cells exploding?) and fantasies about daytime drinking. The whine: for which there is no solution, no satisfying fix, no balm to soothe the grating distress. If I can potentially could satisfy one request, there will be immediately another more aberrant than the last – or he has changed his mind about the first request. And there is approximately 8.5 seconds in which to meet his new demand before he escalates into hysteria with all the terror and volume of the Queen of Hearts but in a tiny, adorable package (I mean truly, freakishly cute while at the same time on a seek and destroy mission against all forms of peace, hope and joy – which is really confusing but admittedly a very effective defense strategy.)
I needed to leave for work. It was 8am. I was scrambling to gather my things, my computer, my lunch, my wits after a harrowing night and too early wake up. I had yet to say one full sentence to my partner. As soon as I opened my mouth to speak the sound would begin again. Like a mad scientist launching a host of cruel psychiatric experiments on his adult humans, like a miniature, mentally-deranged dictator, he could successfully have us scurrying about in hopes that maybe we would get a 10 more minute window to… breathe…remember that we love each other and today can be a good day … and despite the occasional passing thought, no one is really going to “go out for milk” and just keep driving.
Setting oatmeal on the high chair tray, I started to say someth – NOOOOOOO MAMA, I want the BLUE BOWL!!!
Oh, sorry (your majesty). Let me just – I WANT CUPCAKES!!!
Um, what? We don’t have any — I DON’T LIKE IT OATMEAL! I WANT A TwwwEEEEEEAT!
But you asked for oatmeal. I made you oat- AAAAAAAAGHEEEEEEEEEeeeeee!!!
I look across the table at my husband helplessly and attempt, over the sound of screaming, to let him know what I need him to pick up from the store but all he could see what my mouth trying to form words and lord knows I was trying my best but in that moment somehow that ship of lovingkindness had sailed right on past me.
I WOULD JUST LIKE TO SAY ONE SENTENCE!! THAT IS ALL I WANT! CAN I SAY ONE THING PLEASE???
Instantly my son grew silent while shame immediately flooded me. He studied me with the look I’ve come to think of as the “tiny professor”: Ah! This is interesting! Look at what is happening now! Immediately he had begun processing this experience and integrating it with everything he has learned so far about me, about adult human behavior and his own power to effect his environment. My husband had paused with a bite of breakfast halfway to his mouth – I could not look him in the eye. It was bad enough that I had lost my cool with my kid but worse that there had been a witness. I took myself outside. Why do I not get to yell?! He yells at me all day long! I am held captive in my own house by this tiny cherub-faced terrorist barking unreasonable commands at me all day long and waking me up every two hours for nights on end and when I am finally pushed past the brink I get to feel like the lowest form of parental shit? That is so incredibly unfair.
When I came back inside my husband and turned on the show Daniel the Tiger. My son, spooning oatmeal into his mouth looked up and said, “Hi Mama,”as if nothing extraordinary had happened at all. My husband put his hand on my shoulder. And I heard Daniel the Tiger:“When you feel so mad that you wanna roar, Take a deep breath and count to four…”
Fuck you Daniel the Tiger and your annoyingly pertinent messages. I want to be farther along in development than a 2-5year old. I don’t yell at my kid, I do yoga!
“What do you do with the mad that you feel, when you feel so mad you could roar — When the whole wide world seems oh-so wrong and nothing you do seems very right…You can stop when you want to, stop when you wish, You can stop, stop, stop anytime- And what a feeling to feel like this and know that the feeling is really MINE! Remember there’s something special inside that helps us with being so mad, you can think things through when things go wrong just by remembering this song.”
Sounds suspiciously familiar. And just like that, I soften. Suddenly, the moment feels less like shame and more like … grace.
“When a storm comes, it stays for some time, and then it goes. An emotion is like that too – it comes and stays for awhile, and then it goes. An emotion is only an emotion. We are much, much more than an emotion,” Thich Nhat Hanh writes. I want to model for my kid how to handle strong feelings in a healthy way. Above all, I want to teach my son that his mind is the most powerful tool and the most valuable possession he will ever have. I want to show him that there is space for our emotions but that emotions are not bigger than us and we always have choices. We make mistakes and we can say I’m sorry and we can choose better next time. We can keep trying. We can stop anytime, breathe, count; we can remember that there is something special inside that helps us.
Mindful breathing and meditation are powerful tools to help us weather the storms of our emotions. We practice when the sea is still and calm so that we can remember how to not lose our head when the water gets choppy.
We find these lessons in all things, at all stages, in every phase of life. We learn and relearn the same lessons, they find us no matter how old we are. Should we begin to think we’ve reached self-mastery we can be assured the ego will take a tumble shortly. I guess we should all be so lucky that the lessons would come daily would come in the form of a cherub-faced, often maniacal yet thankfully forgiving little help-mate: my own personal in-house guru.
Although it is an uncomfortable thought, I know that it probably won’t be the last time I lose my cool with my kid – after all, we are kind of still beginning. At the very most I hope that I continue to see these moments as maybe the most important teachers. And that for he and I, we can always take a breath, we can always begin again.