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Monday, June 21, 2010

Mad Isn't Bad

Monday, June 21, 2010 By

Emerson is distraught. Tears course down her cheeks. Her eyes squinch in misery. Her mouth wrenches open in a plaintive wail. My eardrums burst.

"My life is ruiiiiiiiinnned! Dis is da wors' day EBBER!"

"I'm sorry, but it's too late to play with ZeQuan," I tell her. Again. A fresh set of tears spill. If she keeps this up, I may need to build an ark.

"Why won't you won't let me play wif him?!"

"It's almost dark outside. And he's not even home, Emerson," I remind her, gently.

"Why not?!!!"

"I don't know. I do know that it's late. Go put on your jammies, please."


(Sigh) She's been like this for 20 minutes now. It is a Meltdown of Epic Proportions. It's not the worst she's ever had, but my sinus infection sure makes it feel like it.

"Go. Now."

It's 8:30. She's been to vacation Bible school, to McDonald's, to her grandmother's, to the library, and now home. There were lots of activities, new and unfamiliar faces, and information about the world that Mommy and Daddy haven't taught her. Some of it might be contradictory. In short, it's been a long, fun-filled, high-energy day. And now she's exhausted.

She runs to her room with a shriek. I know the shriek in my bones. I feel her kick the door like it was my own shins. I am furious at her behavior, but I will the anger back into the Secret Box of Irrational Resentment that lurks in my heart. There it will fester and give root to future guilt trips about all the sacrifices I've made for her, and how long I was in labor. She doesn't need to know it was only about 20 minutes.

"Moooommmm!" she shrieks.

"I'm sorry, but I can't understand you when you talk like that."

"AHHHHHHHHHHHH!" she screams in sheer frustration. I stifle a giggle. I'm a little ashamed to find parts of her wee fury so damn hilarious. But then, when your child is dancing on the tattered remains of your very last nerve, you take your humor where you find it.

She runs back in, eyes blazing, and stands before me. Every cell in her body vibrates with anger. She reminds me of a pro wrestler before a match. All she needs is bad hair, self-tanner, body oil, and a microphone. I inspect her bedtime attire. I shouldn't tell her what I see. I should let it go. But I can't resist seeing her reaction.

"Your nightgown is on backwards."

She yanks open the collar to examine it, then begins keening and trying to yank it off over her head. Problem is, it's a size too small, but she refuses to let us give it to Goodwill. So her head and one arm stay stuck inside, while she hurls her preschool accusations at me.

"I wish I was a grown-up dat mates all my own choices! I wish you nebber tell me what to do! I wish I was a mom, wif a liddle girl, an' ebbry day I let her play wif her friends and do whatebber she want to do!"

I nod in agreement. I remember all those feelings. I say so. She untangles her arm and stops, glaring at me. The nightgown is still stuck on her head, hanging down her back like a red and green plaid flannel wig. It is delicious. I snicker.

That does it. She draws herself up, her 46-inches stretching to 46-and-a-quarter.

"You. NOT. Goeend. Come. To. My... BIRFDAY PARTY!!"

I decide it's time to stop pushing her buttons. One, it's too easy. Two, it's really immature of me. Three, it's not teaching her the right skills. She needs to learn how to manage her emotions when she's upset. And that means starting with helping her to name them.

"Emerson, that feeling you have in your heart right now?"

She stops, her mouth open, and looks at me. She is surprised.

"That feeling is called 'disappointed.' That's how you feel right now. You can't do what you want to do, and you really, really want to. And it makes your heart hurt, and your stomach feel scrunchy."

Her eyebrows shift back on her forehead. In an instant, she transforms from scowling Tasmanian Devil to wide-eyed Pained Preschooler. This is the Emerson I know.

"That's disappointed. And we all feel it. Mommy feels it when she doesn't do well at work. Daddy feels it when he doesn't get to write the story he wanted. And you feel it when you don't get to play with ZeQuan."

Her eyes well up with tears. But there's no wailing this time. Just sadness. She crumples in my lap.

"And that feeling that you don't want to do anything else? That nothing else can make you happy?" she nods, her eyes big, a single tear sliding from her eye into her hair. "That's called 'stubborn.' It's when you close your heart off to every other happy thing, and only want what you want."

"Stubborn," she repeats, thinking about it. I wait. Her eyes return to me. She waits, too. Oh. She must think I have some wisdom, and stuff. All I was trying to get her to do is to be able to name her feelings, and why she feels them, so maybe in the future, she won't spend her time screaming at me.

"Do you want to know how to make those feelings go away?" I ask.

She nods.

"You think of something else that makes you happy, and you do that thing. Then you get a feeling in your heart that is called 'contentment,'" I explain. "When I do badly at work, I snuggle with you. That makes me feel better. When Daddy doesn't get to write his story, he calls a friend and talks about his feelings. That makes him feel better."

"But I only want to play wif ZeQuan," she moans.

"It's not going to happen tonight. You will have to look around you for new things to make you feel happy in your heart again."

She snuggles for a few minutes, then I tell her to go brush her teeth and get her library books. After she shuts off the water, I hear her humming to herself. Then she races into our bedroom, hops up on the bed, and pats her books.

"I feel happy when we read togedder, Mama," she says. She picks a book from the stack and opens it, still humming. I pick up my book and join her in the bed. The book she chooses for me to read is "Zen Shorts," and it just so happens that many of the stories in it deal with letting go of emotions when they're clouding your thinking. It's the perfect bookend to my clumsy attempt at leading her.

"Dis book was too short," she says, frowning, and then brightens. "Less read it again!"



  1. River has hit the "I hate my life" refrain a few times in the last few days when he didn't get what he wanted. I'm going to send this to Heather!

  2. I'm afraid I've been known to just about explode from holing in the laughter when my guy walks out with his shirt inside out and backwards- but totally clueless. LOL Cute little girls in a tiny tumult are a thousand times funnier. You have some serious self control for not giggling any more than you did! The part after, with the emotions: that was gold. Great thing is it works on guys, too. At least, as long as you don't tell them you're using your mommy skills on them. :^)

    Anyway, seriously good job there, and great writing. Now if I can just get my guy to read it and not notice himself in it...

  3. I get to catch up on reading your blog every few months, this entry brought a few tears. You're a great mom, thanks for sharing.