"I want to snuggle in your bed, mom."
A minute after I got in the shower, I heard a soft whine. It slowly increased in pitch, and I swear I heard the words, "TV." So we were going to play this game - I've changed my mind, mom, and you need to respond pronto. I yelled at him to come in the bathroom and talk to me, but he continued the whine until my shower was done. I wrapped myself in a towel, and wandered in the bedroom. He wailed, "I wanted to watch TV while you were in the shower!"
I grabbed a blanket and wrapped him in my arms. "John, you still have time to watch a little TV while I am getting ready. No worries." I carried him through the living room into the kitchen, and he calmed down quickly.
"Someday soon, you are going to be as big as Uncle Matt (my six foot plus tall baby brother), and I won't be able to carry you. Can you imagine me carrying Uncle Matt?"
He giggled, and pointed to his head, "I would be all the way up to the ceiling!"
I settled him on the chair, got SpongeBob going, and went back to my room to get ready. Pretty soon, I heard more wailing - something about strawberry milk. This was just an "I need mom" mood - he has been over strawberry milk for months. When I fixed him some over the weekend, he didn't even drink it. I let him wail and finished getting dressed. Walked into the kitchen where he was now happily distracted by the TV. I warned him, turned it off, and told him it was time to get dressed. Full scale fit ensued. "But mom, I wanted to drink strawberry milk while I was watching TV!"
Most mornings are easy with John - he is almost five and the tantrums are now few and far between. He is normally sweet, happy, and helpful. I could tell today was different, so I prepared for a doozy. It was like watching an impending train wreck - all I could do was jump on for the ride and hope we wouldn't end up in the hospital.
He started to kick and scream and refused to get dressed. I tried soothing him with calm words, but we were beyond that. Frustratedly telling him I would just take him to school in his underwear did not help the matter any.
I gave up and wandered into my 7 year old Sicily's room and woke her up. "John is having a morning. Please get dressed quickly, and come to breakfast. Maybe if you come in he will change his mood."
She obliged, and walked over to the couch in her school uniform and bare feet, full of her sweetest voice. "John, it's OK! I'll help you." She moved to hug him, but he was still angry, and I worried she was going to get kicked.
"Sicily - thanks for trying to help, but I don't want you to get hurt. Why don't you go get your shoes and socks on and I'll take over."
I walked over to the couch and told John if he didn't stop by the count of three I was going to carry him to his room, so he could finish yelling in there. I knew that would escalate things, and hopefully speed the storm along. Sure enough he completely lost it and began angrily screaming at the top of his lungs. I quickly prepared the kid's breakfast and set it out, and decided to skip my own - would just hit the doctor's lounge when I got to work. He obviously needed my attention more.
I walked into his room - he was balled up on the floor in front of the closet in his underwear, screaming loudly with his eyes closed. I sat down in front of him, level with his eyes. He peeked at me for a second and set his face even angrier and screwed his eyes up tighter. He was lost, and I was at a loss for how to reach him. Calm words didn't help.
Sicily came in the room. "Mom, can I help?"
"Well, you can try Sicily, but I really don't know what you can do. This has been going on for a long time. Don't get frustrated if you can't, he may just need me now."
She said "I know exactly what to do, mom."
She disappeared into her room and came back a minute later with a small scrap of soft blue cloth. The night before, after we read books (they like to hear two Junie B. Jones chapters together now) - Sicily kept popping back into John's room while I was trying to sing and settle him. The third time she was trying to show him the cloth scrap she had just discovered, and I barked at her to wait until the morning. Nighttime routine can really drag out, and sometimes you just have to put a stop to it all.
She approached John slowly and cautiously, waving the scrap of cloth like a surrender flag. "John? Remember that soft blue cloth I wanted you to feel last night? The one from Ramona's quilting basket? I just discovered it last night, and it is so soft and pretty. I looked for another one for you, but there was only this one, but it's OK! We can ask Ramona for some more. For now, do you want to just feel it? Hold it?"
He was still balled up with his eyes shut, but he stopped crying. I was encouraged. I added, "I'll bet we can, John! Ramona puts pictures of her quilts on the computer all the time. She has this wonderful airplane one, it has these beautiful flying airplanes all over it! I'll bet we can find some more soft blue fabric."
I watched his face soften from anger to curiosity. Suddenly he reached out for the scrap of quilt blindly and desperately. Sicily placed it gently in his hands and he caressed it. He smiled, eyes still closed, and retreated back into the corner of his closet.
Sicily smiled at me and crawled in after him. "I wonder if he is trying to hide it, mom."
She was wrong. He came out with two kites I found during spring cleaning. He was smiling broadly through his tears. "Look Sicily! The bird is for me and the bat is for you. When we go to the ocean."
I breathed a sigh of relief. The storm had passed. John handed Sicily the quilt scrap and picked out a school uniform to match the colors she had on. He hastily got dressed and we had time to sit down for a few minutes and eat together before it was time to go to school. I pumped them up talking about the thank you cards they had made for their teachers for teacher appreciation week the night before, and they got excited thinking about gifting their work. They found school pictures of themselves - Sicily's idea, and added them creatively to their bizarre and wonderfully shaped construction paper cut-outs.
I teared up later in the day, remembering how hard it was for him to reach out for help from a place of anger, sadness, and feeling shut down. I could empathize with him, so much. And my heart went out to my daughter, who knows her brother so well - sometimes better than me. As much as those two fight like cats and dogs, they have an amazing bond. Occasionally I look at them and think, "Sicily and John against the world. They will make it, no matter what."