Sunday, January 30, 2011

And also with YOU!

Many of my friends know what difficulty I had with A-man from about 20 months to 4 years of age, and many have witnessed the changes in him.  He went from total mild sweetness and predictability to raging vitriolic fury beginning from the time I weaned him at 19 months.  He had been starting to speak fairly clearly, but his words disappeared and were replaced by screams and growls.  I was fearful for his soul, to be honest. 

The change came fairly quickly, but there were enough good days to feel like it was a passing toddler phase.  Eventually, however, we came to expect a tantrum during every outing, so we stopped going out, a habit that continues to this day.  We became accustomed to every event ending with a massive ugly blow-up over some really minor issue.  Often there was a fit just before we left the house, so we were worn out before we got in the car. 

Complicating this was a major depressive episode that engulfed my spirit and my energy and made me feel utterly worthless and so inadequate for the task of mothering these beautiful children.  I was an angry hormonal mess, and I regret the way I blew up at my small boys in those days.   I sought treatment and found that I could manage things much better.  Dr. O' was progressing toward oral exams, the half-way point of his Ph.D. when this began, so he was very busy.  We were hurting, and we were in a situation in which being a perfect family was important. There's a lot I wish I could change about those days. 

In the spring of 2008, I realized that his behavior was not getting better, and his 3rd birthday was approaching.  I had met with our pediatrician, but I was fearful to acknowledge how bad things were.  Later, he and his colleagues gave us a diagnosis (which I refused to accept, but now can agree with) and offered anti-anxiety and behavioral drugs, but I could not medicate him until all other options were exhausted.  I had an epiphany that might seem unusual. 

We were in family housing at Notre Dame, and if we were expecting a 3rd child, we could get a larger apartment where we could have a room for him during his tantrums.  At that point, he emptied shelves, closets, drawers, and bins during every screaming tantrum, and he just needed a place where the white hot fire of his rage would have no fuel.  An empty bedroom with only mattresses would be perfect for him to learn to turn off his anger and calm himself without hurting himself or breaking anything.  When he couldn't be in his room, I had restraint holds that would keep him and me safe and would force him to decide to calm down if he wanted to be free. 

The nine months of a pregnancy would give us a timeline to get his behavior on track, and a younger sibling could potentially help him to develop better empathy.  The amazing thing is that over the last 3 years, it has worked!  Within weeks, he went from multiple violent daily 45-minute tantrums to 5-minute fits in his new room a few times a week, followed by a gentle knock at the door and a tiny voice saying, "Momma, I'm sorry, and I'm ready to change my heart.  Can I come out now?".  We still had the anxiety about going places and the fits at church, but Paula Triezenberg at South Bend Christian Reformed Church won his heart over and opened him up to hear about spiritual things. 

M-girl was born in March 2009, and he instantly took to her.  He has always been very gentle with her, and he has loved hearing about how he was the baby and was nursed.  I learned that he needs 10 minutes of holding each day to reset his emotions, and I still do that regularly. 

The move to West Virginia has been hardest on A-man, who loved University Village with all his little heart.  He was often in a pack of small boys running all over the playground wearing capes and brandishing swords.  As a little leader among them, he has felt their loss keenly.  His behavior toward me has become more negative, but we have the words now to communicate frustration, and he can calm down when he wants to.

We fell in love with a small congregation here, and I immediately asked if I could do a children's program during the sermon.   We had not been in Lutheran worship for the last few years, so A-man didn't know how to make connections with the liturgy, nor was he accustomed to sitting still for an entire service.  The Children's Chapel has worked out really well, and A-man and I study the stories during the week so that he knows what to expect.  His behavior in church is steadily improving, and I feel so blessed to hear and see him participating in liturgical worship.  He belts out "Glory to God" from the back pew and shouts "And also with YOU!" a second late, but he's engaging with worship.  I missed something sweet this morning when I was helping in the kitchen: he joined our pastor at the doorway of the sanctuary for the benediction and raised his arms along with the pastor.  I am so blessed by the kindness of our fellow members who came to me and told me they think he'll be in ministry some day.

After church, I was feeding M-girl some pasta and grapes from the potluck, and someone passed her a cookie.  I told her that she would have to eat the pasta and grapes first, and she smiled and said "okay!".  She ate her pasta and grapes and called them "mmm, nummy!" over and over.  Then she enjoyed her cookie.  As a momma who fought with one child over everything, I have realized how conditioned I am to expect a fight.  I can adjust my expectations, but I'm going to hang onto the joy I feel in my heart when they listen and obey.


  1. Whoa. This just confirms what I already knew. You are a GREAT mom! And kudos to you for not losing your cool in those temper tantrum moments!

  2. God is good, and He answers my prayers for my children as long as I'm still in the game! I needed meds for about 6 months to straighten out my hormones, and things got MUCH better!