200 pgs | $14.95
No Avoiding That
It is so late and my brain is as purple and full of fury as Myles’ tiny face. He is four weeks old and he has been crying all day, every day, for three weeks.
He doesn’t nap. He doesn’t even doze off, except for the rare, and brief, moments when he falls asleep on our chests as we are sitting on the couch and we are able to avoid movement of any kind, including breathing, blinking, and involuntary muscle spasms.
Otherwise, he is awake and crying, at times passing out from his efforts, which requires us to splash water on his face to wake him.
He sleeps four to five hours straight per night, which is nice, but not usually any more than that.
I can tell you now that this will be over by nine weeks, just like that, like magic. One day he will be crying all-day, and the next he won’t.
But that’s still five weeks away from this moment. Tonight it is he and I alone in the living room, the lights off, the occasional car passing by below.
He is lying on his boppy pillow across from me on the ottoman as I stay sitting and motionless in our big ass chair.
Nothing will soothe him and I am exhausted. I should wake Debbie, but I feel like I am on my own, and this is my cross to bear.
I stare at him and I try to remind myself that he is suffering.
As he continues crying though, that feeling of empathy passes and hardens into something else, something angry and frustrated and full of confusion about what he needs.
I picture lifting him by his miniature shoulders, shaking him, and yelling, “What do you want?”
I tell myself not to move, not even one inch, not a muscle, nothing. Just breathe I think. Ride the wave of tears and anger, and the moment will pass.
And it does, finally, and at some point we are both able to sleep.
Still, I wanted to grab him, shake him, and scream, and there’s no avoiding that. I do not recall ever feeling that kind of rage towards an adult. Of course, there’s no adult I can’t walk away from. Myles is different though, we are bound together and there’s no walking away from him, not ever.
Sometimes, however, there is no turning away either. And what I should do then? How should I make sense about what is discipline and what is violence, even if it’s only being experienced in my head? And what should that discipline look like? Because there’s the rub, things aren’t always happening in my head, sometimes they do get more physical.
One morning, and honestly it could be any morning in terms of the frenzy, but I am thinking of this one morning in particular. We are trying to get out of the house, and there are school bags to pack and teeth to brush, both mine and the boysʼ and I need to put on work clothes, and Myles and Noah need hats, and lunches need to be made, and there are the socks that do not fit, no matter how hard I try to make it so, and I am flying around the house, and I want to believe that they may soon settle-down.
But Noah is crying and will not stop, not ever maybe, and there is the stress of knowing that I cannot make it to work on time, not with the two of them at different schools, not with Debbie already out of the house, and the crying, hats, socks, teeth, all of that piling-up on top of each other.
And then suddenly, in the midst of all this, I start to believe that I may really get out of the house, because suddenly they are ready, and why can’t I be too? I can, and so I leave them up front by the door and I run into the kitchen.
The tears get louder. Why is that happening? It’s possible that that they are magnified by the foyer and its funky acoustics, but then there is wailing, and I run back to the foyer, and Myles is standing by the doors that open into the hall leading to our rooms, holding them shut so that that Noah cannot step into the front of the house.
Hence the tears and the wailing and the increased frenzy that I just want so badly to go away. I look at Myles.
He’s smiling and entirely pleased with what he’s done.
This is a great time to breathe, count to ten, something, instead, my brain briefly explodes, and all I can see and hear, is the crying, the heat, the rushing around and the frenzy, so much fucking frenzy.
As the sweat starts to pool on my upper lip and slither along my brow, and as the words in my head start to morph into something that sounds a lot like the white noise that passes for conversation among the adults in Peanuts, things don’t exactly blur together, but they do start to go a little dark.
Which is not to say I cannot tell what is happening, I am watching it happen, but I am not in control, not really, maybe not even close.
I see what I am doing and I understand that I am grasping the collar of Myles’ coat, that I am lifting him off of the ground, and moving him away from the doors, which I now open as he stands there gape-mouthed, caught somewhere between bemusement and shock.
Noah stands in front of me in the hall red-faced and perspiring, screaming and shaking, a physical manifestation of the emotions pin-balling around my frenzied brain.
And it is here, now, that this question of discipline and what it might look like starts to re-appear in my tired brain. Though if it wasn’t that moment exactly, it was certainly later that day as I was walking home from school with the boys and I heard Myles say to one of his friends, “My dad tried to strangle me this morning.”
Which I would argue is not true, not really, but that doesn’t change the fact that I can so easily be moved to rage, even as the idea of corporal punishment has never felt like an option to me.
I was not hit as a child, and I do not believe in hitting children. No slaps, no brushes, or spanks, but this does not change the fact that I was moved to act in a physical way, or that I still believe that raising children requires discipline, and that there must be consequences when they do not manage their crueler, and yes, more annoying impulses.
Still, if these consequences do not involve spanking, they better involve something. Something they can learn from and I can try to master so that I do not lose my shit in some way that everyone ends up regretting.
I could pause here for a moment and reflect on the fact that there was no discipline in my house growing-up, that there was an element of needing to make do, that there was love, always, and endlessly, but we had to figure things out for ourselves, which when coupled with my parents just not being around as much as my wife and I are, ultimately required less of a need for discipline in the first place. All of which may say something about how Debbie and I parent, or about who I am and what I still need to fix. Though more likely it’s both.
Which I get, but for now, let me say this, if there is to be frenzy, and there will be, there has to be, I’m glad we have the time-out, because that can be a beautiful thing. I don’t have to lay my hands on the boys, though if needed it can be brief and focused, hands on shoulders, crouched down and face to face. The boys do not move or talk, ideally, and so they must re-focus, catch their breath and think about their actions, whether they think they are doing so or not. And after the allotted time there is conversation, hugs, expressions of sorry, and love.
The time-out has worked very well in our house, and even better when we are consistent and follow our own rules, which can be tough. But when we do, a sense of calm and thoughtfulness pervades our world because of it. Still, the threat of violence can linger right there, not too close, but close none-the-less. Usually this is because I have not utilized the time-out soon enough, allowing some dynamic to play out one beat too long, and now I’m seeing red, and everything happening around me is just noise. It is then especially that I have to remember that it will work eventually. It has to.
And so on another day, it is raining, and we cannot go to the playground, and I just need to get back home. Because I have to get something done for work, but everyone is moving slowly, and complaining about their rain boots, and the lame snacks I brought to pick-up.
And maybe because of all this, Noah is repeating himself.
“Can I have a cookie? Why can’t I have a cookie? One cookie, just one. Mommy would give me a cookie,” he says, “she totally would.”
I could give him a cookie, but then he would be in control. Not that this has to be a power struggle. Why does anyone have to be in control?
“Just one!” he continues.
“Noah, that’s a one,” I say, still calm.
“You suck,” he says.
“Dude, that’s a two,” I say.
“That’s a two,” he replies.
Why does his mimicking me put me over the top? And does he know that it does? He must, right? I don’t know, I just know that now I am enraged, and that yes, this is a power struggle. I also know that it is still raining, and we are standing on the street, but timeouts can’t wait until you get home if you want them to have any kind of impact.
“That’s it, bro,” I say. “Time-out, here, against that wall. Go stand there for six minutes.”
Noah looks at me like I’ve lost my mind. Then he smiles, but I cannot succumb to that. He’s too fucking cute, and I cannot be weak.
“C’mon,” he says. “Here? No way.”
But I don’t budge and I try to breathe and then I turn my back on him. I look at my watch, a minute passes, then two. The rain is fogging my glasses. I do not move. He’s quiet. And I am beginning to breathe normally again.
It is then that I feel him wrap his tiny arms around my legs.
“I’m sorry,” he says softly.
I smile, I shake my head, I hug him, and we walk home. There has been no violence—the rage has dissipated, and everyone has lived to fight another day.