Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Relationship Repair Through Physical and Emotional Injury

A toddler girl crying
A toddler girl crying (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In this series of posts, I explore my personal challenges with each of the principles of unconditional parenting. These personal accounts run in parallel with a series of information-based posts where I explain each of the 13 basic principles of unconditional parenting as described in Kohn's book, Unconditional Parenting. Want to start from the beginning? Click here for the Introduction to Unconditional Parenting with links to all posts in the series.

I saw the bike’s front tires turn sharply to the left, but Munchkin’s body wasn’t quite ready for it. He went face first onto the concrete. I calmly secured the dog’s leash under my foot and picked up my crying Munchkin boy. My calm evaporated into worry as I saw the blood pouring from his mouth. I grit my teeth as he bled all over the shoulder of my crème-colored hoodie.  For a brief moment I was genuinely more concerned about ruining my favorite Patagonia outerwear than I was for this wailing kid. I indulged my resentment for an instant and found my way out with the thought of Oxy-Clean. That’s motherhood for you. No room for selfish acts of materialism. Given, Munchkin has been excessively histrionic about his bumps and scrapes ever since I had surgery on my arm almost a year ago. But this time his crying was even more hysterical than usual. Let it go, I told myself, grimacing at the burgundy smears appearing on my shoulder.

“I need to get you inside right now,” I told him. I held the thirty-plus pounds of Munchkin in one arm and with the other arm I carried his balance bike and wrestled with the dog leash. Oh, that damn dog! She tugged in the exact opposite direction of where I was headed. By the time we got back to our gate, I was also fighting my own anger at this bump in the morning schedule. When the dog pulled away from the gate, I pulled on her leash a bit too hard and screamed at her to get inside. I know my tone upset Munchkin.  I know my frustration made it worse. Stay calm. I reined myself in and brought the focus to Munchkin. I still had no idea where he was hurt or to what degree.

I held him while he cried for a few moments then set him down on the couch. Everything in my being screamed Emergency! Emergency!  I haven’t always handled his injuries  – or my own – with grace. I was fighting so many internal demons, so many past bad habits, so many bad memories.  I silenced the wily chatter and considered the most sensible action to treat Munchkin.

I rushed to get a wet cloth for Munchkin’s mouth. Against his very vocal complaints, I convinced him to put the cloth to his mouth. The blood cleared enough for me to verify that he’d cut his lip, but I still couldn’t tell about the teeth. The scrape on his knee oozed blood, but seemed minor in comparison. I held him while he sucked on the wet cloth for a bit longer and the bleeding finally stopped.  Then came the eruption.

Munchkin cried. And wailed. And screamed and heaved huge sobs of old.  About five minutes into the crying session I realized there was a good chance we might not make it to the drop-off playdate. I wouldn’t get my morning to myself. I wouldn’t get to apply for that job, work on my new business, or tend to my other obligations. I wouldn’t get to care for myself. That’s motherhood for you.

Quite often my mind jumps to a final, harsh conclusion. How will we ever afford to move out of this tiny apartment?! But something clicked. I remembered the words of Patty Wiplef of Hand In Hand Parenting: crying is emotional cleansing. I was keenly aware that Munchkin had an enormous bag full of painful emotions to unload…a premature birth to parents struggling to fight their own demons without much in the way of social or financial resources. This pain is more than anyone his age should ever have to bear.

I wish I could have listened to my own inner child crying with him, but it took all my strength just to sit and listen. I simply held him close while he howled. I could even hear the difference between the moans of agony and the shrieks of fury. He had it all. I listened to all of it.

Never mind that job. Never mind my plans for the morning. I need to be there for my kid when he most needs me. No one was ever there for me through my childhood anguish and that was perhaps as damaging as the original trauma. So no. This relationship with my son matters more than any golden opportunity that comes up. This is the golden opportunity. The opportunity to stop the cycle, the opportunity to heal and do better by both of us.  I’ve battled the odds and moved mountains before. I’ll find a job and get us out of here. I know I will. But not today. Today, I sit and listen.

After about twenty minutes, the crying suddenly stopped. I hadn’t spoken a word through all of it so I waited for his cue. He asked me about the accident, but when I replied he cried again. After a few minutes sucking on a frozen teething ring (so glad I kept those around!), he asked for the boob. Yes! My most powerful band-aid! His fat lip didn’t seem to bother him enough to deter him so I nursed him for a good half hour. He nearly dozed off, but I know it was just the exhaustion of catharsis.

By the time he finished nursing, it was too late to make the playdate so we went out to buy watercolors. At the store we found Noise Putty, which made us laugh so hysterically that we bought some and brought it home. Even with my well-developed sense of potty humor, I’ve never laughed quite so hard over fart noises before. I don’t think Munchkin had either.

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