March 31, 2017
By Ekta R. Garg
I tell people that Eight is my firecracker, and she’s proven this several times over. Her energy shoots across a room like a ground spinner, sparkling and twirling until the entire space fills with her chatter and her vibrancy. Sometimes it’s hard to know where she’ll land, both in mood as well as opinion.
Like a firecracker too, her frustration has a tendency to spit in sparks. It burns hot and fast, and it tends to dominate her focus. It also commands the attention of whoever else might be in her locus of anger that day. This is something that came with the Eight package, although it’s taken us almost this long to figure it out.
What can I say? Kids don’t come with instruction manuals. Which is a real shame, because I’m a genius with instruction manuals. As in, if I had a manual for reconstructing the Eiffel Tower, I could probably assemble it by myself.
Okay, well, maybe not, but I do love Ikea.
Anyway, back to Eight’s frustration. In the last year, I’ve come to accept that it’s part and parcel of who she is. I’m also starting to accept that it’s my job to help her find the tools that will allow her to handle it in a productive manner when she gets older.
We’ve made some progress with this. Whereas before this child would act out in anger when something didn’t go her way, she’s come to me several times recently and said in a simple, calm way, “Mamma, I’m angry.” Then I would reward her calm approach by asking her in a casual way what was upsetting her and we would talk through it and work it out.
Old habits, though…well, you know what they say.
Occasionally Eight still acts out. She still lets her anger cloud her judgment. When that happens, I feel like a surgeon as I take great pains to extract the bad choices while leaving behind all the good things.
One night this week, Eight came down after dinner and asked me to comb her hair. I was doing the dishes, and she was supposed to be getting ready for bed. This includes brushing and flossing, making sure she puts in her retainer, arranging the six stuffed animals who have the privilege of sleeping in bed with her, and combing her hair.
Now, mind you, it took me a while to convince both girls that they need to comb their hair every night before going to bed. Marcia Brady influence aside, for those of us who have curly hair it’s a weapon in the fight against tangles. In my mind, too, it’s also a concrete marker of winding down for the day.
Yeah, yeah, call it psychological fru-fru stuff. Kids like structure. They like tangible markers. And I’m trying to train the kids, without them really knowing it, to be more responsible about their hair.
So when Eight came down and asked me to comb her hair, I was happy that she was taking the initiative to get it done. Normally I would stop washing dishes, tug off my gloves, and help her. But because I’ve been under the weather all week, I really wanted nothing more than to finish cleaning the kitchen and go lie down.
“Why don’t you ask Daddy to help you?” I said.
“He’s brushing his teeth,” Eight replied.
“What about Dadu?” I asked, referring to her grandpa. “He could help you.”
Her face crumpled. “I want you to do it.”
In all honesty, I was already running on fumes by this point. Being sick for more than two weeks takes a lot out of a person, and I could see the end of day just beyond the last few soapsuds. I should have probably insisted harder that Eight go upstairs and find another grownup to help her, but I didn’t have it within me to fight her on it. I told her to wait.
Within a few minutes, her father called her upstairs. I thought the matter had been solved, but the next night I found this wasn’t the case. The matter came up during dinner.
“You didn’t say good night to me last night,” my husband said to Eight.
I didn’t know if he was teasing, but when he turned to me and said, no, he meant it, I looked at Eight.
“You didn’t say good night to Daddy?”
“No,” she said.
“Because I was frustrated with him.”
I wanted to sigh, roll my eyes to the ceiling, and count to 100 nice and slow. I was feeling a little better, but I still heard the siren call of my bed. Instead I looked back at Eight and started asking for specifics. Why didn’t she want to say good night? Did she think that was the right choice? Did her choice actually make her feel good?
“Yeah, it did,” she answered to the last question, surprising me with her candor.
I have to admit, her words hurt me a little. But I did tell her she could be honest, and I had asked what she felt. At least she was willing to own up to it.
I spent the next few minutes taking her through the thought process of her choice and helping her understand what it meant when she made choices in anger without considering others. My husband didn’t say anything until the very end of my little speech when he piped up as “good cop” and reassured her that he knew she was a kindhearted child. Making the wrong choices, though, could give people the wrong impression about her.
Afterward, Eight came to me with tears in her eyes. I asked her why she was crying, and she said she felt overwhelmed. She didn’t know quite what to feel or think, she said.
I pulled her into a hug and told her that was okay. She didn’t have to make a decision on how she felt. She didn’t even have to think about what we talked about right away, I said. Sometimes when we had a lot to think about, it helped to go on and do something else. Like go through the normal routine of getting ready for bed.
Her father called her upstairs then, and he continued the good cop routine. I started doing the dishes, and after a little while I heard her giggling. I knew she’d feel better, that at some point she’d allow herself to ruminate what we’d discussed.
Even a firecracker needs time to gather steam.