They say that in life, you should pick your battles. Essentially that means you don’t quibble over every small thing, instead save it for the things that really matter.
It’s a great mantra in theory and I wish I was some king of Ghandi-style zen mamma who was able to stick to that philosophy and speak in sweet, light tones, when my toddler goes ballistic over the mundane.
I even start out every Monday believing that I can do it. I can get through any and all numerous daily tantrums, once I stick to that mantra. Once I learn to breathe, stay calm and pick my battles wisely.
But then I hit midweek and I’ve already faced a countless number of meltdowns, tantrums and battles over things as inconsequential as socks. I’m tired; emotionally and physically, the weekend is a long way off and I’ve still got at least two full days of basically solo stay at home mum parenting to this little creature who is in equal parts world and my nemesis. I kid you not, this child can go from Ryan Gosling levels of charm to Damien from the Omen in less than 30 seconds. Plus, as well as all the usual stay at home mum duties and pressures, I’ve also got to juggle work commitments, while trying to keep the house in one piece, all of us fed, watered and alive… just like every other mum out there does.
But the point is, come midweek, I’m literally trying to pour Zen from an empty mamma cup and as result, more days than I care to recount have ended in an epic standoff between determined toddler and belligerent mother over something like a crayon…
It’s ridiculous when you think of it, but something inside me says, okay, today I’m going to win just one small thing and he’s going to realise that I’m the mum and therefore in charge! That I’m not just his snack bitch, milk wench and general dogsbody. That I don’t actually dance to his tiny dictatorial tune every moment of the day!
‘Pick up that crayon you threw please,’ I say in a calm, yet authoritative voice.
‘No.’ His reply is resolute already.
Stay calm Niamh, stay calm.
‘Pick up that crayon, please.’ I reaffirm.
‘No.’ He’s even more defiant now, extra gusto. Lip out.
Breathe Niamh, breathe. You will not lose your shit over a crayon.
‘I’d like you to go and pick up that crayon you can’t throw things like that.’
‘No’. His whole body gives a defiant little stamp this time…. Oh yes, it’s on, he thinks.
I can feel the frustration rising in my body, as if my entire existence as a mother is somehow dependent on the outcome of this fucking crayon.
If I just ignore it, he’ll keep throwing stuff… he’ll keep throwing stuff anyway Niamh!
But I can’t let him win this round, he’s got to learn that mammy is in charge and when I ask him to pick something up after he’s thrown it in temper, he’s got to do it!
The vein on my forehead is starting to enlarge, my pulse is rising… this is the fiftieth tantrum I’ve had to deal with and it’s only Wednesday! Breathe you stupid cow, breathe! What would Supernanny do in this situation? What would Mary Poppins do?
‘Listen to me, I asked you to go and pick up that crayon, NOW please.’ The now was more than firm, it was an ultimatum. Shit. That’s it, we’re at DEFCON 1.
‘NO!' He shrieks. 'AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH’ And here it comes, the on-the-floor protest and shouting and writhing as if I’ve poured hot acid on his skin.
For fucks sake, I mutter inside, as I breathe out heavily, not wanting to tip over the edge.
You can do this Niamh, you can do this. You’re the adult. You can gut this out. Just ignore the protest. Ignore the wailing, ignore the vein popping on your forehead. Ignore the tension wrapped so hard around your shoulders you think they might snap. Ignore the stress headache that’s pulsing like a jackhammer in your brain. Ignore the fact that you’ve had battles over everything from putting his shoes on this morning, to getting in the car, to snack demands, screen time, wanting to be picked up every 10 minutes, to not being able to draw on the wall.
In moments like this, I sometimes realise I’m at a very important crossroads. One leads to me losing it, shouting at him, making him more upset and then making me feel like the worst mother in the world for the rest of the evening. Probably crying when I get a moment to myself, laying on the guilt, lying in bed awake, telling myself he’s going to end up in therapy because I shouted at him and waking up wrecked and guilty the next day.
The other, is the high road. It’s the smart road, the one I can’t always see because I’m so frustrated and tired. This road involves me ignoring this protest, changing the subject, distracting him. Basically it involves me not digging my heels in… and it’s when I take this road, that I smile a little when my back is to him, because I’m quite aware of the irony. I think, where does this child get his dogged determination from, this anger, this temper?…. Er…. Pot, kettle, black mammy?
So today, I took the high road. I got up, literally walked over his writhing body on the floor went into the kitchen and got on with dinner. Five minutes later, he was beside me, sweetness and light, looking up at me asking for a snack.
‘Okay, but will you go and pick up that crayon first?’
‘YEAH!’ He shouts and runs off like as spring lamb to get it and we begin again.
*BTW that is a real picture of one of his silent protests... that one was over not being able to run around and wield the spade I use to pick up the dog shit, like a sword...