What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger

So let me just be honest with you here for a moment, internet, if I may.

I believe it’s traditional around these mommy blogger parts to copy Dooce as often as possible.  We’ve all written the letters to our kids on their birthdays, right?  But this year when Eli turned 5, you may have noticed, I didn’t write a letter, and although I am sure I could have trotted out a few nicely turned phrases about the colors of his eyes or how he knows all the names for all the dinosaurs, the truth is that I was afraid it would have rung false.  The truth is that I was afraid I wouldn’t have enough nice things to say about him to fill an entire letter.

Eli didn’t so much do the terrible twos. He was saving his energy for the horrible threes and the tremendous asshole fours, I guess, because honestly, it’s been years now. YEARS of this just…effing awful behavior.

To be quite frank with you the only thing that has kept me sane through being at home with this child have been:

1. My husband and my neighbor.

2. My belief that somewhere in there, there must be someone who was not in fact a tremendous asshole.

3. How cute he looks when he’s asleep.

4. All my friends who don’t blink when I send emails with the subject lines “tremendous asshole” to them four times a day.  Because honestly hearing about how fabulous your child is while my child lies on the floor and screams at me because I asked him to get dressed? It has limited appeal. Hearing that we’re all going through this together and we’re going to actually enjoy these horrible beasts someday? Even though today is not that day? It helps more than anything else does, pretty much.

5. And the fact that Katie is a really easy charming baby who is pretty much happy all the time, because otherwise I think by now I’d be locked up in a crazy house or else I’d have sent my four year old off to military school.  Seriously.  I told everyone on the tour that Alcatraz sounded pretty good to me. and I was serious.

It may stun you to hear this, but I try not to come to this space and complain about things. When I am mad at my husband or frustrated with my family or dealing with a four year old who is a tremendous asshole, I don’t know that it helps enormously to air my grievances in a one sided forum where no one else gets a say.  After all, I hear that being four is a tough business, especially when you get a brand new sister that everyone is always making a big stupid deal over.

But the fact is that raising this child has been very very hard for me.  My darling Eli, he is really something else, and it’s taken every ounce of everything I’ve had and some days I just haven’t had it.  Because for awhile there our days were nothing but non stop tantrums and screaming and discipline, and nothing seemed to work and nothing made any difference.  I counted up time outs one afternoon and I think I got to 4o time outs before I lost track.  FORTY TIME OUTS, and it was like water upon the desert. It seemed to make no difference, and after awhile, it was hard to even face the day, knowing that it was looking something like: Ask Eli to get dressed. Get screamed at.  Put Eli in time out.  Get screamed at.  Tell Eli to put his pajamas in the laundry basket.  Get screamed at.  Put Eli back in time out. Get screamed at.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

There were phases, to be sure, ups for the downs.  But to be honest with you, the good phases weren’t so much good phases as lulls, and then we’d enter another phase of wretched awfulness and think “Oh. Wish I would have known THAT was a good phase so I could have enjoyed it more.”

I’ve been holding on for 5 with everything I’ve got, basically, because I just had to believe that 5 was going to better. I just had to believe that this wasn’t how kids are always are, because honestly, if it was? No one would do this. No one would choose this. It seriously was that damn bad.

But.  I think.  I think, just maybe, maybe…5 is better. I think we may have turned a corner.

I am not quite sure we’re all the way there yet.  I still get screamed at. I still have to take a deep breath and face the day. I still wish the damn sun would come out.  But I am pretty sure that actually?  There IS a wonderful amazing fabulous smart fantastic funny delightful wonderful charming boy in there, thank the good lord above.   I am very hopeful that we are done with the screaming.  I am very hopeful that now comes the fun part. And I cannot wait to find out just how cool this kid actually is under the layer of complete and total pain in the ass that is finally finally! starting to wear off.

(Especially because I am pretty sure that SOMEONE just started the terrible twos three months early and VERY EXTRA LOUDLY.)


26 Responses

  1. I can’t remember if it was a chat or an email, but you once said to me “I am NOT going to raise a little shit” and I thought: YES. THAT IS THE GOAL. And I think of it often. Whenever J is being terrible or they’re both being awful and I feel like I can’t deal with the fighting and noise and all around obnoxiousness, I think to myself “But I am NOT going to raise a little shit.” And therein I find strength to facilitate the 40th time out.

    Here’s hoping Five is an improvement.

  2. My mother swears, swears on her life, that 4 is the worst age ever and all children, even her sweet and wonderful grandsons who NEVER do anything wrong in her eyes, are little shits as 4-year-olds. So maybe 5 is the answer.

    And if it makes you feel any better, my 4-year-old just tattled on his 2-year-old brother, who took the nightlight out of the wall. They’re little shits who are risking electrocution and I’m the *stellar* parent who just went into their bedroom and threatened both of them.

  3. have you noticed that I almost never write about my oldest child? He has issues and I know why he acts the way he does, but that doesn’t make dealing with it any easier.

  4. Oh lord hang in there!

  5. My 4-year-old has been making me feel grateful I didn’t have the baby I felt like I might not live a happy life without. I don’t know if 5 will be better, but I do know 5 means kindergarten. And 6 means 1st grade. So it might not be better, but it’s fewer hours a day of it.

  6. Ahhh I feel your pain. I said for the first 4 years of my “angel’s” life that I wouldn’t have a 2nd b/c it is Just So Damn Hard. WHEN will the tantrum end?! For me they did practically like a light switch and for that I am grateful, daily. The last few months was the very first time in those 4 years that life didn’t feel completely horrible.

  7. I’m sorry! Here’s to 5 rocking your sock off! P.S. let me know if you want to brainstorm some behavior strategies, I deal with quite the challenging set of 3 & 4 y.o. DAILY, who make me want to to scream!

  8. My daughter was always an easy kid – an easy baby, and easy toddler, easy potty training, easy eater, easy sleeper, always happy – but she’ll be five in four months and we’ve had a much harder time with her this past year. She’s whiny and undisciplined and, at times, outwardly defiant. Four is definitely my least favorite age thus far. It really makes me worry what my son will be like at that age, because I love him to death, but god, there is nothing easy-going about him, and he’s only one.

    I hope five is the key! I read somewhere else that they become much more reasonable at five, so that’s what I’m holding out for too.

  9. I love your honesty here. My son seems to be firmly in the Terrible Two’s, and he isn’t even two for 3 more months. And pretty much everyone says 3 and 4 are worse. I hope you are turning a corner!

  10. Four was hard. The first half of five wasn’t great. Five and a HALF, though? She is very rarely just plain mean and defiant anymore. And not a moment too soon, because hot damn, little girl. I’ve only got 7.5 years before you’re a teenager and I’ve still got two more to go through age 4 queued up and HOW? How did any of us survive to adulthood? My brother said something hilarious when my first daughter was a little tiny baby. “Wow … all of this … to raise a SINGLE person.” There are BILLIONS of people alive now, and all the ones in the past, and … we had to do all of this for every single one of them. You are a TROOPER, and I’m glad you’ve got your email ladies to turn to on the rough days.

  11. My fingers are crossed SO HARD for you that five is better! Not just better, but STELLAR!

  12. With my normally lovely oldest, 5 was a nightmare. She was a sassy little pain in the ass. But 5.5 was an amazing turn-around. 5.5 was sweet and cuddly and loving her mama.

    With my younger one, 5 and 5.5 have been…ok. 5 and 5.5 are not her worst ages, which I will take as a blessing at this point.

    5 is why Kindergarten was invented. This is similar to 3 being the reason preschool was invented. Someone has to get these kids away from their poor mothers so we can ensure the survival of the species.

    If it helps at all 7 and 8 were very pleasant and 9 is looking like another good year. (I can’t remember 6 for the oldest because my younger daughter was 3 and I was in just trying to get through the day). I have heard it goes back downhill after 9, so I am trying to enjoy this while I have it

  13. I’m doing some de-lurking these days ‘cuz I just love this. (also loved your post on the one who stays home, btw) I have a boy and girl, same ages as yours, same story – although my boy has been a little shit since pretty much the day he was born: colicky, screechy, terrible twos all the way, etc. He is/was always so quick to tantrum and so LOUD about his angst that I caved to pressure from other moms to get him evaluated. He’s totally fine, just can be a total asshole much of the time – but I guess one can’t use that as a medical term. I also identify with the awesome baby girl helping you to deal! Mine’s starting to get into the terrible twos at 22 months, but by comparison it just doesn’t hold a candle to her older brother’s antics. But, I’m SURE one day when they’re older, we’ll want to kick our Jr. High aged girl out the window and totally chill with our High School aged boy. Hang in there!

  14. Bless you for your honesty here. It’s clearly resonating with us all.

    4 was mostly a TERRIBLE year with my oldest. Really, really, REALLY hard. And it lasted into the middle of her 5th year (meaning: just a few months ago) . But we seem to be coming out of it and the crying and yelling and general emotional volcanic eruptions seem to be abating.

    Fingers crossed for us both.

  15. Oh, Elizabeth, I am just so very sorry to hear that he’s been so rough. The disciplining is just so. very. exhausting, and to feel like you’re doing it ALL THE TIME with NO DISCERNIBLE RESULT? It’s my short-term fear, to be honest. (I say short-term because my long-term fear would be Nate growing UP to be an awful person, which I honestly don’t think will happen either for him or for your darling Eli.)

    I really, really hope five is charming and lovely and adorable. Heaven knows you deserve a break.

  16. 4 was pretty terrible for us — new baby thrown in there to make it extra-fun. 5 was better. 5 1/2 is not as much. My second one is a boy but is 21 months and a totally different personality, which is lucky because I couldn’t do 2 like the oldest.

    Part of what helped us was reading the book “setting limits with your strong-willed child.” Changed our lives, seriously. I mean, the defiance didn’t stop, but it got a lot LESS. Highly recommended.

  17. Oh, man, my oldest daughters… here’s the thing that I don’t very often admit: I’m not sure I like them… especially when they are together. In fact, it often takes me spending time with just ONE of them before I realize “hey! you’re a pretty neat kid!” But together? Forget it. They just push my very last button over and over and OVER, and the competing for my attention/love, the ENDLESS pursuit of FAIRNESS… UGG. And here’s the other thing I don’t often admit: we all say that we’re “doing our best”… but sometimes I know I’m NOT doing my best, and that’s the worst of it all.

    My mom and I are not close, and I remember knowing that I didn’t like her and that she didn’t like me, even as a child. I am NOT my mother (not even close), and my girls still ADORE me, but it makes me ill to think that they can tell that I often don’t like them. I want to fix it, but I’m not sure how.

    Anyway, I’m sharing this because I just wanted you to know that we all have our THING that’s super hard as parents. Also, another thought, it seems, anecdotally speaking, that the oldest children are the hardest. They push our buttons more, bring us to the end of ourselves easier. My preschooler has never pushed me like my older two have. I’m hopeful for you that K, terrible as her twos might be, won’t affect you as much as E did/does.

    Hang in there, friend. You can put me on those emails if you ever feel like you want a fresh audience for bitching. I’m game. 🙂

  18. My almost 2 year old is the cutest, sweetest little thing on two legs and then my four year old…is an Eli. And has been for a couple years now. I feel awful that I have such an obviously favorite child, but how could I not?!? One snuggles and gives kisses and the other one freaks. the eff. out. over eeeverything. Fortunately, we do seem to be heading out of the woods just a little bit. FINALLY.

  19. Well, Anna has had the terrible terrible terrible nightmarish eat-your-soul twos. So if you’re telling me that it gets worse, I am LA LA LA not listening.

    • oh, no, I developed a secret theory that if you get the terrible two’s, they get it over with then and are awesome after that. E

  20. dude, have you gotten any of my emails?

  21. I just read your comment on Lauren’s blog – I can’t believe your mom says “comparisons are odious” too!! My mom learned it from her mom, so I guess it was just going around at a certain time. Such an apt phrase in many circumstances, especially when you have children. Don’t compare them, don’t compare yourself to other parents. . . and the list goes on. That is a phrase that has just stuck with me all my life.

    To say something relevant to this post – I hope you are right about 5 getting better b/c 4.5 ain’t pretty over here either!

  22. I am totally late to the game here so I am not sure if you will even see this comment, but I have 2 things to share.

    #1) I totally agree with your theory above about it being easier if your kid goes through the terrible two’s. My youngest son was wonderful at age 2, however age 3 and now the beginning of 4??? Holy cow, he can lose his shit over NOTHING and it has been ROUGH. My older son had a major emotional-maturity spurt at age 4 and pretty much 4.5 – 6 (current) has been my favorite age so far with him. My younger son does not seem to be having this spurt of emotional maturity, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed for both me and you.

    #2) All that said, my oldest son had sensory integration issues and at age 18 months I was at my wits end with him. Even though his tantrums were insane, I figured they must be normal since everyone complains about toddlers throwing tantrums and he was my first so I didn’t know any different. His daycare teacher (who was very kind) suggested that we get him evaluated and I soon learned that his behavior was extreme, even by toddler standards.

    I share that not because I think there is something wrong with Eli, but just to say that if you think that maybe this is something more than typical 4 year old asshole behavior that it can bring huge peace of mind to have an evaluation done. Your county will likely have a pre-school program that will do it for free.

    And last but not least, Arwen once wrote about disciplining children and how it is like a drop of water on a rock…it doesn’t feel like that drop of water is making a difference, but over time it can create the grand canyon. I think about that on days when my kids have spent the majority of it in time out and it doesn’t seem to be making a bit of difference in their behavior. let’s hope Arwen is right! 🙂

  23. I should add that I *think* it was Arwen/Elizabeth who wrote about the drop of water on the rock. That’s who I credit in my mind and unfortunately I don’t have time to search around and confirm my memory is correct. I hope I’m right! Apologies if I’m giving the wrong person credit.

  24. My 2.5 year old is like that. I get hit, screamed at, kicked, on a daily basis. We do time outs to no avail, consequences (if you throw that toy at Mommy’s head again, it goes away) that don’t do much, every calm parenting technique known to man. And still, some days, he’s just a jackass. I have serious fears about what 3 and 4 will bring–I hear there are mythical children who are easier at certain ages, but my kiddo hasn’t been easy since he was about 14 months old, so who knows.

    I love my kid with the heat of a thousand fiery suns…but some days this parenting gig kicks me in the gut and then pummels me while I’m down. And so my mantra: this too shall pass? Please?

  25. […] Remember when I said that someone I know was having some…uh, issues? […]

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