Mom meltdowns are as common as kid meltdowns. Mom meltdown averted can be as much of a parenting win as averting a kid meltdown.
I have trouble expressing how I am feeling. When I am embarrassed about those feelings, I have an even harder time. A few months ago, I bought a ring. I love this ring way more than anyone should love a thing that does nothing useful. It just sits on my finger and sometimes gets caught in my hair.
But I do love it and a few weeks ago I couldn’t find it.
As I searched for the ring, feelings began piling up. I was embarrassed about how upset I was that I couldn’t find it. I was embarrassed about how much I’d spent on it and upset that I had wasted all that money because now the ring was gone. And I was sad because I loved the ring and I was afraid I would never see it again. And that was embarrassing because it was just a stupid ring and I was just another useless white lady flipping out over her first world bullshit problems…I had jumped into a spiral of shame and fear and god knows what else.
Normally when I have trouble expressing my emotions, I get angry.
The only other person home was Six. He was watching TV and eating peanut butter off a spoon. All was well in his world. He had no idea hurricane mommy was spinning herself up into a category 4 shitstorm.
I looked everywhere I normally put my ring. It wasn’t anywhere. I was not careless with this ring so there were only a few places it could be. I was standing in my room at 8PM on a Thursday night, totally losing my shit. And it suddenly occurred to me that Six might know where it was. Six, much like I had been when I was young, is a magpie. Something catches our eye and we pick it up and play with it and then lose interest and set it down. I used to get beat for doing this because I left lots of important things in places I couldn’t quite remember. Car keys were my weakness. And change of any kind. I swiped wads of aluminum foil off the counter before my mom was done with them and the chain of beer can pull tabs my dad had threaded onto a piece of twine was a particular favorite. Baby food jars full of metal odds and ends. Luckily no one in my family wore jewelry or I would have gone after that, too.
When Six started swiping stuff from around the house, I knew it wasn’t malicious and that it would eventually just go away. All the beatings in the world hadn’t stop my magpie behavior, I just aged out of it.
So I thought maybe Six had my ring. I called him into my room. He schlumped in, looking over his shoulder at the TV still playing in the other room. I asked if he’d seen my ring and he shrugged and grunted, straining his head to keep track of SpongeBob’s shenanigans.
Something behind my breastbone flared to life and not in a good way. I went from upset and worried to enraged faster than a supercar burns through some idiots’ trust fund.
And then my brain sent down a quick message, like when something flutters out of the corner of your eye and your entire attention shifts to it. That message was one word: Wait.
You see, I was about to start yelling about how disrespectful his behavior was and that he obviously didn’t care about anything but TV and then I would have set down a decree that there would be no more TV EVER!!! You know, some crazed mom meltdown where I acted as if what I was yelling about was actually what I was upset about.
I was upset that I couldn’t find something that meant a lot to me. And then there was embarrassment and guilt and a bunch of other unarticulated emotional confetti I like to throw around whatever stressful situation I’m in.
Wait, my brain said, even as the anger and embarrassment and guilt churned together behind my breastbone. Tell him that you are feeling sad and scared and upset.
So I took a deep breath and with all those caustic emotions still burning, I sat on my bed and said, “I can’t find my ring. I love my ring. I feel sad that I can’t find it. I feel scared that I’ll never get to wear it again and since there isn’t another one like it, I can’t buy a new one.”
Six looked at me when I sat down and as I talked, as quietly and calmly as I could, he slowly leaned into my side. When I was done he looked down at his feet and I knew for certain he had my ring.
Now how to get it back without ruining the good work I had just done? A part of me wanted to pitch a fit. But the toxic stew had sort of drained away when I brought out the emotions it had been masking.
“Please help me find my ring. I’ve looked everywhere and I don’t know what to do.”
He remained silent. Six, like most humans, does not want the people he loves mad at him. It’s also harder since we are only two at home, there is no one to act as buffer in situations like this.
Just like before, I waited.
He pulled on my arm and I got up and we walked into his room. He looked at me and then at his desk and there, sitting next to his little kid microscope, was my ring.
What to do? Punish? Yell? Lecture? A noisy, upsetting combination of all three?
I was relieved I had my ring back. I was realizing that I had behaved in a totally new way while under stress and that was kind of throwing me off.
I sat on Six’s bed, put my ring on then patted the bed next to me.
I talked about what it means when we take what does not belong to us. I talked about how what he had done made me feel and he nodded because, rather than flying off the handle about something unrelated, I had been honest about feelings I was embarrassed about.
Then I kissed his forehead, told him to turn off the TV and go brush his teeth because it was time for bed.
And that was it.
Maybe you’re thinking I’ll deserve it when he steals from me again because people have to be punished when they break rules. Once upon a time, I would have agreed with you.
But now I am thinking something important happened, both for me and Six. I stepped out from behind my anger and said what I was really feeling. Six responded to that honesty better than he has ever reacted to my anger. Will I get angry at Six and yell at him? Absolutely. I did it this morning. I threw in a little sarcasm, just to make things worse.
But I would like that to be the exception and not the rule. I loved my mother. She yelled at me every day I lived under her roof. I don’t want my kids to have that memory of me. And in case you are wondering, she yelled at my siblings just as much as she yelled at me, probably more, and they have had a much tougher time in life than me.
This isn’t blame mommy time. My mom did her best under very difficult circumstances and remember, I was constantly stealing random shit.
Being human is hard. I think I might have figured out a way to make my human journey a little bit easier.