He wailed from inside his small bedroom, screaming kicking, biting no doubt. It had been going on for 45 minutes. When would the child stop to breathe? When would we get peace?
My husband paced back and forth, letting out a mammoth sigh.
“I’m sorry.” I said from my perch on the couch. Then, I realized that I had no idea why I was apologizing. I do that. I apologize for existing. It’s subconscious, but I’m working on it and starting to recognize it. So I re-phrased.
“I’m sorry that something made you sigh.” God, that sounded stupid, but I tried. I tried to come to the moment as an uninjured person.
“It’s just that I get so frustrated with him sometimes!”
Him. The nine-year-old boy wailing and screaming, hitting and biting. Oh yes, frustration made sense.
“I think that’s only natural. Normal.” I responded.
“Sometimes – and I don’t ever – but it comes to my mind to spank him.” Yes, yes, spouse, I fully understand. I have those moments too. I let silence reign though. I knew there was more, because I had felt more.
“He shoved his little brother today and it was all I could do to make him sit in the chair for timeout.” Wow, impressive, spouse! I would have sent him to his room, banishing him from my line of vision. Silence, again.
There is nothing to say in these times. There is no fixing this situation. We have no answers. I have no answers.
When I Have Nothing Left
All I can do is hold space. Hold space for myself, for my spouse, for our son. Fifteen minutes of our silence passed, as our son continued his assault in the next room. We moved on for the night after that. Started a show briefly, until I couldn’t take it anymore.
I went to the medicine cabinet and grabbed some Tylenol. Maybe this nine-year-old, our son, was in pain. Maybe that was why he had been screaming so long? We had tried everything else – food, water, milk, singing, hugging, shoulder massage, head squeezes, making him a burrito with a blanket. Nothing had worked so we had taken a break. Talked a bit. Held the space away from him – for ourselves, because we were at our limit.
Yes. Perhaps this is pain? An earache, headache, toothache of some sort. A simple problem made mammoth by the muteness of my son’s voice.
I opened his door, hoping this would work. I spent fifteen minutes trying to get him to chew the grape flavored Tylenol, as well as keep him in the room. I maneuvered in his way to prevent escape. I knew if he left the room, then he would get to the other side of the house and wake up his siblings.
It didn’t work. Nothing worked. Sometimes nothing works.
Most times, nothing works.
He slipped past me and out through the doors, a useless barrier to the living areas. My husband stopped him before he got too far. Trying to gently, but authoritatively guide him back to his room. I watched in awe as my son mostly complied.
Oh to be stronger than my nine-year-old, to have some command of the situation! I envied my husband.
I stayed in the living room then. Holding my space, attempting to ignore the wild screams of my son as my husband repeatedly redirected him to his bed. Finally, gathering my strength, I returned to the room.
My husband, as I had expected, continuously picking him up and taking him to his bed, murmured softly, “It’s time to sleep, Evan.”
I crouched low beside the mattress on the floor. We removed hard objects from his room long ago – too dangerous. I shoved the thought aside – the though of what a nice room with decorations and toys would be like – what a typical boy’s room held. The sadness cauterizing my heart, I swallowed and breathed it in and out.
“Evan, it is time to sleep. You must stay in your bed to rest. What do you need to rest?” No response, just screaming and rushing for escape. My husband’s strong arms returning him to the bed.
“Evan, I see that you are upset. We hear you. You are upset.” A slight calming, a glance at me and then wailing again. This time he flopped to the mattress instead of trying to escape.
“Evan, I see that you are upset. I hear you.” Screaming and wailing, a glance in my direction. He laid down, crying still. His bottom lip turning out.
“I see that you are upset. What will help you rest?” Crying only, no more screaming. Avoiding my eyes, he signed ‘eat’.
“Okay, I will go to get you some food.” Wailing again. “Daddy, will stay here to help you be safe in bed.” He was up and screaming, trying to escape with me.
Walking into the kitchen, I hurried to pour milk in a glass. Thinking again, I dumped it into a plastic water bottle. Glass is not safe if he rejects this. Grabbing a granola bar, I walk back to the room, my breath a prayer. “God, this is NOT okay.”
I entered to see that my husband had kept him in the bed, but I knew I could not give him his food – what he wanted, until he was calm.
“Evan, you need to be calm before I can give you anything.” The cry began to dissipate. I dropped to my knees. “I can give you this food when you are calm.” He stopped crying then, his breath shuttering in and out as he tried to calm. I handed him the granola bar. He twirled it in his fingers and began to cry again.
“I hear you. Do you not want food? Drink?” He signed his version of “drink”.
“Okay, you need to sit up for a drink.” My husband gently raised his back to let him know it was okay. We handed him the milk, guiding his shaking hands and the water bottle to his mouth. He tried to drink, but didn’t tilt the bottle far enough to get anything and then began to cry, thrusting the water bottle at my husband.
“It’s okay, Evan. It’s milk. You like milk.” I said. We tried again. He drank this time, gulping.
“Good, buddy, good.” I soothed. He had better control of the water bottle now so I let go.
His breath was still shuttering in and out. I started stroking his leg, thinking of how hard it is. I noticed he was holding his breath again.
“Keep breathing, buddy.” I said and demonstrated a big breath in and blowing it out. “Breathe it all out.” Amazingly, he does. My husband glances at me the way I looked at him earlier – in awe.
We are two pieces of this puzzle.
Moments to Hold On
We sat in silence, the three of us, breathing. Evan twirling the granola bar, nibbling and sipping. Breathing. Calm.
Five more minutes passed. He was still calm.
“We love you, buddy. You are special to us. We want you to be safe and calm and happy – to have what you need.” I said, knowing we all needed to hear it. More silence. And then, he signed something I had not seen in over six months.
My husband and I both desperately jumped at the chance, our eyes meeting on the other side of our son, as we clung together – the three of us.
Three pieces in this puzzle.
He wanted a hug – not a squeeze, not sensory pressure – a real hug.
He loves us. We love him.
We gently eased away the water bottle after giving him a last swig. We left the granola bar, even though I knew it would mean vacuuming and washing his bedding, yet again, in the morning.
As we returned to the kitchen and the house was silent. I looked at the clock.
We spent three hours putting our son to bed tonight.
And this is love.