Something quite odd has happened to me over the past month. I’ve waited to write this, because if I had written this last week, it would have really sounded like I’d lost the plot entirely. There is something definitely not quite right about constantly being in dread of preschool pick-up time, or starting every morning with that sickly nervous feeling because you don’t yet know what kind of mood your child is going to wake up in.
It’s been brewing for a while. I wrote a few months ago about how Arlo and I used to be friends, and now we are always battling. To me, the separation between us feels so tangible that I can almost see it growing. Yesterday we had a nice conversation – in fact, the moment was so nice that I realised that it rarely happens any more. I miss my buddy, I’d love to have him back. I feel like an onlooker, watching other people having nice moments with him – the anger, tantrums, and aggression reserved for me.
Arlo’s behaviour is nothing out of the ordinary. I’m sure it’s very typical. I’m sure it’s a phase, like everything else. The thing that frightens me is not his behaviour, it’s how I’m reacting to his behaviour. I wonder how on earth it has got to the point where my anxiety is making me feel that my three year old son is ruling every moment of my life, to the point where I am anxious to be in sole charge of him.
It kicked up a notch when Arlo got poorly. Six days of being trapped in a small house with a puking toddler (yes, the sickness lasted six days). Fighting the overwhelming urge to run away. Six days of that was enough to send my anxiety levels sky high. It was to be expected, I’ve written before about how I just do not deal with sickness well at all. What I didn’t quite expect was that almost a month later, I’d still waiting for them to come back down.
I could write about how I’m scared to go into him at night when I hear him cry. I’m scared when he starts moaning at me because I worry that he’s getting sick again. I just don’t like the responsibility of being on my own with him at the moment.
But more than that, I can’t handle the tantrums as well as I once could. My heart just sinks when we start the day with a tantrum, because these days we rarely recover from the tantrums and it means they will happen all day. The tantrums eat away at me in a way that they really shouldn’t. Some days, we start well, but then the tantrums hit later on, and the day always ends the same – with me wishing I wasn’t here, doing this. The responsibility of being in charge of the day-to-day care of my children is feeling massively overwhelming at the moment.
Added to this, the annual winter onset of feeling like a caged animal inside the house has reached an all time low, and winter has only just started. The recently acquired double buggy helps, because I can strap them both in and get out of the house, tantrum or no tantrum. But I can still hear him crying, and it still sends my heart racing. It shouldn’t do, it seems really silly.
All my anxiety is aimed at him, or as a result of him. It feels very unfair to have none of these feelings towards Rory – babies are no problem, babies I can handle. Rationally, I know it’s not actually him. He is not the enemy. I try to remember that it’s in my head. That it’s ridiculous to allow myself to feel this overpowered by my child, who is only doing what all young children do. That I need to get a grip. It usually works …a bit.
Until recently, it hadn’t occurred to me to have a sympathetic view towards people who get really stressed when they were having a nightmare day with their kids. So, your toddler whinged all day, why are you acting like you can’t handle it, it could be worse. Children whinge, they tantrum, get over it.
But then it happened to me, and I realised that it’s not the actions of the child that determine the stress levels, as if it’s a competition about whose child is the whingiest – it’s about how it affects the person responsible for their day-to-day care, and how well equipped that person is to deal with whatever stress-inducing situation happens to be arising.
I’ve never been massively anxious like this before, it’s a new and weird feeling for me. I know it’s part of my postpartum emotional adjustment. During my pregnancy with Arlo and for some time afterwards, I experienced intense, tearful anger directed at all sorts of minor things. I could only see it for what it was in hindsight, but it is the benefit of that hindsight that also tells me that this too, is a phase that I will work through. Sleep helps too, which is something I am getting very little of right now.
Things have been a bit better this week, but the anxiety has not fully lifted. It’s still very much there, lurking in the shadows, striking at inopportune moments. For the moment, it’s clear that we are exacerbating each others’ problems. We continue to battle. But I am the adult in this situation, and he is a little boy, who needs me to not push him away.