My daughter Kate and I have been enjoying watching Anne with an E on Netflix. It is something that we (and only we) enjoy, so finding the time to do it isn’t always easy. Well, Monday night our son Sam wasn’t home and we were trying to get our son Charlie back on a regular bedtime, so that seemed like a good night to watch it.
Unfortunately, our plan was thwarted when an unsuspecting Charlie came downstairs to ask me for eye drops and realized (horror of horrors) not only was Kate up past him and past bedtime, but she was having “special time with Mom!”
Most nine year olds would get jealous and sulk or pout, maybe say something about feeling betrayed or the injustice in our house, but for a child that doesn’t trust people and often doesn’t feel loved, he pretty much went ballistic.
My husband was home and was eager to soothe him and spend time with him, but he was having none of it. After a few minutes of grunting and kicking, he began to scream and throw things. Fearing he was about to break something, I grabbed his arm and pulled him down to the floor.
Will he fight, flight or freeze? We never know. Sometimes he does all three! He ran out the door in his underwear, which is what he sleeps in, and was screaming, “YOU’RE DA WORST PARENTS IN DA WORLD! I DO NOT LIKE DIS PLACE!” over and over. He was hitting the drain gutters on the side of our house so hard I thought he would break his hand. (It was so loud that I actually thought he was using a stick.)
We had no idea what to do, and usually don’t when he gets like this. We know we’re not supposed to restrain him, but we don’t want him to break things (like bones in his hand) or hurt anyone. We’ve been bitten plenty of times, but prefer not to be.
After a few minutes he was so loud that I really was afraid someone might call the cops. I went outside, swooped him up quickly and scurried back inside with him flailing and screaming and biting.
“Charlie! Calm down. Someone is going to call the cops! Do you want the police to come here?”
“Yes! Please call them. Call 911! I want them to take me. I do not want to live here anymore. Y’all are the awfullest parents in da whole world.”
(I have no idea if we handled this next part appropriately, but bear with me to the end, I have a point.)
“I don’t think you can get different parents. We signed up for forever.”
“Then they can just take me to jail. I do not want to live here any-more!”
(His face, his tears, his snot, so pitiful. I looked at my husband like ‘what in the world am I supposed to say?')
“Charlie, jail is terrible. It may be bad here, but it’s worse there.”
“NO! I want to go live there! Please call the police. Right now.”
“They don’t have iPads there. They don’t have cats. Their food is terrible.”
“What kind of food there is?”
“Mush. And they don’t have air conditioning. They leave the windows open and you can hear the crickets all night.” (He hates crickets. I think it’s a sensory thing, but the sound drives him crazy.)
“That’s okay.” He has sort of stopped crying, and is sniffing.
“Here, listen.” I open the door so he can hear the crickets.
“That’s not that bad.”
“Well they also have crying babies. Kids under 10 are all in the same cell and there are babies that cry all night.” Then my husband, Stephen, says, “And the older kids, the 9 & 10 year olds like you, have to change the diapers…” (genius.)
Sniff, sniff. Silence. Then…
“Maybe we can call them tomorrow.”
I said I thought that was a good idea. He reached his arms up to be held and I picked him up and kissed him. I told him I loved him and I really don’t want him to leave us. He said he was sorry and I kissed his arm where I had grabbed it.
We forgave each other, we snuggled and then he went right to sleep. The whole thing lasted about 30 minutes. It was awful and exhausting, but once his brain came back down to planet earth, he immediately craved connection. And we gave it.
When you are parenting a child from trauma, you just have to parent them differently. If my biological son Sam was acting like this, he would have been severely reprimanded and punished. But Charlie just isn't ready for that yet, and I unfortunately don't know when he will be.
Right in the middle of these episodes, even when we know the reason and the underlying issue, we rarely (if ever) know exactly how to respond. But when it is over, no matter what was said or what went down (bites, scratches, broken vase, etc.), we must let them know that they are precious and we still love them.
Those are the things that they have so much trouble believing, and that is by far more important that anything else.