A few months ago, my husband and I went to therapy together. After our session, we picked the kids up at our friend's house where they'd eaten dinner. We tried and failed at acting like everything was normal; we're okay fighting in a healthy way in front of them, but this was different. This wasn't for them.
When it was time for bedtime stories, the mood had clearly infected our boy, who wailed his sister on the head with a library book.
"Sorry, bud, no story for you tonight," I said, surprised by both my even tone and the sureness I felt about his consequence. I'm a believer in routine, and I question the usefulness of punishment, especially when children are tired and stressed. But that night, I knew that he and I were headed upstairs without books.
He was wailing, and I noticed how much stronger and bigger he was now than he was the last time he'd truly tantrumed. He turned his arms to soft noodles, and I couldn't hold him anymore. He slithered down to the floor. I tried to pick him up again to get him to his bedroom. He would not have it.
"Just sit down," I heard, from somewhere both far away and deep inside.
And so I sat down in the hallway, back against one wall, legs stretched out and touching the other, a human gate made of bone and blood.
He raged. I had never seen this.
My presence was calm. I was quiet. I did not try to stop him.
He writhed on the floor, screaming, "I WANT A STORY!" again and again. He filled the hall with screams and pleas, "I WANT A STORY!" until "I WANT A STORY!" suddenly became "I WANNA WATCH A SHOW!"
In that instant, I refocused my eyes on my son. I looked at him and quickly realized that he didn't seem to know what he was upset about any more.
Instead, I looked at a boy who was telling me all about how hard it is to be a person. He was telling me about all the times I'd hurt him with my lack of understanding, with my impatience, with my inability to hold the safe space for him that I'd, tonight, created.
Once I realized what was happening, things shifted. They didn't calm down yet - not at all. But I couldn't take my eyes off him. I sat up onto my knees; he'd begun pushing me, and was so strong that I could feel myself about to topple backward. I sat up, tight and centered, and welcomed his rage. He hit my legs with his flailing legs, and pushed his head straight into my belly. He tried to push me over with his still-starfish hands and I began to silently weep. Through my tears, and in an even voice (he couldn't know I was crying - this moment wasn't mine), the words I heard myself repeating were, "I know. It's so hard to be a person. I'm so proud of you. I love you. Tell me."
And he did. For many, many minutes, he raged and screamed and threw his hurt and anger out of his body and into mine.
I had never loved that child more.
Eventually, I asked him if I could rub his back, and he said yes. He flung himself across my lap. His body was exhausted, but not his voice, and he continued to wail, sometimes, "I want a story," and sometimes, "I wanna watch a show," catching himself when he said the latter, confused.
I was heaving now, still silent. I scooped him into my lap and wrapped my arms around his sweaty body. He surrendered into me. My tears fell onto his matted hair, and, nervous that he'd notice my crying and switch his focus, I started whispering a song.
So this is how the story went.
I met someone by accident.
It blew me away.
It blew me away.
It was in the darkest of my days
When you took my sorrow and you took my pain
And buried them away, you buried them away.
He quieted and grew heavy.
The weight of my own body joined the weight of his and we were together.
Still, I had never loved him more.
As I whispered, I thanked God for this child. I thanked God for this moment, for the utter gift I had just been handed. I thanked God for allowing me to be this boy's mother, for giving me such an incredibly wise, persistent, and patient teacher.
I stood up with my heavy boy. I walked three steps to my bedroom and gently nudged the door shut. I lay down, sideways across the bed, and he adjusted himself so that he was atop me, his head on my heart, his hand on my breast.
He was asleep in moments.
I followed, moments later, clean.
Note: The night after this happened, this happened.