Give a little, take a little

Tempest has been having these wild mood swings lately that are as exhausting as they are frustrating. When she’s in the midst she’s red-faced, squalling and hollering at the top of her lungs like she’s 3 years old again and just wants to hear herself scream. I’m left rather baffled on how to respond to her in a positive or productive way because they tend to come completely by surprise, and often have the most inane starting points. That helplessness in turn lends itself to frustration, then anger, and the dark side. And then we just end up yelling at each other for no reason. Because of the dark side.

When I try to talk her down or rationalize with her she just screeches her words louder and louder until eventually all I can do is just remove her (or myself) from the situation before I succumb to my own boiling rage and give in to the temptation to join her.
The whole situation always seems more volatile with Tempest simply for the fact that I’m not accustomed to her being over-the-top emotional drama from Xan over ridiculous bullshit, I almost never see it from her and so it always has me taken aback and completely unprepared to handle it.

The latest one started at bedtime when I asked her to get ready for bed and please take her clothes up and put them away. All of a sudden she was too sick and her legs hurt too much to do anything, so I pointed out the fact that not two minutes ago she was literally chasing Zephyra through the house laughing so she’s clearly not as sick as she thinks she is. And instantly it’s waterworks and screeching that gravely devil-posessed scream about how I never listen to her and she’s just too sick and tired to do anything and I’m the worst mother who ever lived.
From there it just got worse until I finally told her to please just go straight to bed if it’s that bad. Predictably, that was just gasoline on the fire.

After half-escorting-half-dragging her upstairs to her room, I opened the door to find a floor absolutely covered in snotty tissues. And seriously, they were everywhere. I was seriously disgusted, and said so, and told her that she needs to pick that shit up right this minute and put it in the trash. Lots and lots more drama ensued. Now her legs don’t just simply hurt, but are practically broken in horrible, agonizing pain and how could I torment her so?
I really do not have the patience for this kind of crap at this point in the evening. The bedtime circus that comes from having three kids who are all at varying points of bedtime resistance; either because they don’t want to go to bed and I can’t make them, or because they just want to go to sleep right fucking now and refuse to do any of the prep work (tidy up their bed, brush teeth, get pyjamas on, fill up their water bottles, etc). This leaves me so drained that I lose all my patience to fondly hand-hold someone through their cyclic temper tantrums. Especially when that someone is way too old for this shit.

The argument reached its peak when Tempest said it was my fault she’d thrown her snotty tissues all over the floor, because I was the one that refused to let her take trash cans into her bedroom (something I was completely unaware that I was forbidding her to do up until this moment. Though she did have a point; dragging the household garbage in your bedroom is not sanitary nor advisable). I told her that was really gross, and that she knows perfectly well how to not throw garbage on her floor no matter how sick she may feel. There really is no excuse for that crap. Especially when it comes to really gross, disgusting snotty garbage. She screamed and cried the entire 10 steps to the bathroom and attempted to drag the garbage can in with her. I again told her no, at which point she picked up the trash and threw it across the room, spreading gross bathroom trash everywhere.

I was absolutely dumbfounded. For a long moment we just sat there staring at each other. Me with my mouth agape, frozen in anger and my hands hanging helplessly up in the air; her waiting to see if I was going to scream, cry or run and silently challenging me to choose.
Finally I found my voice, and said very quietly, “Don’t leave this room until you’ve cleaned this up,” then left. She screeched as I descended the stairs.

Xan, never failing to miss an opportunity to be ‘the good one’, quietly came down after me and dutifully reported that he’s finished all of his bedtime preparations without being asked more than once and is now ready for me to read to him. I told him honestly that I was too angry and needed a few minutes to calm down before I came upstairs. He replied that it was fine to wait and reminded me that he’d be in bed reading until I was ready.

About ten minutes later Tempest came down and told me she was done cleaning up. I called her over and told her rather sternly that she is not to ever pull that kind of shit – for any reason – and that if she really is suffering enough of a runny nose to burn through an entire box of snotty tissues she can just use a goddamn plastic or paper bag as temporary garbage. She nodded, still battling with the last of her tantrum, and I went upstairs to read to Xan.
When I came back down to the couch Tempest was filling up her water bottle in the kitchen, sniffling and weeping loudly. I was unsure if this was a taunt, or she was legitimately upset about something, so I came in and asked her what was wrong.
“I don’t know,” she said with an emphasis of attitude.
“I’m not mad anymore, Tempest. You can tell me if you’re truly not feeling well.”
“I DON’T KNOOOOOW,” she yelled. Then she started sobbing. And not the tantrum angry sob, but a legitimate sad and pathetic sob.
“Would it help if I gave you a hug?”
She considered this, then nodded. I hugged her. “I’m sorry for yelling at you.” I felt her nod again. “Really, are you okay? Why are you crying?”
“I really don’t know.”
“Are you hurt?”
“Are you sick?”
“No.” She’d been suffering a mildly stuffed nose the last day or two, but she knew I was asking if she had any further illness or symptoms than that.
“Then, are you just crying for no reason?”
She nodded, then sobbed again. I hugged her some more. After a moment she said, “I get really angry and it just comes out like I can’t control it. And then sometimes I get really sad and it comes out. And it’s really big.”
“And you don’t know why?”
“Yeah. It’s just something that happens. It’s kinda scary.”
“Do you just mean the last few days, or more than that?”
“More. Like the last few months but more lately.”
I bent down a little so I could look her in the eye. “Sometimes we call that mood swings. Do you remember how we talked about entering puberty and some of the things that it does to your body and brain?”
“Yeah,” she answered meekly.
“Mood swings can be one of those things,” I said. She was paying more attention now, and seemed less upset.

We stood in the kitchen for a good 20 minutes while I talked about hormones, puberty and emotions. We’ve had lots and lots of puberty talks over her life – a lot more frequently since it became obvious that she was entering it – but the emotional side has not come up that often, nor in any real detail. It was one of those things that really didn’t occur to me to go too deeply into when we were having these discussions, and as a result it’s been a pretty neglected part of the sex and body talks.
The more I explained the less tense she looked; and as the adrenaline kick from her tantrum finally wore off, exhaustion took its place and I noticed her eyelids starting to droop.

Before she succumbed to sleep we made a rule about counting to three in the midst of a big fight when things got too intense, and another about being able to ask for ’emergency space’ when she felt overwhelmed by her emotions.

After Curtis got home from work, at nearly midnight, I talked with him about the evening’s events. He also noted how intense her emotional output had become recently, and agreed that it was probably related to her descent into puberty.
I told him about the talk I’d had with Tempest but expressed my frustration and worry over how consuming the issue was for her. I felt really unsure about how I’d approached it with her once the argument was over. Of course, he didn’t see it with the same pessimism I did, and reminded me that we’d had a similar breakthrough with my sister over her emotional control and ability to communicate… but it took years for her to get to a point to even come to a point where she was able to say the things Tempest had that night.
“The fact that she’s even able to tell you these things means you’ve already opened the doors to that level of communication, and that’s really good. It means she can keep talking,” he assured. I felt mildly better, but still not entirely confident. The older she gets the harder it is to feel like I’m doing the right thing – the answers are less clear as kids turn into pre-teens and young people, and they begin to diverge from the careful plans and routines that you’d set out when raising them. There comes a point where no amount of rules and will can change things, and you have to let go and surrender to the hope that you’ve created a strong foundation for trust and love that will carry them through. Tempest isn’t there yet, but she’s fast approaching that point of her life, and I can feel her childhood slipping from of my fingers as she pulls away.

Since we moved here, she’s spent more and more time alone and exploring. When she gets home from school she barely stays long enough to unload her backpack before jetting out into the courtyard to find her new friends. She’s often out there so long that I have to go calling for her at dinner-time, 3-4 hours later. On weekends I may not see her at all for as long as five hours. She’s carved out her own group of friends, activities and is learning how to be independent from her family and siblings – much to Xan’s chagrin. It’s something that I spent a long period of her life worrying would never happen, and now that it is I find I’m torn between pride and sorrow as it becomes harder to convince her to spend time with us.

One of the things she spends a lot of time doing is just sitting in the grass, quietly watching the wild bunnies and hoping to earn their trust. To our surprise, it actually worked. There’s this one albino bunny in the complex that is always alone and seen very frequently in the area of our home. Our neighbour has named it Conejo, which Tempest picked up immediately. She spent hours out there every day just sitting across from it, inching closer over time and carefully placing scraps of veggies on the ground and waiting to see if it would approach. Bit by bit it did, and bit by bit she moved the veggies closer to her until it would feed from her hands. It took another few days before she could reach out and pet it while it ate. A week more and it willingly approaches her, and licks her when she walks up. But her alone; no one else can get that close without it startling. She adores this rabbit, particularly since it seems to be rather exiled from the other bunnies (they’re sometimes seen attacking or otherwise acting aggressively toward it) and takes time out of every day to say hello to it after school.
I’m amazed at her seemingly endless patience and care when it comes to animals. We’ve been calling her the “bunny whisperer” since she got so close to them. She’s also been the only person we’ve seen that the tiny babies don’t immediately scatter from. A few days ago she sat down in the grass near a nest and I watched as one of the palm-sized babies approached her completely on it’s own, crawled inside her coat, explored her, sat on her knees, let her pet it, and then quietly hopped off a few minutes later. I can’t even get within ten feet of one without it running away, no matter how slowly I go. It’s like she’s magic; or, at the very least, she’s spent enough time with them that they know her as safe.

Xan’s birthday party was on the 26th, and was another year absolutely packed with kids. On his previous birthday I was stricken with knee-buckling panic attacks at the prospect of a filled house and spent most of this one in the kitchen trying to catch up on food preparation in hopes I would avoid the same fate. I’m not really sure why the anxiety hits me so hard; I haven’t had that problem with Tempest’s parties, even when they get very busy. Maybe it has something to do with having Xan’s indoors where it seems more loud and claustrophobic. Also, all of the parents stick around… which is something I’m not accustomed to. Whenever I had Tempest’s parties the kids were dropped off, so I was mostly entertaining young children and that’s not nearly as hard or panic-inducing as trying to entertain children plus ten sets of parents I’ve only met in passing. This birthday and Xan’s previous one both had every single set of parents stay through all of the festivities.

I spent the previous night up until 4am, listening to the Game of Thrones audiobooks and finishing up the designs for food placards. I did everything by hand, as our printer is currently out of ink, and carefully wrote out each item’s name in Minecraft-font and drew the little icons based on screen caps from the game. I set everything up on the kitchen table with the crafting bucket and used the kids’ fine-tipped felt markers to do everything, suffering a terrible humpback for my trouble – and in spite of all that work I still needed to put in two hours of finishing details the next afternoon before it was all done. I cut it so close to party time that the first guest had already arrived just as I was finishing the last two labels.
The sleep deprivation wasn’t doing me any favours, because when it was all said and done I’d made two stupidly awful spelling mistakes and did not even notice them until long after they had been sitting on the table in view of every strange set of parents I’d never talked to before. Awesome.

So alongside their lava blocks and green slime balls the kids also enjoyed “emerads” and “daimonds”. Fuuuuuuuu.

In spite of the HORRIBLE GLARING ERRORS the food spread was actually pretty damn awesome. I made up three different lists of foods several days before: junk food, proteins/carbs and fruits/veggies, and then decided on a handful out of each category to prepare that would be fun, but still sorta balanced in terms of nutrition. Converting it to Minecraft-friendly code was more of a challenge.

In the end I decided on:
“Sticks” – Straight pretzel sticks.
“Torch” – Cut up hot dogs dipped in ketchup and mustard.
“Gold Nuggets” – Buttered popcorn.
“Slime balls” – Green grapes.
“Melon” – Watermelon pieces.
“Carrot” – Baby carrots.
“Emeralds” (emerads… ugh) – Cucumber squares.
“Slime” (as in the monsters) – Green Jell-O squares. We ran out of lime Jell-O so Curtis made up some lemon and dyed it green with some blue food colouring.
“Mushrooms” – Large marshmallows dipped in white chocolate melting wafers (dyed a pinky-red colour with gel food colouring), and dotted with buttercream icing.
“Lava” – Strawberry Jell-O squares.
“Diamonds” (Or diamonds, as it were) – Blue rice krispy squares.
“Gold bars” – Chocolate loonies (coins).
“Creeper Juice” came in two flavours: limeade juice and Sprite.

The night before I’d created a giant creeper face out about 100 3×3 inch squares of coloured construction paper, then glued them all to several pieces of heavy watercolour painters sheets and hung it on the wall above the food platters (this is visible in the birthday video, posted below).
Curtis also bought green, white and black balloons with the intent of drawing ghast and creeper faces on the first two, and turning the last into spiders along with some black crate paper… but we never had time to complete them so the balloons just sort of bounced around the rooms instead. I’d also created a ghast piñata out of a small moving box, with little white crate paper tentacles hanging down… but ran into a snag when I realized we had nowhere in the entire house to hang it so that ended up going to waste as well. Boo. This probably would have gone a little more smoothly if it had been more than just me doing all the work. It’s not that Curtis didn’t want to, it’s that his work schedule didn’t permit it.

Xan’s Minecraft cake was also home-made: it was a double-layer chocolate cake covered with a sheet of red fondant (which took for-fucking-ever to do. Jesus) and painted to look like a block of Minecraft TNT. It did not turn out even remotely like I planned it to, but he didn’t care and still loved it so that was the important part. I did not even bother taking a picture, because I was so frustrated with it.
I originally bought a pack of sparklers so I could put seven of them atop the individual dynamite ‘sticks’, but Curtis had a better idea and managed to find this absolutely giant fireball sparkler thing and stuck it right in the middle of the pile of “wires” so it looked like a huge fuse on fire. It was a big hit.

Over the week prior to the party I’d crafted an entire set of Minecraft tools and weapons out of cardboard, painted them according to screencaps from the game, and laid them around for the kids to play with. I had a diamond sword, diamond axe, pick, hoe, shovel and a bow and arrow (which was also done as though it was made from diamond, even though Xan insisted this was not actually possible. I can blame Curtis for this as the bow was his job to finish). They lasted about two days before starting to bend, but the kids adored them.

This party was a lot – A LOT – of work. I felt like I worked on this for weeks, and my body was crying out for mercy well before I was done. And despite it all, I still fucked tons of shit up and didn’t do half the things I wanted to. It felt frustrating and half-assed, and up until the morning of the party I was wallowing in my failure as a parent to provide even a mostly okay themed party for my child.
But then, while I was finishing up the paint on one of the last pieces of oversized Minecraft tools, Xan made his way over to the table and remarked, “Wow mommy… these are amazing. They look so real!” He paused, took in a long breath as though to whistle, and looked it up and down. “Wow,” he said again, “You’re so talented! I can’t believe these are for me”. I looked up at him and saw the genuine awe in his face, and that alone made everything worth it.

And so, though it comes a month late… happy 7th birthday to my baby boy. Who went from this absolutely precious kewpie doll of a baby:

To this psychopath in the making:

(We laughed so, so hard when we saw this proof. I don’t know what these Lifetouch people think they’re doing, but this is quite possibly the most hilariously horrible portrait I’ve ever seen. The only thing worse was the secondary pose where he sits with his thumbs sticking backwards into his belt loops, wincing as though he just realized he was about to shit himself).



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