Jerry Kennedy, stepdude and writer at Choosing the Truth, is here talking about the inherent moodiness of the children, in a way in which we all can only nod our heads in resignation...and then joy. Thanks, Jerry!
Shortly after I first moved in with my then girlfriend (now fiancee) and her 4-year-old son, I told her that living with a child was an awful lot like living with a bipolar paranoid schizophrenic suffering from multiple personality disorder and delusions of grandeur; two and half years in, I still think that’s a pretty accurate comparison.
Don’t get me wrong: the Monkey is a delightful little human being, capable of melting your heart with his sweet smile and his infectious giggle. It’s just that he’s prone to the occasional sudden change of temperament. And by “sudden”, I mean he can change moods faster than Clark Kent can exit a grungy phone booth in blue tights and a cape.
Apparently, he’s not alone. When I’ve shared my observation with other parents, they always kind of nod and get the far-off look of a shell-shocked POW. It turns out that most children go through these periods of, shall we say, difficulty? Call me naive, but this was kind of a surprise to me. As a childless person (and therefore clearly an expert on parenting), I’d always assumed that kids who acted out were the result of bad parents; or if not “bad parents,” at best well-intentioned parents who lacked good parenting skills.
It’s okay; go ahead and laugh now. I deserve it. In my child-free cocoon, I would look at parents and say things like “If only they would say no to that child every now and then, they wouldn’t have this little monster on their hands.” Yeah...I was that guy. As I quickly learned, though, this parenting shit is hard. I mean really hard. Like “doing a Rubik’s Cube while juggling chainsaws on a tightrope suspended over a pit of hungry crocodiles” levels of hard. And that’s on a good day.
But they’re not all good days, are they? Sometimes, our days are not so good. Sometimes, our days are pretty freakin’ bad. And sometimes, when the Moon is in the seventh house and Mercury is in retrograde, we’re get the pleasure of the meltdowns. Jumping Jesus on a pogostick, the meltdowns.
I’ll never forget standing on the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk with the Monkey while his mom went to ride the Giant Dipper and having him screaming at the top of his lungs at me for literally five minutes. To the point that he was starting to hyperventilate and turn red in the face. To the point that I was starting to worry that people were going to call security to come and rescue this poor child who I was clearly torturing with hot irons. And all because I wouldn’t let him have a root beer...or something. I’m still not entirely clear on what it was all about. I finally ended up calling Cricket; she jumped out of line, rescued me from my stuttering and blundering, and that was the end of our day. We’d only been there an hour (Santa Cruz is a three hour drive from home) and we were going home.
Here’s the clincher, though: on the walk back to the car, the tiny demon immediately resumed human form and wanted to know if we’d be coming back to the Boardwalk later in the day so that he could ride some more of the rides, and also could he have some ice cream. W. T. F?
I’m learning, though. Where once I was a terrified, uncertain, semi-adult person, I’m now a slightly less terrified, almost not quite certain, bordering on being a grown up person; and I owe it all to Douglas Adams and the art, or rather knack, to flying. Adams says that the knack to flying is in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss. The real trick, he says is in having your attention suddenly distracted at the exact moment you’re about to hit the ground.
When this bit of advice first popped into my head with regard to my parenting technique, I thought that it meant I needed to distract the Monkey immediately before the tantrum started. I tried that, and it worked spectacularly. I’d tell him no, he couldn’t conduct an experiment involving enriched plutonium, see the familiar twitch of an oncoming meltdown, and immediately burst into a silly song or ask him if the moon is really made from elephant boogers; if I timed it right, he’d completely forget about the plutonium and we’d be on the path to Crisis Averted City. Thank you Mr. Adams!
But as I get a little more comfortable in my parent skin, I think Douglas had a bigger, much more important message for me. I’m finding that as I travel the Step Dude Path, I often trip on one of the many obstacles along the way and, in a sense, throw myself at the ground. It’s not very often that I miss, and I spend a lot of time nursing those bruises. Every now and then, though, I get distracted just before the inevitable crash; a silly giggle, a toothless smile, or an unexpected Father’s Day present...and suddenly I’m flying.