Tonight's meltdown felt similar to the others in a weary way that I hated. Dinner was not even on the table yet, and the whining, tantrums, and power struggles had been going on for the last two hours.
I was mentally fried and could already predict the course of the rest of the evening - it didn't look good. And it might even be more spectacularly bad than I was anticipating, but I thought I could manage it somewhat if only I could take a few deep breaths and be patient, and react with thought instead of the frustrated and tired way that I had been.
With one child on his back on the floor bouncing between various stages of sadness, outrage, fury, and remorse, and the other child (amazingly) working on her homework at the table and occasionally casting eyes from under raised eyebrows from him, to me, them back to him, I was more aware than ever that they look to me to know how to react and what to do next. I also knew we were all fed up with each other, and mentally and emotionally exhausted.
I half-coaxed, half-ordered both kids to the table as I put their plates down. I tried something different.
"Hey guys, I'm going to get each of you a drink, but as soon as I sit down, I'm going to say three things I love most about each of you."
This piqued their curiosity. Caden hadn't quite been in his chair by this point, but this made him clamber up and turn around. I poured their drinks. I had their full attention. I put their drinks down in front of them and sat at the table.
"Sevilla, I love your sense of humor. You can always make everyone laugh. No matter what is going on, you are able to see something funny or make a joke to make everyone smile." She beamed at me, then at Caden, who grinned shyly back.
"And Caden. You are so compassionate. Whenever someone else has a problem, you always try to understand it, or see what could be going on. You have such a good heart."
He smiled, then looked at Sevilla, who said to me with a mock tough-girl-swagger, "Hey! I'm compassionate too! You better say that about me next!" He chortled with glee.
I turned back to Sevilla. "Sevilla, you are so hardworking. You never give up." I went back and forth between the two of them until I had given them each three compliments, and both kids were smiling, laughing, and eating their food - this last part was a bonus!
"Do two more! Two more!" they cried, and kept eating.
I easily thought of two more, describing each trait specifically and with examples. After that, we did another two.
By now dinner was over, but they wanted to continue. I did one more compliment for each of them, and this time they acted out their traits in comic fashion - if I told them they were strong, they showed me their muscles. If I said they were fast, they demonstrated how fast. They were laughing and playing and having a good time, and dinner had been eaten in the meantime. Success.
Caden surprised me then by coming back to the table. "And now I will say three things I love most about Mom and Sevy," he said. He went through three things for each of us, pausing thoughtfully before revealing each trait and not getting distracted as Sevilla the clown bounced zingers around the room and off her imaginary audience.
But he wasn't done after that, so he added two more for each of us. One of mine was that I run a lot of miles. Another was that I am a good mom. For Sevilla, he said she always shares and she is really silly. After that, he was done. It was time for a bath, then bed.
The rest of the evening was much better - the kids got cleaned up and dressed for bed, then we settled down to read. Both kids passed out quickly. I snuck out to write this note.
This is the second time I've been able to turn the kids' moods around by reminding them of what good people they are, that they don't have to be the people they have been acting out. I feel like we sometimes get stuck in ruts when we are frustrated or tired and we fall into acting out the worst parts of ourselves, and by the time we gain some perspective or feel enough remorse to tell us we don't want to act that way any longer, we don't know how to get out.
I don't know if this trick will work any longer but that's ok, we will just figure something else out. We may have temper tantrums, but we are also resourceful, caring, creative, and persistent. There will be more ruts but we will dig our way out of all of them, and help each other along the way.