The truth is, I haven't been liking myself very much lately.
I've been letting things slide, I've been missing opportunities, I've been slow to react, and slow to finish things, if they get finished at all. I've ignored this blog, ignored writing altogether for probably the longest stretch of my adult life. I couldn't figure out why I cringed every time I thought about sitting down to put my thoughts in order.
Then I figured some stuff out, and it's not pretty at all.
I have some baggage about being ignored; being made to feel less than.
No four year old is really great at listening. The Imp, energetic and full of questions and entranced with all the shiny things is not good at listening at all in the morning rush before school and work.
He's a great kid. He's thoughtful, and generous, and sweet. Affectionate, whip-smart, and curious. He gets excited about every little thing, and greets each day with a let's go! attitude that I often envy.
But he's not so great at listening.
And I'm not so great at being not listened to.
It happened gradually, but I started shouting at him sometimes, to get his attention. After six times of asking him to do something with no response, I'd increase the volume to let him know I meant business. It was effective for a while, then it faded into the white noise of Imp's life.
So I started shouting to get his attention a lot of the time.
Then instead of just being a question of volume, a note of frustration crept into the shouting. Then the frustration turned to resentment, and soon it felt like I was shouting all the time, angrily barking orders at Imp every time I needed him to just do something.
I became Shouty Mom.
The morning excitement in Imp's eyes was turning to resistance and resignation, and that's when I realized that I didn't like myself very much. That I hadn't liked myself very much for quite some time. I was horrified by the parent I'd become without noticing.
Three days ago I hit critical mass. After a particularly difficult morning, I cracked. I just could not stand the idea of starting one more day fighting with The Imp about all the minutiae of our daily routine; breakfast, getting dressed, picking up his toys, getting his for-the-love-of-all-things-holy shoes on so we could just get out the door.
I could not, as a human being, spend that much time frustrated, angry, and living my life at top volume.
So I stopped.
And it's been hard. Not the stopping shouting, that's the easy part. It's a relief, to turn the volume down, to dial back the anger, to just get really quiet. I've kept my demeanor calm, my tone reasonable, and my voice low. Instead of shouting, I speak quietly enough that Imp has to get close to me to hear what I'm asking him to do.
The hard part?
(I'm ashamed, deeply ashamed, to admit this.)
The Imp's gotten used to the shouting. The Imp doesn't know how to deal with the not shouting.
The shouting is awful, but it's been consistent enough that it's comfortable for him, even if it's all kinds of wrong.
(I've been on the receiving end in an abusive relationship. The echoes of that here are enough to make my fingers shake as I type this.)
Because the dysfunction (temporary, it hasn't been going on that long, and I'm self aware enough to have caught it, for which I am eternally grateful) is what he knows, this sudden change to quiet, even-toned, non-shouting Mommy is discomfiting for The Imp.
He's flailing, striking blindly, lashing out at me to try and provoke the reaction he's accustomed to. It's been awful, seeing him escalate and escalate really bad behaviour because he wants me to shout at him. He's even asked me to shout at him. I've been handling it - we've been handling it - by limiting attention to inappropriate behaviour (make sure he's safe but ignore the outbursts) and lavishing attention on him when he's well behaved. Today there was a lot of progress, and I'm as proud of that as I am ashamed of why it was needed.
I've been crying a lot. A lot.
But I haven't been shouting.