Updated: Nov 18, 2022
Alice is screaming.
Alice is three years old.
Alice wants to go to the neighbor's house where her brother is playing.
There are logical reasons why we cannot go:
We just arrived home from a four hour road trip.
Alice is not invited to the neighbor's house.
My husband and I would need to go with her to the neighbor's house, and neither of us wants to go.
Alice cannot understand why we cannot go, why we do not want to go, that she is not invited.
Alice is screaming. She has been screaming a lot. She is three years old. AND she has been sick all autumn.
Three year olds, do a lot of screaming, especially when they are sick.
It's my husband's turn to hold her while she screams, to allow her feelings to pass through, to step in with appropriate amounts of soothing, to empathize, to step away, to step back in again.
Sometimes these fits last for 45 minutes. Once they really start, there's nowhere else to go but through. I am in the space. I hear the screaming. On some level, the screaming is registering in my whole nervous system, moving up through bottoms of my feet to my teeth, like an ache I can't shake, an itch that can never be scratched, a problem that cannot be solved except through endurance.
I watch my own resistance to the screaming. I watch the desire for the screaming to stop. I accept the screaming. I find love in the screaming. I love myself for hating the screaming. I love my daughter for being a human being.
Alice is our second child, because of this I know there's not much I can do in these situations. There's no perfect thing or way to "fix" what's happening. I can unhook from the screaming. I can let go. I can let the screaming be. I can let all of the things pass through my own experience of the screaming and have it all be okay.
With my first child, it was more difficult. I thought I could fix it. I thought I should fix it. I thought I knew what was best. I thought my husband was doing it wrong. I thought I was doing it right. I stepped in often.
It is a gift to have a second child, one that screams like the first, one that has desires and preferences like every human being. It is a gift to watch these desires and preferences affect the state of that child, and the state of those around the child. Now, as an adult, I can experience all sorts of feelings and choose not to act those feelings out.
The child has no choice. The child is just learning how to choose, how to have feelings, how to have consciousness, what it is like to be in a body. It is a gift to watch a child learn all of these things, and then to watch the reflection of those things in yourself and to have grace and forgiveness and love become the ground that you operate from.
Alice is still screaming. I am still in a second room, slightly separate from where the screaming is happening. It is loud. I'm working on a small project trying to make something fit together for a work plan that we have coming this week. If it was my first child, I wouldn't be able to complete what I was doing. That child's emotions would overrun my own nervous system and I would have abandoned the project.
Now, I know my child is safe. I know my husband is there with her. I know there's not much he can do, nor that I can do, and I stay right where I am, continuing to work on something else. I feel all the feelings and it is all okay.
It is better than okay because this is life, everything and nothing all in one breath.
Important and unimportant all in one moment...
right here, all in the space of one child's tantrum.
Note: I am sharing this piece in response to everyone who has ever been frustrated by a toddler, and especially this fall 2022, when so many of our little ones are fighting to get their immune systems up to date. Deep love to all the parents and kids out there.