I love those afternoons when I arrive at camp pick-up after a long day of work and my children come running, faces smiling, eager to jump into my arms and share their accomplishments of the day.
Yesterday was not one of those days. Instead, when I arrived at camp for pick-up I found both 5-year-old twins crying.
The older twin is hardly a mystery. He struggles on some days, particularly after a late night, because he no longer gets a mid-day nap. He is also a very picky eater and admittedly not fond of camp food, though I serve a variation of the menu (chicken nuggets, mac and cheese, or hot dogs) every night at dinner and he rarely complains. These factors, combined with the summer heat and too little water throughout the day, make for a cranky little boy.
Once I made him comfortable in his car seat, snack and bottle of water in hands and air conditioning blasting, his demeanor began to improve, which gave me the opportunity to focus on the child I perceive to be more complicated, who was now inconsolably sobbing under the basketball hoop as his ice pop lay melting at his feet.
The younger twin confounds me. When he struggles like this, I am at a loss, as nothing I say or do seems to ease his pain. After what felt like an eternity, I was able to conclude through the tears and the evidence on the floor that my son had dropped his ice pop and the counselor refused to replace it. I tried my best to calm him, but his agitation only increased. And when sympathy and compassion failed, I tried to be stern, explaining that we needed to move quickly or we would be late to get the baby at day care. This sent him into a rage like I have rarely witnessed from my generally sweet child.
It was a freaking ice pop for goodness sake! Why was he carrying on like this and why couldn’t the counselor just give him another one?
I stood there paralyzed, unable to figure out the best course of action. I had a hunch that even if I were able to convince this counselor to give my son another ice pop, I might unintentionally be making more serious problems for both of us in the future. I recognize that I cannot always be there to rescue my children when they are faced with disappointments and conflicts. I want to help him develop his coping skills, not impede his growth, especially as he is preparing for kindergarten. Additionally, I did not want to undermine this counselor who likely thought he was doing the right thing. (Maybe they have a one ice pop rule instituted with no exceptions….even when they end up on the gym floor.)
Dozens of conflicting thoughts and emotions raced through my head as I stood there in a gym full of children, my child screaming as if I had just severed his limbs. What do I do? Is his reaction normal? Should I just grab an ice pop and my screaming child and run for the exit?
And then all at once the dark thought and accompanying pain that is ever present emerges from the depths of my soul and I realize that my boy’s behavior is ALL MY FAULT. I did this to my child. I got a divorce and he will forever be scarred.
My fault. Or maybe it is not, but the guilt and uncertainty is always there. Would he be behaving like this otherwise?
Eventually I was able to sweet-talk my child into his car seat and we headed to the nearest market to buy him an ice cream. (Yes, I recognize the insanity here.)
And when we finally arrived at our day care, my toddler greeted me with a big hug and a smile and for an instant I felt relief and my confidence restored as a mother. But I was one foot out the door with my littlest child in my arms when I saw his teacher approaching. “We have a little issue that we need to discuss,” she said and the darkness began to stir again.
Is it all my fault?