When she got off the bus yesterday afternoon, I was only halfway to the bus stop. Her little sister had napped and insisted, in that indignant-three-year-old-post-nap way, on walking at her own pace so we were a little bit late. I saw the bus pull away and heard her friends cooing "It's okay, she'll be here soon."
I quickened my pace and she came into view.
She thought I had forgotten her.
Her frown turned into a smile when she finally saw me but before we could talk about it, her friends were making plans to play and invited her. She turned to me, hopeful.
Unlike last week I said yes, she could play. Maybe it was guilt that she had felt forgotten at the bus stop. Maybe I was thinking that she could handle it, this time, this week, even thought it's only the second week of full day school and I knew without thinking about it that she was still adjusting, still struggling to hold it all together at school all day.
They came to our house and took over our basement in an American Girl overload. For awhile they were bossing each other around, no one really listening, everyone trying to lead.
Then it became clear that one of them wasn't handling these disagreements so well.
She was shouting "No!" a lot and sounding more and more aggrieved so I intervened and that's when it happened. She started yelling at me, that she hated me, that I was the worst mother ever, that she would never ever forgive me if I sent her friends home.
She was wild, eyes unfocused, limbs thrashing. I tried to grab hold of her arms, to get her look at me but she was too far gone. Her friends stood still and stared at the ground.
I quietly walked her friends to the door, ignoring her wails in the background. I apologized for it ending badly and thanked them for coming.
Then I took a breath and turned back toward her.
I was embarrassed. I was scared for her. This scene had played into every one of my fears and triggers. I wanted to stop her behavior. I wanted to control it. I wanted her to calm down NOW.
And I could do none of that.
I let her wail some more, invited her to the calm down corner, talked and hugged and talked some more about how she was feeling.
That night, we role-played how to handle frustration and disagreement with friends. We talked at length about strategies for coping with anger and sadness. She knows it all. She's got the tools. She's still learning how to use them. And I have to help her learn, to let her learn, in this messy, uncomfortable, two-steps forward-one-step-back way.