There’s something looming on the horizon that I’ve been trying not to think about. But it’s time to face the facts: today is Adeline’s last day of school until April 1. Next week is Spring Break. That means five days in a row of just me and Addie, home alone together.
You guys, that’s terrifying.
I mean, I love my daughter more than I could possibly express, but she has definitely entered the terrible twos. Normally she goes to school three days and Thursday and Friday it’s just us. Usually by Friday night I’m ready to stab my eyes out. Five days is going to be hard.
(I can’t even begin to say how amazed I am by moms who are home full time, all day, every day with a two year old. It’s really more than can be expected of any human.)
Four years ago I started doing DBT – Dialectical Behavior Therapy. (I know this seems unrelated, but stick with me.) Instead of endless psychotherapy analyzing how your parents fucked you up and how hard high school was and just why you decided to stop eating, it’s focused on skills. Each week there are lessons that teach a variety of different skills to help you learn how to effectively deal with acute distress, long-term emotional problems, and interpersonal relationships. It was probably one of the more amazing things that has ever happened to me.
Honestly, I think the world would be a better place if everyone had to do DBT. But in truth, it was designed for people with serious drug and alcohol addictions, with eating disorders, with other serious self-destructive behaviors or severe mental health issues.
It’s amazing how often I use my DBT skills to deal with the serious disorder of having a child, particularly a two-year-old.
So today, in preparation for the beginning of operation Spring Break, I’m brushing up on my DBT skills and making a list of coping strategies:
1. Distract myself, distract her – whatever it takes. If you can’t reason through the tantrum, just distract.
2. Pull out the toys from the bottom of the toy box that she hasn’t played with in months. Pretend for a second I’m going to give them away – she’ll insist on playing with them for the next 30 minutes. Score!
3. I recently acquired a preschooler’s activity book at a swap meet. It’s full of fun and easy little activities to do on a whim. Flip through the book, find an activity that doesn’t require much prep, and get going. Last week we did a mini science experiment and cleaned coins – she loved it!
4. Give myself a break sometimes and let her watch a video. It’s not the end of the world. Sometimes you just don’t have the energy to organize a science experiment.
5. When I feel like screaming at her, hug and kiss her instead. Of course, this works well for me, but usually she just pushes and shouts “No! Go away mama!” So this one might not be so effective.
6. When I feel like screaming at her, just smile. Actual honest-to-god scientific evidence shows that the mere act of smiling, even if you don’t feel like it, makes you feel better. Fake it until you feel it.
7. When I feel like burying my head in the pillows and pretending that I don’t have a daughter, get us both up and doing something. Have you seen the History of Rap by Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon? It’s pretty fantastic and Addie loves it. Pull it up on YouTube and dance until you can’t feel your feet.
8. Even better, get out of the house! Go to the museums, go to the conservatory, go to the grocery store, do anything. Just get out of the house.
OPPOSITE EMOTION – HUMOR
9. When I’m about to yell, I start speaking in a British accent instead. It makes me laugh, because, come on! Who doesn’t love a British accent?? And it makes her laugh because mama sounds funny.
10. When she’s crying as though it’s the end of the world, I like to sing Don’t Cry for Me Argentina. Except I sing Don’t Cry for Me Addie Lola and I do it in the most dramatic, theatrical voice I can manage. Sometimes it makes her laugh. Sometimes she just looks at me like I’m a crazy person and then resumes screaming.
11. No this isn’t about teaching her how to say please (although that would be a win!). It’s an acronym: treat Physical Illness, Eat, no Altering drugs, Sleep, and Exercise. In other words, I need to take care of myself before I can effectively take care of her. I need to go to bed early, eat well, and keep up with my pilates. (I’m good on the no drugs and I’m not feeling sick, thank you very much.)
12. Dump your head in a bucket of ice water. I’m serious. The sensation of freezing cold water on your face not only wakes you up, it resets your emotional experience. Suddenly, instead of wanting to strangle your child, you’re calm and accepting again. For at least the next five minutes. After that, you’ll have to consult the list.
13. When all else fails, you just have to practice Radical Acceptance. A little phrase for a big idea, but the gist of it is this: this moment is what it is and you can’t change it. But you can accept it and decide to tolerate it. You can move your whole being from a place of resistance, of wanting to fix, of needing to do, to a place of acceptance, of calm, of tolerance.
You can accept that your child is two, that she does not have full control of her emotions, that she sometimes needs help to get through a distressful experience, that she’s learning about boundaries and learning that she can control some situations that previously seemed out of her control. You can decide to tolerate the moment, knowing that it will pass, as all moments do. You can sit down, take a breath, and just let your child be two.
What do you think? What coping strategies would you add to the list?