Today was a self care day for Liam.
Yesterday was tough. Real tough. The day began at 6:45AM like any other, but only a few minutes later when I asked Ethan to get ready for school, he completely fell apart and had an epic 45 minute meltdown because he didn’t want to wear pants.
It was one of the most vicious meltdowns to date. The screaming was the loudest it’s ever been. He began throwing everything he could get his hands on including his stainless steel water bottle. He threw himself around the room continually. He kicked me. He hit me. I had to physically restrain him. He got hurt. I got hurt. It was brutal, nasty and ugly.
All the while, Liam sat on the couch where he had been when this all began, and watched it unfold. He was frozen in shock and fear. About 20 minutes into the meltdown, Ethan collapsed for a brief moment from exhaustion. I used this as an opportunity to focus on Liam as a tactic to hopefully end the meltdown. I communicated to Ethan that I needed to get Liam ready for school - as he was wearing pants, and Ethan could stay home from school (which I knew would eventually motivate Ethan to get ready).
As Liam and I met in the bathroom so that I could help him with his hair, he looked at me with fear and emotional pain dripping off of him. His chin started to quiver and he broke. He went limp in my arms and began crying uncontrollably. I couldn't help but begin to cry too.
It’s a pain only a minute percentage of people will be able to empathize with. The pain of seeing your six-year-old be brought to his knees because of his younger brother's uncontrollable outburst. Between sobs he told me he didn’t want to go to school anymore. He told me that Ethan’s meltdowns always give him a headache. He was essentially broken. In the matter of a few minutes he had lost all will to carry on with his day.
I get it. I’m a grown adult and it takes EVERY OUNCE OF EFFORT that I can muster - AS A GROWN ADULT to carry on with my own day after something like this occurs. Even so, everything immediately changes and I go into “low battery mode”. When it occurs at 7:00AM, it makes for a long day limping to the finish line.
I can’t begin to imagine how this affects an overly sensitive six-year-old. This was the first glimpse for me to see how deeply it impacts Liam. In the end I managed to get both boys to school - in pants no less. But on the way home, as I finally let my guard down, I was overwhelmed with the thought that Liam needed a day of self care.
So, today we made that happen.
Liam was ready and waiting at the door precisely at the time I had told him we would be leaving. He was vibrating with excitement. First up was a visit to the local football stadium. Liam only discovered and fell in love with football this past fall, so we haven’t really had time to explore and experience very much yet. While we’ve driven past the Apple Bowl numerous times and Liam has pressed his nose up against the window every time in silent awe and wonder, we have never had time to stop and actually go in before. Today was the perfect day to change that.
Liam was ecstatic. He could hardly contain his excitement. He wanted to check out the entire stadium - and I use the word “stadium” loosely as we are essentially just a small hockey town in Canada - before venturing out onto the field to pass the ball and run around a little bit. To him it was enormous and that’s all that matters. I can’t wait until I can take him to BC Place in Vancouver or better yet AT&T Stadium in Dallas and show him a REAL stadium.
We played on the field for almost an hour. We passed the ball, we ran the ball, we fumbled the ball, we scored touchdowns, and we tackled each other. Every few minutes Liam stopped, tucked the ball under his arm and just looked around taking in the feeling of playing football at the Apple Bowl for the first time. He told me he could imagine thousands of people in the stadium screaming and cheering.
I asked him if he wanted to go grab lunch. I allowed him to choose any restaurant he wanted, and he picked Subway! It was at that moment I began to wonder if he was deliberately choosing places and activities we don’t get to go to or do because of Ethan. I was seeing a different side of Liam. A little boy desperately trying to carve out HIS OWN identity, away from his siblings. Both Madison and Ethan have influenced ALL of our family decisions for more than four years now. I honestly believe this is why Liam is struggling so much. If you don’t think that environmental factors affect child development, you need to look around a little. Hell, I’m convinced I developed MS due to environmental factors. The mind controls the body, and that can be a scary thing to come to terms with.
So, we grabbed Subway and had a fun lunch in the food court of the mall. I could tell he was feeling good. He was feeling like the center of the universe. This was HIS day and he was soaking it all up.
After we were done eating we had some time to kill, before our final scheduled activity of the day so we wandered around the mall. Since football was (and always is) on his mind, we went shopping for football jerseys and other related items. We haven’t had much opportunity to shop at the mall, again just because taking three kids anywhere is a chore and a half, so today being one on one with Liam was pretty special for both of us.
Before long we got a call asking us to come check in at Barbershop, our last scheduled activity of the day. It has been a good eight months since Liam had a proper haircut and it has been bothering him recently. Even so, he’s been so patient with me, trying to find time in my overflowing schedule to fit this in.
Once again, I could tell he felt so special walking into the barbershop eager to lose a ton of hair. It’s in those moments I lose sight of the little six-year-old boy he is, and I see a young man emerging. While he still struggled with stress and anxiety of having someone in his personal space - specifically around his neck, with constant coaching and support from me, we made it through and he was thrilled with the results.
It was a perfect day and it accomplished everything I was hoping it would. We had left Ethan behind for a day. Liam could spread his wings a little and not be afraid that Ethan would ruin it for him. Liam could relax knowing we wouldn’t have to suddenly navigate a meltdown. Liam could try whatever HE wanted as we took steps forward in sculpting his own identity.
Often “self care” feels like a buzz word, or the trending topic of the week in the parenting forms, but it’s important even at the age of six. If nothing else, we all need a little relief from stress from time to time and this was made abundantly clear on Friday morning that even six-year-olds need this too. Today, we challenged the body in a fun and healthy way by playing football. We ate a lot healthier than I was expecting to and we ended the day with some relaxing downtime in the barber chair. That’s pretty close to the perfect recipe for some quality self care.
On the way home I noticed Liam's whole countenance had changed. He was calm and relaxed and I could tell it had worked. If only for a brief moment, we had forgotten about the stress and chaos that runs rampant in our home. We had gotten out, had some fun and lived a little. On my quest to make as many “20-minute memories” with my kids this year, this one might have been the most significant one I’ve made to date. I hope that the next time Liam is shaking in fear during a catastrophic meltdown, he can find happy memories like the ones he made today and focus on those, rather than the hell that is engulfing him.
No one told me raising kids would be easy, but my god… I don’t think anyone ever imagined it would be this tough. All I can do is take it one day at a time; and today was a great day! A really great day!