I came home amidst a whirlwind of drama. My oldest upstairs in his room crying with the door shut. My youngest running to me to try to tell me what his brother had done. My au pair telling me she was handling it.
Since I had not even had the chance to take off my damn heels, I decided to let her deal with it. Besides, nothing was broken or bleeding, so it didn’t seem to be a huge emergency.
Once I desuitified and adorned myself with my home uniform, consisting of sweats and a t-shirt, I came downstairs to a quiet house, and began to make dinner. My 5 year old then came into the kitchen to give me an updated report.
“(My brother) said, ‘I mmmm you!’ It was a bad word that I can’t say, mommy, but it starts with an H.”
“Hate? He said ‘I HATE you?'”
“Yes. And then he said that he wished that he had a different brother than me.”
This was bigger than I had previously realized. I knew that although the initial drama had been handled by the au pair, this was significant enough that I was going to have to address it myself as well.
At dinner, I told my oldest son that we were going to talk later, assuring him that he wasn’t in trouble or anything (he had since apologized to his brother as requested), but that there was just something that we needed to discuss.
“Is it serious?” he asked.
Realizing that the last time his father and I told him we needed to talk about something, a mere 4 days prior, we broke the news to him that our beloved dog had died. Seeing the look of apprehension in his eyes as he asked me about the seriousness of the upcoming topic, I assured him that it wasn’t anything too serious, but just something that he and I needed to have a chat about.
Later in the evening, once my youngest was in bed and some TV had been dutifully watched, it was almost time for bed for my oldest son, but that’s when he reminded me about the talk. Apparently, after 7:00 at night, my brain pretty much shuts down for the day. I had completely forgotten about this promised discussion. He, evidently, had not.
I had no script for this moment, never envisioning that I would have to deal with this issue prior to the teenaged years. But shit happens, and deal with it I must. So, I dove in.
But as I started to talk, I found myself getting choked up. I was having a hard time speaking to him calmly and reasonably, while at the same time trying not to start crying. I was not expecting that, either.
I told him that no matter how angry or upset he was, that it was never okay to tell a family member that he hates them. That he can not like what somebody is doing, but hating family is not acceptable. That not only is it hurtful and untrue, it is dangerous.
And then I hit him with the big guns . . . and also really started to tear up.
“What if your grandfather (who lives with us downstairs), did something that you really didn’t like and you got really angry? And you said, “I hate you!” to him. And what if right after that he got really sick and had to go to the hospital.* And that ended up being the last thing you said to him? How bad would that be?”
At this point, I noticed that not only was I barely able to get the words out around the tears that were closing up my throat, but he was starting to cry as well.
But I wasn’t finished. And I couldn’t let his tears dissuade me from my objective. So, I went in for the kill.
“When grandma passed away a couple of years ago, how horrible would it have been if those were the last words she heard from a family member? And if you got mad at me or your dad or your brother, and then something bad happened to us right after . . . would that be the last thing you would want us to hear you say?”
I know. I know, I know, I know. This was possibly harsher and more terrifying than I needed to make this conversation. Especially to an eight year old. And by the end of it, both of us had tears flowing down our faces. Him, probably more because I was crying than anything, and me because the thought of any of those scenarios makes me unbearably sad. So, I hugged him and held him tight. And I told him how much I loved him and that everything was alright and that everyone in the family is fine, and nobody is going to get hurt. We both knew that last part was a lie, but eventually we both stopped crying. I might have had to employ The Tickle Monster to get his tears to dry. It is an exceptionally effective tear dryer and I would highly recommend it.
Even though I might be seen as a mean mom, who scarred her poor child for life with my horror story of family members dying, I have no qualms about what I did. My hope is that I did both scare AND scar him. I hope that he always remembers how harsh and frightening this discussion was, and understands the power of words. I hope he thinks about the effect words can have before the next time he wants to tell one of us that he hates us. I wielded mine as a weapon with intent, and believe I struck my target. I hope that prevents him from unintentionally hurling hurtful words at those he loves in the future. Hopefully, he is young enough for it to have hit home and stuck with him.
And hopefully, I’ve disarmed one teenaged grenade that was heading my way in a few years.
* This conversation happened prior to this occuring. I have never wanted to be less presentient in my life.