Monday, 30 March 2009

Losing Control

I feel like we're losing control of Caleb and his temper. Once we combine his temper with his young age, inability to communicate, unusual strength and his inkling for hurting himself...things are getting dangerous.

He is often such a happy kid - very affectionate and full of smiles. But when he doesn't have things exactly his way he explodes in a fit of rage. He usually resorts first to throwing something within reach: his soother, a toy, a book, his plate. He has even thrown a laptop computer and small chairs. It then escalates to finding a pile somewhere and tossing each thing one by one. All the while he glares defiantly at me. He is completely aware he is not allowed to throw things. He is firmly and sternly told to stop throwing or he will go to his crib. You can guess from his defiant nature that it only eggs him on further. Here he usually looks for something that will be more destructive - something heavy or large or glass. Having continued, I follow through with my threat and put him in his crib. Then he explodes in a fit of screaming tears. That wouldn't be bad - I could handle hearing him vocally express his anger. But he starts to bang his head. He bangs it against the wooden crib over and over and over.

In fact, the head banging is not limited to the crib. If I ignore the throwing, or am occupied, he head bangs wherever he is. Or, sometimes when his fit of rage begins he opts against throwing something and erupts immediately into the screaming tears. He looks at me and bangs his head on the floor. We have mostly carpets, which wouldn't be so bad. But this behaviour also escalates. He knows that the carpet doesn't do much, and so he moves himself to something harder: first a piece of furniture, then the wall, then our appliances. If I ignore him, he just goes on banging, harder and harder. If I pick him up or try to restrain him, he bangs his head on me. I've had bloody lips and noses, he's had bloody lips and is constantly bruised on his forehead.

He doesn't seem to have the ability to calm himself down on his own, and any attempt I make to help only makes things worse. I dissolved into tears at church yesterday after he spent an hour screaming and banging his head. We came home halfway through the meeting, as his behaviour was simply too disruptive. Once we arrived at home, everything abruptly turned off and he was all smiles.

I'm aware of the manipulation he is using, but feel totally at a loss. Any form of discipline or intervention only results in him harming himself. I know (hope) he could never do any serious damage, but I'm terrified would just take an odd angle or an extra hard crack and I could lose him. It's a scary place to be as a mother. My baby isn't even 18 months yet and I feel as though I'm losing control of him already.

1 comment:

Kevin H. said...

I've never quite recognized before just how frightening and confounding Caleb's willfulness is. I suppose I must admit to a morbid turn of mind, but his actions recall (if only in the quirk of this moment) a passage from Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian. Looking it up just now I see that it's not immediately applicable on the surface, but underneath the talk of life-or-death contests among warring combatants lies something more universal and uncomfortably familiar: the abandonment and even denial of reason in the face of a contest of wills.

I quote at some length, snipping out portions that are only relevant to the narrative (since they might confuse rather than clarify):

The judge cracked with the back of an axe the shinbone on an antelope and the hot marrow dripped smoking on the stones. They watched him. The subject was war.


It makes no difference what men think of war, said the judge. War endures. As well ask men what they think of stone. War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner. That is the way it was and will be. That way and not some other way


All other trades are contained in that of war.


Men are born for games. Nothing else. Every child knows that play is nobler than work. He knows too that the worth or merit of a game is not inherent in the game itself but rather in the value of that which is put at hazard. Games of chance require a wager to have meaning at all. Games of sport involve the skill and strength of the opponents and the humiliation of defeat and the pride of victory are in themselves sufficient stake because they inhere in the worth of the principals and define them. But trial of chance or trial of worth all games aspire to the condition of war for here that which is wagered swallows up game, player, all.

Suppose two men at cards with nothing to wager save their lives. Who has not heard such a tale? A turn of the card. The whole universe for such a player has labored clanking to this moment which will tell if he is to die at that man's hand or that man at his. What more certain validation of a man's worth could there be? This enhancement of the game to its ultimate state admits no argument concerning the notion of fate. The election of one man over another is a preference absolute and irrevocable and it is a dull man indeed who could reckon so profound a decision without agency or significance either one. In such games as have for their stake the annihilation of the defeated the decisions are quite clear. This man holding this particular arrangement of cards in his hand is thereby removed from existence. This is the nature of war, whose stake is at once the game and the authority and the justification. Seen so, war is the truest form of divination. It is the testing of one's will and the will of another within that larger will which because it binds them is therefore forced to select. War is the ultimate game because war is at last a forcing of the unity of existence. War is god.

Brown studied the judge. You're crazy Holden. Crazy at last.

The judge smiled.

Might does not make right, said Irving. The man that wins in some combat is not vindicated morally.

Moral law is an invention of mankind for the disenfranchisement of the powerful in favour of the weak. Historical law subverts it at every turn. A moral view can never be proven right or wrong by any ultimate test. A man falling dead in a duel is not thought thereby to be proven in error as to his views. His very involvement in such a trial gives evidence of a new and broader view. The willingness of the principals to forgo further argument as the triviality which it in fact is and to petition directly the chambers of the historical absolute clearly indicates of how little moment are the opinions and of what great moment the divergences thereof. For the argument is indeed trivial, but not so the separate wills thereby made manifest. Man's vanity may well approach the infinite in capacity but his knowledge remains imperfect and howevermuch he comes to value his judgments ultimately he must submit them before a higher court. Here there can be no special pleading. Here are considerations of equity and rectitude and moral right rendered void and without warrant and here the views of the litigants despised. Decisions of life and death, of what shall be and what shall not, beggar all question of right. In elections of these magnitudes are all lesser ones subsumed, moral, spiritual, natural.

I've always felt a deep-seated discomfort about competition, serious or casual, because of this unshakeable sense that the result defines the players, both in the moment of decision itself, obviously, but also beyond it. That's why "failing", and then returning to the contest thereafter (the same or any other, really) is, or seems, so noble. On the other hand, how buggered are we when we start to recognize just how much of daily life is played out in the form of an (acknowledged or otherwise) competition...?

In the case of parents and children, warring for the assertion of their respective wills, the contest is continuous and ongoing, barring whatever periods of happiness (brief or extended) distract from the underlying battle. Life-and-death terms are rarely part of this particular combat, these days, but the fact of individual will and the irrational drive to pursue it, whatever the cost, remain part-and-parcel of the parent-child interaction. The really unfortunate thing is that children have the advantage of pure selfishness on their side, having not yet developed their reason or sympathy for others to the point where it might intercede in their raw, irrational assertion of their own will in the face of another, oppositional one.