This is What it’s Come to

Can you tell I’ve been in a bad mood lately?


Smoke drew this at the kitchen table today while Stump was napping and I was grading papers. He had been asking me to buy him various downloads (Spider-Man II, The Lego Movie), and after a series of nos, I informed him, simply, “I’m just not going to buy you anything today.”

He looked stunned. “Not anything?”

“No. Not anything.”

“But why not?”

“We don’t buy you new things every day. That would be crazy.”

He seemed to take this in, to accept it almost, but moments later I looked on as this image took shape. It was clearly an illustration of how he was feeling, and there were a few aspects to it that broke my heart a little:

1. It’s not so much that he looks sad and I look angry, but that our happy faces are crossed out. That, right there, is loss. It’s not just that Smoke is aware of the yucky things that we are feeling. He’s also aware of the good things that we are not feeling.

2. Maybe you already noticed that in the center of the image, Smoke drew a heart and crossed it out. No love.

3. If he were merely illustrating the preceding moment, I would have mostly been amused. But Smoke’s drawing represents our entire week. His hurt is bigger than the news that I won’t download Spider-Man II.

meanmomKellie was out of town most of the week and I haven’t been at my best. I’ve been having a hard time discerning whether Smoke is suddenly acting out or whether I’m just incredibly grumpy. I’m pretty sure it’s both.


This week he became defiant with a family friend who was watching him for a couple of hours. She warned him that she’d report his behavior back to me. “My mom doesn’t punish me,” he told her.

I am so relieved she told me this. Since then, our dynamic has come into sharper focus. As the lingo of modern parenting dictates, I don’t believe in punishment, but I believe in consequences, and it’s clear that Smoke is sensing that I’m not doing everything I should be. He wants boundaries, real ones, not empty warnings. He doesn’t need me to freak out, to lose my shit, to be annoyed every moment of every day. He needs me to calmly, lovingly, draw the line.

I think it’s pretty clear: I need sleep; Smoke needs limits. We’ve got out work cut out for us. In the meantime, I’ll keep an eye on his drawings for clues about how we’re all doing.




5 thoughts on “This is What it’s Come to

  1. Ugh. I hate those moments. Especially when they become the dance remix week. On the bright side: he’s choosing to communicate, he’s a pretty amazing artist (from a mother of four, one of whom is named after an art school, the other after Jasper Johns… I know good kid art.) and there’s always 1-2-3 Magic, which really helped me. Consequences without anger. Revolutionary! Also that new apology thing
    Know that from where I’m sitting you look like a pretty awesome Mom. A friend of mine (with one child) blogged about hugging her child instead of yelling at her. It made me feel a little bad, to be honest. Then I tried it, and I nearly laughed my ass off. Ridiculous! Am I an octopus? With arms ten miles long? Good luck.


  2. This is just my opinion, but I think your analysis is dead on. Boundaries are everybody’s friend even if they don’t feel loving while they’re being established. They pay off big time.
    P.S. Smoke’s drawing is fascinating. He has a gift for using graphics to express the core of his experience.


    1. I was proud of him for expressing himself so clearly. And then I was proud of myself for just letting him express his truth that way. I didn’t try to talk him out of it. The magic of art.


  3. I love that you wrote about this with such honesty, and I love that you shared Smoke’s drawing. Those faces – wow – the whole piece actually. It’s so incredibly expressive and perfect. What a gift to him (and you) that you take the time to really *see* your son, to listen to him to hear what he is really asking for. I think you’re an amazing mom.


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