Cracked Halo

Do you recognize the Scripture quote behind him? Do you find it ironic? I do.

It began with Christian shouting up the stairs on his way down to teach his last piano lesson of the night: “Boys, play with Michael!” By the time I got upstairs, less than a minute later, Nicholas was screaming at the top of his lungs…some conflict about who got to play with Michael. “It’s time to get ready for bed!” I told them, and Alex hopped to it, but Nicholas remained pressed up against the baseboard, wailing. Julianna pressed her hands to her ears.

I thought Nicholas’ behavior problems were solved after that last meltdown, but in the last few weeks they’ve been ratcheting back upward. Last night, ever since I told him he was done playing computer games, he’d been copping this attitude: “This whole day was boring!” he said over and over, and refused to eat his dinner. Ordinarily I’d feel a yank of crushing guilt, but I knew better. I took them out after lunch a) on a bike ride, b) to the neighborhood park, where c) he played on the playground and d) we flew the kite for the better part of an hour. He had a nice long nap. We played Hi-Ho Cherry-O after dinner. And how dare he complain about a boring day when he’s spent an hour painting Muck and Roly on the computer? (I started him on computer games so he’d start to develop mouse skills and some basic computer literacy, but now I’m questioning my own judgment!)

In the end, with Nicholas’ vocalizations ratcheting upward until they were freaking out both Michael and Julianna, I decided I’d better step in and just do for him what he wasn’t willing to do for himself. I pulled his clothes off, with him screaming and kicking and fighting me every step of the way. Christian resurfaced long enough to thunder, “GET IN THE BATHROOM!” and he obeyed, shoving Julianna (who was in the process of pulling her pants down to use the toilet) out of the way.

It spiraled downward from there and ended with Nicholas losing his movie/computer privileges and all bedtime books for the coming day (today). Michael wailing because Nicholas’ screaming had scared him. Julianna whimpering, her hands over her ears. Alex whispering that he felt responsible for his brother’s screaming. Me putting Nicholas in bed and closing the door on his screams.

I don’t know what to do. Alex went through this stage, but I don’t remember it lasting this long, and last night was without a doubt the single worst hour of my entire parenting career thus far, outside hospital stays, that is.

There are times when I think if any of my boys are called to religious life, he’s the one. But then I see this behavior, and I wonder. His grandparents and his schoolteachers think he’s the most easy-going, well-adjusted child, and I can see why; in public, he wears his halo straight and keeps an even keel, completely unflappable. Yesterday I called him the Crooked Halo child, and counted him among my top five blessings. To have this kind of night right afterward seems the height of irony. Crooked, nothing. Call it cracked.

This morning things are starting cautiously better. Perhaps last night was nothing but a tantrum. But I’ve been banking on Nicholas growing out of this stage, becoming tractable like Alex, and I can’t help wondering if this is simply who Nicholas is: strong-willed, impervious to reason and consequence, and hell-bent on dragging everyone else along for the ride.

Time for some marathon praying.