It was not until Aaron, the oldest and wisest of the brothers, spoke that any of us understood. “I think Mom is really mad,” he said with a swallow. It couldn’t be. Could it? As he reviewed the events of the day, everything finally made sense. Indeed it was the only solution to the mystery. We were trying to survive Christmas at Ground Zero–a vision of chaos with Christmas Lego blocks scattered all over the house. Mother’s point was all too clear.
Now for Mother’s point of view:
I recall that day well. I had already spent what seemed like an hour that morning, picking up every battleship and unattached Lego and placing them all neatly around the tree. Then I went to take a long winter’s nap. When I woke up I saw that the boys had returned. They had once again strewn Lego blocks from one end of the living room to the other. Then they had gone off again, with never a thought to the wreckage they had created. I couldn’t take in what I was seeing. Not only had I just cleaned everything up, but I had also spent the previous days and weeks picking out dozens of gifts, decorating the house, and buying and preparing food for a bounteous Christmas celebration.
Something inside me broke. I can’t reconstruct the mental process, but I knew I had to rid the world of Legos. I descended on the colored blocks like an avenging angel, scattering them everywhere. “They want chaos?” I thought. “I’ll show them chaos.” When my energy was spent, I retreated to the far corner of the house to savor the battle and tend to my wounds. The cleaning battles persisted, but Christmas at Ground Zero became a reference point.
Clearly my response was not an ideal way of communicating. Still, I was not completely out of control. I was not like the mother of a client, who, after discovering her son’s new bicycle parked in the drive, stormed outside with a sledgehammer and smashed it to pieces. My reaction was, however, an act of desperation. I had to find some way to show the boys that I had a limit. It was certainly not the best way to state my position. Far from it. But no one was injured. Nothing was permanently damaged. No one had even witnessed it. It was also not a frequent occurrence. But words had failed me.
I also made my point. We did have productive discussions about Mom’s breaking point and how we could work together to keep the house from descending into chaos. It made a good start for the New Year ahead.
Ellen Toronto is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Spring, Texas and has been practicing since 1980. In 2017, she was elected a Fellow in Psychoanalysis by the American Psychological Association. In 2016, Dr. Toronto's practice was recognized as one of the top Ann Arbor Psychology practices. She received her Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Michigan. Dr. Toronto is married to Robert Toronto, Ph.D., and together they have four sons and eleven grandchildren.