Arsenic Hour

arsenic_hourThere is a horrifying time of day when polite manners and family rules are shoved under the couch cushions to suffocate to death under grouchy jumping toddler feet. Children turn into wild heathens and run screaming like lost hellhounds looking for scraps of Cheddar Bunnies and final slurps of Sippy cup juice. Parents shudder in fear and start eyeing up the wine. The sun sets and casts an ominous glow that triggers kiddo temper tantrums of every size and decibel. It is a truly frightening time of day that generally lasts for about two or three hours when children ruthlessly hold parents hostage.

Welcome to Arsenic Hour. Actually, it’s not really that bad.

My mother-in-law calls it Arsenic Hour because, she explained, this nonsensical time of day inspires children to become hunger-crazed, unreasonable, goblin versions of their generally calm and sweet selves. I don’t know about your house, but this is totally true of the little inhabitants of my house.

My oldest son is now four and is getting better about controlling his inner monster during Arsenic Hour. He used to holler at me if I made the wrong kind of noodles or if I pronounced hamburger instead of hambooger. He would rub his eyes and cry that he needed me to hug him, but then complain that I was hugging him all wrong. Now he just gets sassy during Arsenic Hour and spouts off priceless gems like this:

On Expediting Dinner:

Mom, you don’t need to worry about singing, you need to worry about cooking dinner!

On The Dinner Menu:

We’re having what?! But that’s gis-stusting!

On After Dinner:

This. Is. The. Worst. Day. Of. My. Life. Ever. I’m running away to Grammy’s house because she’ll let me eat CHOCOLATE for dinner, you Stupid Mom!

See? Not that bad.

Since having children my husband and I have managed to whittle our once robust social group down to a handful of other couples with kids and equally crazy schedules and patience levels. We lack time and planning skills when it comes to getting a baby sitter, explaining to our son that we’ll be gone for a few hours, having to get dressed in clean pants and shirts, and then rushing out to enjoy a couple of expensive hours where we will talk incessantly about our kids and fight the urge to check in with the sitter 43 times. It’s exhausting. So we stay home. Or we hang with other families who also have crazy broods and who also have a rock solid fear and understanding of what Arsenic Hour is and why everything must get planned around that.

Over the last couple of years I have developed a cache of distractions to prevent my child from self destructing and taking me down with him. While I make dinner he can watch a movie, play with a messy hands-on science or art project in the dining room, battle with foam swords in his room, run through the house obstacle course style, call his Grammy and harass her for a bit, and sometimes build a pillow fort in the living room and play with his flashlight.

Sometimes none of these tricks work. Then I’m in trouble. Then it’s all whining and futile threats of an early bedtime for the child and jail time for the sword (or whatever he just whacked me with.)

Arsenic Hour is all about survival. Sometimes its energy is fun and we all get a little crazy and throw spontaneous kitchen dance contests. Sometimes its energy is choking us with grumpy attitudes and we eat as quickly as possible and then very gently suggest that perhaps the child ought to catch some zzz’s.

Generally speaking, like all things in life, this awful time of day will pass no matter what bold approach. Trying to remember the Arsenic Hour battles always make for great stories later. Good Luck, we tell ourselves.

sarah cottrell

About sarah cottrell

Sarah Cottrell is a member of the Stay-At-Home-Mom Club and proud herder of two loud boys. She earned her MFA in 2012 and then accidentally washed it in a load of laundry. Sarah's work can be found on popular websites like Mamalode, BlogHer, and Scary Mommy. Her work will appear in two new parenting anthologies in 2015.