When I was a kid I had a Sunday School teacher who used to say,
“Patience is a Virtue
Virtues are a Grace
Put them both together and you’ll have a happy face.”
This past week I was neither virtuous nor gracious, and I certainly wasn’t patient.
Here’s what happened.
It was sometime between 4pm and 6pm. A vacant span of time that always seems to catch me off guard, even though it happens every day. In those dreaded hours I work feverishly to make dinner and occupy children, who grow more tired and restless by the minute. I rush to pick up enough toys to create a path by front door so J doesn’t trip when he comes in. Those few hours can unravel a day of good, for me and the children.
On this particular day I felt especially harried and frustrated. A pot of water boiled and bubbled on the stove while I shoveled lunch dishes into the dishwasher, chopped veggies and measured rice. A sick and needy Guy Guy pressed into my legs, crying “up, up, up”; and the dog pranced and danced about, begging for her dinner. I felt every second of each minute.
“Bugaboo, will you please feed Sasha?” I asked.
“But Mommy, I’m busy,” Came her whiney reply.
“Bug, it’s your chore, and she’s hungry. No arguing. Just do it.”
“But…” “No…” “I don’t want to…” “Hiss…” “Spit…” “Whine…” “Protest…” “Protest…” “Protest…”
Courtney, I’m ashamed to say it, but I hit my mommy limit. As I listened to her arguments, and the boiling water beg for rice, and Guy’s cry; as I stared at the clutter on the counter and thought of the amount of work left before me, I gave under the confusion and pressure of the moment.
I turned on that poor child and bellowed at her like never before.
“STOP WHINNING, NOW. FEED THE DAMN DOG. IF YOU DON’T WANT TO TAKE CARE OF HER, WE’LL GET RID OF HER. I DON’T CARE. YOU WILL NOT SAY ANOTHER WORD. YOU WILL FEED HER. AND THEN YOU WILL GO TO YOU ROOM. DO YOU GET IT??? DO YOU? DO IT. DO IT NOW!”
At first the fierceness of my tantrum surprised her. She thought I was kidding around, and she started to smile, but I saw her face wilt and the tears come as she realized there was no game. When I finished my rant, she spun and fled down the hall.
I turned back to the sink, but not before catching sight of Guy, standing witness a few feet away. His eyes big and confused. Then my own tears came. As a mother I have two stated goals: to raise healthy, happy, well-adjusted humans, and to never give their future therapists any ammunition. On this day I failed both on both counts.
I took 10 deep breaths, just like I’ve coached Bugaboo to do, and I went to her room. I found her, just inside the door, heaped on the floor, sobbing. I laid down next to her, reached out to stroke her hair and whispered her name. She flung herself, full force onto me, buried her face in my neck and wailed, “Mommy, my heart is splitting and everything is falling out! Why did you talk like that?”
The weight of shame and guilt poured down on me. Even now, as I write about it, I’m tearing up.
I soothed her, and when she was calm, I looked her in the eyes and apologized with every ounce of sincerity in my body. I told her I was wrong; I told her it was a poor example of how to respond; I told her I would try, with all my might, to never yell like that again. I told her how much I love her.
And because she is a child, and children are blessed with an amazing gift for grace, she leaned into me and said, “It’s okay Mommy. Everyone makes mistakes. I still love you.” Which is exactly what I say to her.
I guess sometimes I set a good example after all…
I just wish I could somehow avoid ever setting a bad one.