Sunday, November 26, 2006


"You are not the best!" Benjamin, wailing on his bed, is trying his hardest to think of the meanest insult he can muster using his limited three-year-old vocabulary. His anger started brewing when I suggested he pick up the train tracks circling my coffee table, an idea he viewed as cruel and unusual punishment. "It’s too hard!" he had whined, "You help." I actually had other things on my to-do list besides picking up Benjamin’s mess, so I politely declined as it was really as simple as shoving the tracks off the side into the big plastic tub below. When the whining had pushed one too many of my buttons, I set the timer and told him he had seven minutes to finish the task or he would go straight to nap with no books. The timer dinged, the mess remained, and Ben was carried to his room.

I inherited a very low tolerance for back talk and general displays of unpleasantness. That’s not to say such behavior does not occur in our household, it just means that I am particularly stern when it does. Watching Benji, however, writhe and snort with emotions too large for his small body, I knew that my harsh words would be equivalent to pouring gasoline on a fire. I waited it out, listening for the heavy breathing, a signal that the anger had taken its course and a little boy now lay exhausted in its wake. He was ready to talk, to obey, and to apologize for his disrespect.

My children are not the only victims of rage in our family. Just this week I was humbled again by own lack of self-control. Every Tuesday morning I bolt up, anxious and antsy. This is the day it all goes down. Elijah catches the bus at 7:30am. Priscilla does her school assignment and then she, Ben, baby Mary, and I run to library for the preschool program. After class, we rush back to the house, feed Priscilla and wait for the kindergarten bus to arrive at 11:15am. Then its naps, after-school homework, make dinner, eat dinner, and load up the van to take Elijah to Boy Scouts by 5:30 pm.

This particular Tuesday, all of us woke up late. I dragged Elijah out of bed, got him some breakfast, and asked him for the hundredth time to put his homework folder in his backpack and put on his coat. My seven year old stared at me blankly. "Well?" I persisted "where is your backpack?"
"I don’t know."
"What to you mean you don’t know?" We now had four minutes to get him to the bus, and my insides were starting to warm and simmer.
"I don’t know mom, I put it in the office yesterday. Maybe Ben took it."
With two minutes to go, I started spewing generalizations containing words like "never" and "always", beating with excess vigor an already dead horse. I continued my tirade while opening a cabinet and taking out a plastic shopping bag. "Here, just take this!" Two hazel eyes, narrow with contempt, met my gaze, and grabbing the bag my son ran out the door. Immediately his departure left me cold with regret.

"Can I have some more cereal mom?" From the kitchen, Priscilla, dressed head to toe in purple for "favorite color day" at school, was unscrewing the top off the milk carton.
"That’s fine, just be sure not to spill on your shirt."
"Okay," she assured me.
I could hear bickering from the table but I let it go, hoping it would resolve itself without my interference. Priscilla was looking at a book that Ben felt was rightly his. Suddenly, there was a scream, a splash, and the sound of sobbing. Rather than count to ten, I stormed into the kitchen to see Priscilla drenched in milk and cheerios. My unbridled anger boiled over. I was no more capable of controlling my outburst than of pushing molten lava back into an erupted volcano. "GO TO YOUR ROOMS!" I roared. And two frightened kids rushed to the safety of upstairs, as far as possible from their crazy, psychotic mother.

I was still not ready to let it go. Like Ben, the anger was bigger than myself. Too little sleep, too many plans, and too high of expectations created a noose I was bound to stick my neck in. In the aftermath I sat, head in my hands, agonizing over the path of my destruction. I thought of Elijah, heading out on his own without the support of my affection. I could hear the tiny whimpers of Benjamin and Priscilla, listening with fear for the sound of my feet on the stairs. I was disgusted by the emotional release I let fly at my children’s expense. The damage was done. My words of fury had been hurled impulsively, lodging with permanence in their delicate memories.

There is but one salve to soothe the wounds of an offended heart. With my tail between my legs I tiptoed up the stairs and sat on the bed, next to Priscilla. "Please look at me sweetheart," I requested. Brushing the hair from her face, I swallowed my pride and began the work of owning up to my injustice. "I am very sorry for getting so mad. You did not deserve to be treated like that. I knew the spilled milk was an accident but I overreacted anyway. Will you forgive me?" Priscilla, relishing in my vulnerability, opened her arms and accepted the apology. At just five-years-old, she is beginning to absorb an awareness of her personhood, and with it the power she possesses to either inflict pain or show mercy.

I repeated this exercise in penitence two more times with identical results. Full forgiveness, no questions asked. Children are as resilient as rubber bands, but still capable of snapping if stretched too far. Why is it so much easier to control my annoyance for strangers than to show restraint with those I hold most dear? An apology offered with sincerity builds trust, but an overused apologetic afterthought fosters resentment. To harness a temper is an act of respect communicating more with its silence than a lifetime worth of empty promises being yelled into bullhorn. It will take all my concentration and a ceaseless flow of prayer to keep my lips locked tight on a turbulent Tuesday morning. A frustrated mom is par for the course, kids are extremely competent at pushing our limits. But like it or not, we are the living examples God has chosen for communicating the value of self-discipline to these growing, ever watching creatures, formed with purpose in His image.

I hold my breath and enter the kitchen where my path of salvation sits bickering at the table in the guise of ponytails, spider-man shirts, and sticky faces, red with juice. Sometimes this cross can be so heavy, nearly immovable from the weight of responsibility. Other times it is light with joy and laughter. But every day it is mine to carry, mine to submit to, and mine, with thankfulness, to treasure.


Positive Chaos said...

What a touching and purley honest post! Thanks for sharing!

Sara said...

Thanks again for sharing your heart. I can't tell you how many times I have lost it with my kids, only to feel horrible two seconds later. Then I wonder why my kids express their anger by lashing out at me or each other. Blessedly, our children are quick to forgive. Hope you have a wonderful day!

Anonymous said...


May God have mercy on all of us mothers who have hurt our children with our words. I thank God that our kids are full of mercy and forgiveness. Your post is an encouragement to me as a mom who has lost it one too many times....