To the Editor:
I blew up at my 11-year-old daughter last night over gingerbread. You've maybe seen the scene before: rock-hard cookies, colorful candies, green confectioner's glue, and some "determined" holiday cheer. With my own cookie project underway, I looked on all this and thought to myself, this is a really bad time for the gingerbread project; it's too late, we're all tired ... but it's her project. Be positive. Well that mantra worked for all of three minutes until the green paste made its way to her arms and legs, floor and chairs. It might have been OK if she was enjoying herself, but the whole time she looked kind of reproachful as if to say, you promised me we'd do this together tonight! And that's where I lost it. I grabbed my sponge and frantically began swiping in large arcing motions hissing, "If you haven't noticed I'm making cookies for your class! You decided to push ahead with this project ..."
Then the tears came.
I looked imploringly at my husband who just sat there, watching my little spectacle, and then I peeked at Eliza feeling a mixture of indignation and guilt. It was one of those parenting moments when you know you've stepped over the line, but you feel so justified and can't quite stop yourself from pressing the issue further. My husband didn't budge; he just looked at me. In that silent but painful communiquÃ©, I turned away and clamped my mouth to reconsider my strategy; I could continue to vent about her mess (I was "right" after all), but it was at this point that I stopped myself and wondered about my own rapid pulse. What was with all the exasperation? She wasn't giving me an attitude, complaining or anything; she was just doing her "creative project thing" like she always does.
She stood quiet and thoughtful, trying as best she could to hold her house upright, so I began my attempt. "Eliza, I'm sorry for getting so angry with you. I'm not very good at doing several projects at once, and the messiness put me on edge. I'm kind of frustrated that you wouldn't accept no for an answer when I told you that tonight wasn't a good time for the gingerbread house. Still, I'm sorry for how I reacted." And then, predictably, silence.
"Why does my house look so messy? It's nothing like the one on the box ..." We were on the mend.
That night I thought about my apology and how vulnerable I felt in that moment of decision and admission. As usual, I wanted to have all the answers and just be angry because I was not only right, I was the parent! Truth be told though, that would have been the easy way out because deep down I knew that she wasn't the cause of my annoyance. In a moment when I was convinced she just needed to understand me, it turned out I just needed to take a breath and assume some responsibility. I thought about the adage about the apple not falling far from the tree. Painful as it is, I, too, can be a person who won't accept no for an answer. Just ask my husband. It seems to me that our kids can offer great teaching moments if we can find the humility to clear our own dust and discover what they have to teach. This holiday it would help for me to keep that in mind when I'm set to pounce over the gingerbread.
St. Johnsbury, Vt.