Tonight, I was washing by hand the large dishes that didn’t fit in the dishwasher when my daughter asked to help.
“It’ll go faster,” she argued. “I’ll wash them and you put them in that thing [the dish drainer].” Although I was skeptical that help from a five-year-old would speed up the process, I had her bring her stool over and help me scrub. In the meantime, my husband was brushing his teeth in the bathroom while our son toddled back and forth carrying a clean pair of underwear, which he used to wipe down the floor, the tables, the dishwasher, and the chairs. He was off in the dining room when I heard a thunk.
There is a difference between a thunk that accompanies a routine toddler fall and a thunk that accompanies a more serious fall. This was the latter type of thunk.
I rushed into the dining room without drying my hands, and by the time I’d crossed the 15 feet to where my son sat on the floor, he was screaming and rubbing his right eye. His eye looked swollen already, and as I picked him up, I saw that there was blood near the outer corner of his eye. I had a flashback to the night nearly a year ago when my daughter cut her face in about the same spot and needed two stitches to close up the wound. My mind jumped to how much more challenging that type of ER trip would be with a 13-month-old than it had been with a four-year-old. I tried to remain calm as I comforted my son so he’d stop squinching up his eye, and I could get a look at how big a cut he had.
“Honey, please get me a gauze square from the first aid kit,” I asked my husband calmly over the baby’s cries.
“Where’s the first aid kit?”
I looked at him incredulous.
“What’s a first aid kit?” my daughter asked. She was standing with us, hands still wet and soapy from the sink. My son was still screaming.
“On the top shelf of the white bookshelf in the office, where it’s been for the past two years,” I answered my husband, a little less calmly.
“Where?” he asked.
I repeated the information at a loud volume and with the addition of at least two expletives.
“What’s a first aid kit, Mommy?” my daughter asked again.
“It’s a thing that has band-aids and stuff in it to help when someone gets hurt,” I answered.
“Which bookshelf?” my husband asked. I carried my son into the office, reached up, and took down the first aid kit.
“This [expletive] bookshelf!” I yelled. I walked back to the sofa carrying my son and the first aid kit.
“Could you please get out a piece of gauze? I’ve only got one hand here,” I snapped at my husband as I fumbled with the zipper on the kit. My daughter, hands still soapy, sat on the coffee table directly in front of me and the baby, who was now nursing and starting to calm down.
“Oh!” she said when she saw the gauze, “That’s the same thing as when I had my stitches!”
“Yes, it is,” I answered, starting to press the gauze against the wound. After clearing away the blood, I found that it had stopped bleeding and was smaller than I’d worried it would be. I blotted the cut again and tried to see how close to his eye it extended.
“Can I do it?” my daughter asked, starting to take the gauze from my hand.
“No, you may not,” I answered sternly.
“Why not?” she asked, hurt. “Why not, Mommy?”
“Mommy’s taking care of it, Sweetie Pie,” my husband explained.
“But I can take care of it,” she insisted.
The baby stopped nursing and looked around. He still had tears on his cheeks and was zub-zubbing, but he smiled at his sister and signed that he wanted some medicine.
“Honey, can you get the arnica for us?” I asked. “The pellets, not the cream.” Although I use homeopathy, I’m comfortable with the knowledge that it could, in fact, be merely a placebo. Placebos can be very effective. “It’s on top of the bread box,” I added when he paused, and I could tell he was trying to decide whether it was safe to ask where it was or not.
“I’ll feed it to him!” My daughter reached for the container when my husband returned.
“No, I’ll give it to him,” I said.
“I’ll just give him one of them,” she negotiated.
“No, I’ll give it to him,” I repeated, more sternly this time.
“Sweetie Pie, Mommy’s going to give the medicine to him this time,” my husband said.
“Then I’ll give it to him next time.”
I gave him the pellets, and he signed, “More medicine.”
“Wait a few minutes, Pudding Cake,” I said, “then you can have some more.”
“He can have more because it’s a bad cut, like when I got my stitches.”
“No, I don’t think it’s that bad,” I said.
“More medicine,” the baby signed again.
“OK, one more pellet,” I capitulated.
“I’ll feed it to him!”
After my daughter had given him the additional pellet, he started to nurse again. I had set the gauze on the coffee table, and my daughter picked it up and started patting the cut with it.
“Get out of here!” I yelled. She started to cry.
“You shouldn’t say it in that voice,” she cried.
“Mommy’s worried about the baby,” my husband explained. “Come over here, and give her some space.”
I felt awful. I felt overwhelmed and out of control. I refused to look at my crying daughter.
The baby signed, “Down,” and slid off my lap and toddled off. He seemed fine, so my husband watched the kids while I finished the dishes and breathed. By the time my daughter came into the kitchen wrapped in her towel, fresh from the shower, I was feeling calm and contrite. I squatted down and hugged her as she sat on my knee.
“I’m sorry I yelled at you, Sweetie Pie,” I said, kissing her head and smelling her clean hair. “I was scared, but I should have been more gentle.”
“It’s OK, Mom,” she said immediately.
It’s amazing to me how forgiving my children are of my shortcomings. Every time I yell, I put another tick-mark in the “Awful Mom” column, but my daughter doesn’t seem to see it that way. Both children come to me for comfort, even if I’m the one who upset them in the first place.
There are many reasons that it was understandable that I yelled tonight: Between the baby’s fever and his separation anxiety, and our busy weekend, I’ve not had alone time since Monday of last week. I’ve not gotten a lot of sleep while the baby’s been sick, so I’m more tired than usual. I was worried that the baby’s cut would require stitches and feeling angry with myself that I wasn’t watching him closer when he got hurt. I’ve been fantasizing about cupcakes and frosting-filled cookie sandwiches all day today.
But I still have this feeling that I should never lose control, regardless of the circumstances.
The fact that the very person whom I hurt by yelling readily forgave me when I apologized is probably a sign that I could be a little easier on myself. What I’m trying to do with this project—change my behaviors, thoughts, and perceptions—is very ambitious. I’ve experienced some really exciting changes, but that doesn’t mean that I can or should expect perfection from myself.
So, while I would like to remember to breathe before I get angry and to find ways to meet my needs for alone time even during busy times so I don’t feel so overwhelmed, I also feel grateful to my daughter for reminding me about the importance of forgiving myself when I don’t live up to my standards.
It’s not ideal if I yell, but it’s OK. I’ll try again next time.