As we walk into Ezra’s school building this morning, he gleefully announces to the receptionist, the nearby teachers, and one or two families in the adjacent waiting room: “My mama just got really angry!” Given that he delivered it with a smile, I suppose it might have been worse, but judging by the comments and snickers from the assorted onlookers, I’m guessing folks were feeling my pain. Mercifully, I HAD BEEN angry but was no longer, or that little episode would have slid right past humorous and down into enraging.
You understand, I’m sure, how mornings can produce anger: the running around, the running late, things running down small faces that had been, just moments ago, ready to go. Ezra decided to practice spitting by himself, which involved dribbling water all over his carefully-chosen (by him, at great length and with much turmoil) shirt. Malachi decided to practice tooth-brushing on his own, which I’m all too happy to encourage, until I caught him scrubbing the fireplace bricks with his toothbrush. The sidewalk is icy; the sippy cup is empty; the baby is halfway up the stairs. Not a soul is listening to what I have to say. It’s all a little much. So of course I got angry. And I yelled. A door may or may not have been slammed.
In the car on the way to school, Ezra seemed unusually quiet, and then unusually chipper and cheerful. As a child who often put on a happy face to bring my own family back to equilibrium (or at least civility), I was suddenly visited by the specter of all those burdens I never want him to carry. Immediately, the anger was gone, and in its place was the sensible, loving, compassionate mama I like to think I usually am. “Gosh,” I said to Ezra. “Mama was really angry there for a little bit, huh.”
“I’m sorry I was so angry. I’m sorry I yelled. I know you and Malachi were doing things that weren’t ideal, but you’re kids.”
I know you’re working on how to be a better listener, and I’m going to work on not yelling and slamming things. Next time Mama gets that angry, she’s going to take a deep breath and say: ‘Wow! I’m really really angry. I’m going to give myself a time out to calm down.’ Does that sound like a good idea?”
“Yeah.” Then, a moment later, “Hey, Mama, I want to see the purple finch at my feeder.” Okay, buddy, we’ll keep an eye out after school.
Anne Lamott says we have a chance to start a new 24 hours any time we choose. Pema Chodron says: “This is our choice in every moment. Do we relate to our circumstances with bitterness or with openness?” Yes and yes. And yes. That small window, that tiny glimpse of reality in the middle of all the chaos — that can help us be open to what is rather than what we wish were. And what IS might be infuriating in small ways, but it’s also pretty darn amazing in all the biggest ways: my kids so focused on their activities that they tune out the world; my kids learning the skills that will support them long after they’re out of my grasp. (Plus, hey — my fireplace bricks got a little scrubbing for the first time in their lives. Just so long as they don’t expect it to happen again.) We breathe in. We breathe out.