One evening, after a particularly long day along with Isabella, I was watching a movie I had started while she took an afternoon nap. When she woke up she started playing alone pretty happily, so I sat on the couch eating an apple, hoping to watch the last half hour of my movie.
Then she started getting restless. She went in the kitchen and asked for something that I wouldn’t give her or didn’t have, chocolate or cookies or something. She started to get angry. I started to get frustrated that I couldn’t hear the movie. She went into a full-blown tantrum, screaming and crying and stomping her feet.
I don’t remember exactly what she was upset about, but I remember with perfect clarity thinking how satisfying it would be to hurl my apple across the room at our front door.
I remember the way the apple, only 2 or 3 bites missing, burst on the front door when I acted on that urge.
I remember how Isabella, still standing in the kitchen and safely away from the door, fell suddenly silent.
I remember striding across the room, picking up the larger pieces, and throwing them against the floor, tiny pieces flying everywhere.
I remember Isabella peeking her head around the corner of the kitchen wall and watching, wide eyed, as I lost my shit.
I remember how she started to cry.
You know what? For a few seconds, it was satisfying to destroy that apple. But I’m never going to be able to forget the look on her face when I whipped around. My anger melted into shame instantaneously.
Even though it’s been nearly two weeks, Isabella remembers, too. She frequently remarks, “throw apple,” gesturing towards our entryway that was the scene of fruit carnage that evening. Sometimes she comments that the floor is sticky. She brings it up at seemingly random moments.
I apologized immediately after my outburst. I sat down with her and told her that even though I was frustrated by her tantrum, it was wrong for me to throw that apple and yell. I told her I was very, very sorry. I asked for her forgiveness, and she gave me a kiss, and we sat on the floor surrounded by millions of tiny apple fragments and hugged. After I finished cleaning up, we shared a piece of cheesecake and giggled and cuddled.
But she keeps bringing it up and I have to relive those awful moments every time. I realize that she needs to talk about it because it was a significant event for her, so I’m helping her process it by re-telling the story with her, and it comes up less and less.
But I’ve had a wake-up call. I realized today that, Oh God, it’s happened. Isabella is old enough to remember my mistakes, old enough to recount them to me. She’s old enough to have significant events etched into her heart. Oh, God, help me.
I don’t make a habit of throwing produce and shouting at my child, but I have my moments. And a time is coming very soon when I will be put back through the hardest challenge I’ve ever faced: caring for a newborn. Only this time, a small child will be witness to my behavior. A child to whom I am the universe. A child that remembers my actions and builds her beliefs about her growing world around them.
I’ve struggled with anger as long as I can remember, and it’s clear that I need to deal with it, now, at any cost. I just don’t really know how. Yes, I believe God can change my heart, and I should take it to Him in prayer, etc, etc, but my behavior is my sole responsibility. In my reading of scripture there is a clear emphasis on self-control, and I’ve never been able to develop much regarding my notoriously quick temper.
I wrote and rewrote the ending of this post a million times, each one a variation of “I can’t control this anger.” But that’s a lie. I am not powerless over my power. I am not the Hulk. I am a human being with an option to sin or not sin.
When it comes down to it, I make a choice. I can talk all I want about my lack of self-control, about what feels like an overwhelming biological reaction, but I’ve always had the self-control to keep from physically hurting my child. Clearly, I make a choice not to act on certain urges, and a choice to act on others.
The fright and surprise I saw in my precious child’s eyes that day comes back to my mind, fresh and raw as if it had just happened, every time I start to feel the tension build and the heat rise in my belly. I scared her, and I won’t do it again.