They make me a better person


Veteran’s Day was  one of those days fraught with the potential for yelling.  The kids didn’t have school, but I had to work.  How difficult would it be to cram my job into a few hours so that I could be present to and with them for the others?  I managed to clear a couple of hours in the morning.  We went to paint pottery, specifically ornaments for the grandparents.

The painting was somewhat frustrating, and Whit had a hard time with the small, detailed work of writing his name with a paintbrush.  We muddled through, though, and after a while it was time to go.  Grace and Whit cleaned up while I took our painted ornaments to the kiln pile.  The children were picking out lollipops and I was paying when I noticed that our table was still strewn with paper towels, half-filled water cups, and a wet paint brush.  Frustrated, I went to clean off the table.

As we walked out of the store, I vented my dismay at Grace and Whit.  I told them sternly that I was disappointed.  And then Grace, not looking, stepped into the busy street as cars approached.  I yelped and grabbed her arm, panicked.  The morning’s happy mood disintegrated with lightning speed.  As we drove home toxic clouds of aggravation filled the car.   Suddenly I was in a terrible mood.  Isn’t it amazing how fast things can change?  In both directions, indeed.

We got home and I stalked upstairs to my desk.  Intellectually, I knew I had overreacted but I was prickling all over and felt overwhelmed with irritation and frustration.  I answered work emails in silence.  I heard Whit puttering with the Legos in the other room.  After a solid twenty  minutes he crept in and offered me a green flower made out of Legos and a hand-written note.

Dear Mummy,
I love you more than Legos and books combined.  I hope you know I’m sorry for not helping you clean up. Love Whit

I began to bawl. This is what love is, I thought.

I asked him to come into my office and he did, gingerly.  I pulled him onto my lap, which is awkward now because he is so long.  I buried my head in his shoulder, crying.  I apologized, and after a few minutes we went down to Grace’s room.  She too had written me an apology.  I sat on her bed, a child on each side of me, tears running down my face.  I told them I was sorry.  I told them I had overreacted and I had been wrong.  “The two of you make me a better person,” I said, and I meant it.  I want to be worth of their devotion, their faith, their love.  The redemptive power of their willingness to abide with me, even when I am wretched, was tangible in the room.

“Should we start this day over?” Grace asked.

“No, I don’t think so.  It was a really nice day until the last hour. Maybe we should just erase an hour,” Whit offered.  I nodded.

We decided to go out to get burritos and as we drove we talked about forgiveness and the ability to move on.  I’ve told them many times, and I firmly believe, that this – the ability to put something behind you, to say I’m sorry and mean it, to start fresh – is one of the true keys to happiness.  It is unrealistic to imagine that we won’t all have bad days, with yelling and irritation and black moods.  But being able to roll through those, devotion and affection intact, to forgive and to move on?

That is where true love lives.

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  1. MD
    Posted November 20, 2013 at 2:32 am | Permalink

    Sigh. I have these moments with the kids too. The regret of my outbursts sticks with me for hours and days after. I know you are right about the importance of being able to let go and move on, but I fear that my kids are not yet old enough or sophisticated enough to let my bad moments go by. I hope that my apologies and owning up when I’ve been in the wrong, teaches them that it’s okay to make mistakes and okay to get frustrated as long as they accept responsibility for their actions. But I wish I could identify my triggers to avoid the outbursts in the first place. I aspire to be able to roll with the accidents and delays more seamlessly. Really, is spilled milk (again!) such a big deal? 🙂

  2. Posted November 20, 2013 at 6:00 am | Permalink

    That note from Whit is the best. I love how he added the (combined)! I can’t tell you how many of these same experiences we have had. The overreaction, the notes, the tears and the love. It is all part of this journey I guess. Thank you for sharing these moments with us.

    admin Reply:

    Yes. This journey. The switchbacks and views both still take my breath away!

  3. Ari
    Posted November 20, 2013 at 6:10 am | Permalink

    Yes, yes and yes. Begin again … no matter what.

    admin Reply:

    That’s a lesson I seem to need to re-learn every day.

  4. Posted November 20, 2013 at 7:44 am | Permalink

    Yes, those days happen around here too. I always feel miserable after it happens, mostly because I always seem to be the sole reason that the household mood can shift as though we live over a fault line. My husband and daughter are much sunnier, more even keeled folks. In the past year I’ve tried to approach my accountability slightly differently. Obviously something triggered my response (like what happened to you at the pottery place) and so now I find myself more apologizing for the way I said something, rather than having said it at all. It’s a slight difference but one that doesn’t let my daughter off the hook for her own personal responsibility either. I shine the mirror toward her too; when she’s upset about something that I did, I let her know that it’s OK to tell me what she said, but not necessarily how she said it. I think it gives me (and her) more room to be expressive and human with much less hurt feelings. But it’s totally a struggle to put into daily practice, that’s for sure!

    admin Reply:

    Oh, I like that distinction a lot. In this particular example I apologized for what felt like an emotional overreaction, but, just as you say, I did maintain that they ought to have cleaned up. I agree with you it’s an important nuance.

  5. Peter
    Posted November 20, 2013 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    forgiveness and the ability to move on…what a wonderful thing to teach our children….it is a shame so few adults remember this. P

    admin Reply:

    It is hard for me to remember, but I keep tripping and then reminding myself. Every single day.

  6. Posted November 20, 2013 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    {tears} so honest, so real, so relatable. thank you for reminding me that i am never alone in my struggles and that saying “I’m sorry” and moving on are can bring healing and peace. i love your writing.

    admin Reply:

    Thank you so, so much. From someone whose writing I esteem so highly this really means a lot. We are never alone! xox

  7. jj
    Posted November 20, 2013 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    Beautiful post.

    admin Reply:

    Thank you. xox

  8. Christina
    Posted November 20, 2013 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    Love this post – for the honesty AND the relevance. Research shows that growing up in a conflict-free household is actually not as beneficial for kids as you might think (nor is it realistic, as you pointed out). Witnessing and experiencing conflict *and learning appropriate ways to apologize and sincerely resolve issues* is crucial to helping them grow into well-adjusted adults. Bravo to you and Matt for clearly steering Gracie and Whit in the right direction. (((HUGS)))

    admin Reply:

    It’s actually really helpful to hear this. I guess instinctively I have always believed there’s value in seeing that people can disagree and still love each other a lot, but I hadn’t heard that there was research to support it. Thank you!! xoxo

  9. Matt Russell
    Posted November 20, 2013 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    Great post.

    admin Reply:

    Thank you, dear one. xox

  10. Posted November 20, 2013 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    I admire your willingness to tell your kids that you were sorry. Not everyone embraces that concept. I think it makes a big difference if they see you sincerely apologize after a mistake. It turned this situation from a bad hour into a learning experience for all of you.
    Well done!

    admin Reply:

    Thank you. I tell my kids I’m sorry and that I was wrong pretty frequently. I personally think it’s important to acknowledge when that’s true.

  11. Posted November 20, 2013 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    I had a day just like this last week. It’s so terrible when it happens but so human. I agree with the comments above…forgiveness (of yourself, too!) and moving on. Great lesson for kids and adults. Love the honesty of your post, xoxo

    admin Reply:

    Thank you. Nice to know I’m not alone (though sorry you can relate!). xo

  12. Amy
    Posted November 20, 2013 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    What a beautiful lesson your children have learned. Thank you for sharing with us.

    admin Reply:

    Thank YOU. xox

  13. Posted November 20, 2013 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    lovely. we have had many hours like this, and like you we practice the forgiveness and creating a better rest of the day. Well said! Thank you.

    admin Reply:

    Thank YOU. I appreciate knowing that you can relate. xox

  14. Posted November 20, 2013 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    “The redemptive power of their willingness to abide with me, even when I am wretched, was tangible in the room.” As I read these words of yours, I felt that feeling so palpably. I have been there, in tears, sitting on one of the beds of my own children. I agree with you that love lives here, and in our decision to begin again. xox

  15. Posted November 20, 2013 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    Just what I needed to read after a crazy day yesterday with my almost 2 year old…I’m not alone. Thanks for being so real.

    admin Reply:

    Definitely not alone. xoxo

  16. Posted November 20, 2013 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    Lovely. Thank you, Lindsey.

    admin Reply:

    Thank you. xox

  17. Rachel
    Posted November 20, 2013 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

    They are the best! This post made me smile because I know exactly how you feel about overreacting. I love this post even more because of your two amazing children. They are sweet, compassionate, and caring children, you are truly blessed! I love the flower it is the sweetest thing I have seen made from Legos.

    admin Reply:

    Thank you! I can’t tell you how much it means to me to know you read this. xoxo

  18. Posted November 20, 2013 at 11:16 pm | Permalink

    Yes. This is love. There’s nothing like a note from your kid to make the pieces of your world fall into place again.

    admin Reply:

    That’s the truth, isn’t it!

  19. Posted November 22, 2013 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    That letter just kills me:). I concur with you thoughts on being able to apologize and move own. But why sometimes is it so hard?

    admin Reply:

    I have no idea why so hard. It shouldn’t be, but it is!

  20. Posted November 22, 2013 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    Writing through tears (well, it’s all tears this week, as I mourn the loss of Gracie, our final link to my own boys’ long-gone childhoods). As I sifted through a box in the basement in search of a few mementoes to share with Jack on his 21st birthday, I found several such notes — sweet, earnest apologies for hurts that no one could possibly remember. I’m so glad I saved those notes, though: each a reminder of just how challenging life with young children could be, how a day could indeed turn in a moment, and how love always healed the pain. You are doing beautiful work, my friend, as both mother and writer.

    admin Reply:

    Thank you so much. I’m so sorry for your loss. You have been on my mind all week. xox

  21. Posted November 22, 2013 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    How beautiful! Isn’t it amazing how much our children can teach us? You are very blessed. Thank you for sharing this. I too can become frustrated and over-react. The fact that you apologized, as well, is a lesson to them. We are all capable of mistakes and owning them is how we improve.
    I simply loved this!

    admin Reply:

    Thank you so much. I really appreciate your kind words. xox

  22. Colleen
    Posted December 3, 2013 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    Indeed things can change so fast with little ones! This is a wonderful reminder of the power of asking forgiveness. Thank you so much for sharing.

  23. Posted January 1, 2014 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    It is such a comfort that you post these difficult moments as well as the glorious ones. Thank you! THis is beautiful!!