“No! Nooooooo! I don’t want to!” Feet stomped above me, clomp, clomp, clomp! A door slammed. Something hit the wall with a muffled thud. (Mr. Potato Head? A Dr. Suess book?)
I sat in the basement office listening to my daughter screaming upstairs. At the babysitter. Yes, lovely, I know. This was supposed to be my time to catch up on paperwork, but instead I fretted over how to intervene.
I can’t go upstairs, I thought. The baby would see me—kicking her separation anxiety into high gear—and I’d struggle to return to the basement while she cries for Momma, Momma, Momma! Then surely all hope of getting anything done would fly out the window—which, I might add, was open for the neighbors to hear this delightful hissy fit.
Should I send the babysitter packing? I considered my options. And I resorted to trickery.
“Honey, will you please call home and tell Clara you can hear her sassing?” I begged my husband for help, disrupting him at work. Since our four-year-old learned to recognize her dad’s name on caller ID, I often let her answer when he calls. We hung up and waited for her to take the bait.
One ring, two rings. . . darn, maybe the sitter put her in a time-out. Three rings, four rings. . . gotcha! Sneaky Mom eavesdropped on the office phone.
“Are you being good?” my husband interrogated.
“Yes, Daddy.” Oo, a lie.
“Really? Well, I think I can hear you all the way at my office.”
I pictured my daughter’s darling blue eyes widening in fear and awe. “I’m sorry, Daddy. I was being naughty.”
“You’d better behave, or no popsicle after supper tonight.”
“Okay, Dad. I’ll be good. I love you, Daddy.”
Ah, peace. A few minutes later, papers rustled at the top of the stairs. Clara drew pictures and slid them under the door. I collected my offering of purple crayon flowers with “TOMOMFROMCLARA” scrawled across the sheets.
How can a child be so unruly one moment and so darn sweet the next? Well, let me think.
This morning I made heart-shaped toast for my daughters served with a smiley face of grapes and strawberries. That was sweet.
Two minutes later, Clara spilled her juice, and I scolded her for being clumsy. That was not sweet.
I brushed Clara’s hair and told her how beautiful God made her. Sweet.
Then she ran away and hid from the torture of an attempted ponytail, making us late for music class, so I flung the hairbrush across the room. Not sweet.
Later I cheered while my girls shared drum mallets. Awww, sweet.
Then on the way home, I grew tired of my preschool passenger asking for the seventh time, “Mom, are you driving the speed limit?” (I was). So I snapped and told her to let me drive. Not sweet.
You get the idea. Truth is, I am worse than inconsistent. I’m unpredictable. Why is my pot so quick to boil over?
When my four-year-old stands with hands on her hips, lips pursed, eyes narrowed and staring me down, I look at her and I see. . .
In her scowl, her body language, her impulse to throw things out of frustration. I model this for her, and she tosses it back in my face, as if God is holding a mirror to my ugly side.
“Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools,” (Ecclesiastes 7:9). According to the Bible, my little temper habit—my easily provoked spirit—makes me, by God’s definition, a fool.
Darn, that stings. I’d call myself a lot of things—impatient, tired, frazzled—but not foolish. Surely you’re not talking about me, Lord. I know my triggers. I snap when I’m distracted, thinking about my to-do list. When I’m worried or feeling anxious. When I’m living in my head and not in the moment. That’s when my children become an interruption rather than my focus, a signal that it’s time to rearrange my priorities. Cut me some slack, Lord! Fools are those other people. Right?
Wrong. Look in the mirror, Becky. When I allow myself to throw tantrums, I’m playing the fool—and I’m teaching my children to do the same.
“These pictures are fantastic!” I shouted up the stairs.
“Thanks, Momma!” Clara replied, giggling as the babysitter shepherded my girls outside to play.
Sweet, I thought. I’ll take it while it lasts. I imagine God says the same thing about me. He knows I’m still growing up. And like a good parent, he loves me unconditionally, tantrums and sweetness and all. And for that, I am forever grateful.