I had just finished cleaning the house from top to bottom. I was tired and cranky, feeling underappreciated and premenstrual. After dinner my 5-year-old asked to be excused. I was washing up the baby and I asked him to please hold tight for a minute so I could wipe his hands before he got down. I turned around to rinse the cloth and turned back around to see that, mid-(impatient)-tantrum, he had dumped an entire glass of milk all over the table. It was dripping down both sides of the table and in every crack and crevasse. MILK. EVERYWHERE.
I totally lost my shit.
I yelled–“roared” as my children call it–for him to get upstairs and followed behind, berating him about how I could not believe after how hard I had worked to clean the house he purposefully spilled milk because he couldn’t wait two minutes.
He sobbed and yelled angry, scared, nonsensical things back at me as he stomped up the stairs.
I felt frustrated, mad, and ugly in that moment.
After getting teeth brushed, books read, and prayers sung, I closed the door to my boys’ room. I stood outside the door for a moment and then went back in and climbed into bed with my son.
“I forgot to ask you something very important,” I said. “Did you spill the milk on purpose?”
“It was an accident, Mama. My hand hit the cup. I’m so sorry.”
“No, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have roared at you. You didn’t do anything wrong, I know the milk was an accident. Mama is tired and feeling frustrated. I cleaned all day and honestly I was just sick of cleaning up messes. Accidents happen, it’s no big deal.”
His body softened and he snuggled in close. “Thank you, Mama. For apologizing.”
Every night before I fall asleep I pray. Thankful first, asks second. And my asks are always the same: health and patience. I pray that God will grant me patience with my children, because if I can be more patient I can choose better reactions, better words, and be a better mother.
Friday morning and I’m dragging. All three kids had me up for different reasons throughout the night. Growing pains needed water and a leg massage; nightmares needed new socks and a song; teething needed to be nursed, rocked to sleep, and nursed again. I remember looking at the clock at 2 a.m. trying to calculate how late I could possibly sleep and still get my oldest to preschool on time. He popped up in a great mood and got dressed right away. I packed his lunch and made his breakfast. He knows how to clean up and get ready to go. I went upstairs to wake the babies and when I came back down my 5-year-old was standing in the middle of the living room, shaking and crying the biggest alligator tears.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, startled.
“I, I, was trying to do my chores. I wanted to clean up my breakfast but it just, slipped. The bowl popped off the table!”
As my eyes moved towards the breakfast table he sobbed harder. Granola was everywhere. Like it had rained down granola all over the dining room.
My scared little boy was crying his eyes out with shame.
I bent over and wiped his tears. The moment was still and the voice in my mind whispered, “You did this. He is scared to make mistakes because he is scared of how you will react.”
“Why all the tears?” I asked.
“I don’t want you to roar at me,” he said.
“Oh sweetie. I’m not going to roar. It was an accident. Everyone makes mistakes sometimes. It’s only granola.”
“But now we’re going to be extra late for preschool. And the granola is EVERYWHERE!” He sobbed.
“It’s no big deal. We’ll clean it up together, and then we’ll go to preschool. You did such a great job being a helper this morning. I appreciate that.”
He held the dustpan and we slowed down for five minutes to clean up the granola.
As I walked him into preschool he hugged me tight around the neck and said, “I love you, Mama.”
I arrived back at school later that afternoon to sing Shabbat songs with the preschool class. I watched my children dance around with dinosaur puppets as they sang familiar blessings. After the services the room cleared as children scattered for juice and challah. My son’s teacher pulled me aside.
“I wanted to tell you about something that happened today. We have a coconut tree with all of the letters on it and I put the children’s pictures near their letter. Owen noticed his wasn’t up there and I felt so bad. I had completely forgotten to put a photo of him next to the letter ‘O.’ I really felt terrible and went to find some pictures. He came over, put his hand on my shoulder, and said, ‘It’s OK, don’t feel bad. Everybody makes mistakes sometimes.’”
She went on to say, “What he said–it made my entire year. I really felt better after he said that. I just wanted you to know that you are doing right by him.”
I pray for God to give me patience but what he gives me every day is grace. I found stillness just before Shabbat, and in that stillness I chose the right words. The words my son needed to hear; words I want him to repeat to himself every time something doesn’t go quite right. He listened to my words and extended that same grace to someone else.
No one is perfect, and that is a reality I remind myself of daily. Mistakes leave room for us to grow and do better—I once heard an interpretation that said, “A person can only uphold the teachings of the Torah when he has stumbled in them.”
And every once in a while it comes back around to that little voice in your head:
“It’s OK you yelled about the spilled milk. Everyone makes mistakes. You did better the next time.”