As a mother, I value every note I receive from my daughters, whether they are indescribable scribbles or letters with perfect calligraphy. But on Mother’s Day I received from my 9-year-old daughter a poem that meant so much to me. In fact, the first line made me hold my breath as warm tears streamed down my face.
‘The important thing about my mom is … she’s always there for me, even when I get in trouble.’
You see, this wasn’t always like this.
In the middle of my extremely distracted life, I began a new practice that was very different from my usual behavior. I became a screamer. It didn`t happened all the time, but there were moments that I lived very intensely, as when a balloon inflates too much and it explodes, causing startle and fear.
But what made me lose my temper over my 3 and 6 year old daughters? Was it her insisting on looking for three more collars and her favorite glasses when we were late? Was it that she wanted to serve her cereal alone and throw the whole box on the kitchen table?
Was it that she stumbled and broke a glass angel that was very special to me, even though I told her not to touch it? Was it that she fought like a boxer not to fall asleep right at the moment when I needed more peace and quiet? Is it because the two of them fought for petty things like, for example, who was the first one to get out of the car or the one with the most chocolate syrup on their ice cream?
Yes, it was that kind of typical thing that happens to kids who irritated me to the point of losing control.
It’s not easy to recognize this. Just as it is not easy to revive that stage of my life, because, being honest, I hated myself when those things happened to me. What had I become that I had to shout at the two precious little girls I loved most in life?
Let me tell you what my life was like back then:
The overuse of the cellphone, the overload of commitment, my extensive lists of tasks, and the pursuit of perfection were consuming me. And shouting to those I loved was the direct result of the loss of control I was experiencing in my life.
Inevitably, I collapsed. And I did it precisely in the privacy of my home, in the company of those who were the most important thing in my life.
Until a sad day …
My oldest daughter had climbed onto a stool and was looking for something in the pantry when she accidentally threw a whole packet of rice on the floor. A shower of tiny grains scattered on the floor. When she saw that, the girl’s eyes filled with tears. And that was when I could see the fear in her eyes as she prepared for his mother’s violent scolding.
‘She’s afraid of me,’ I thought with the most painful understanding you could imagine. ‘My six-year-old daughter is scared of my reaction to an innocent mistake.’
With deep sorrow, I realized that I did not want to live like this for the rest of my life and that I was not the mother I wanted for my daughters.
A few weeks after that episode I hit bottom. It was a moment of painful awareness that propelled me on a journey of liberation to detach myself from distractions and to understand what really mattered in life. It was two and a half years of slowly reducing the excesses and electronic distractions … two and a half years of breaking free of the unreachable standards of perfection and that inner voice, guided by social pressures, that told me ‘do it all’.
As I left my inner and outer distractions, the anger and stress I had repressed within me slowly dissipated. More relieved, I was able to react to the mistakes and bad deeds of my daughters in a more calm, compassionate, and reasonable way.
For example, I started to say things like, ‘It’s just chocolate syrup. No problem, you can clean it and the kitchen table will be like new ‘(instead of throwing a furious look and rolling my eyes).
I offered to hold the broom while she swept a sea of cereal that covered the floor. (Instead of standing next to her with a look of disapproval and utter annoyance.)
I helped her think about where her glasses might be. (Instead of complaining about her irresponsibility).
And at the moments when exhaustion and rage were about to overtake me, I would go into the bathroom, close the door, and take a moment to breathe deeply and remind myself that they are children, and children make mistakes. Just as I also made them.
Over time, the fear that once shone in the eyes of my daughters when they were in trouble disappeared. And thank God, I became a refuge to go to in difficult times, instead of being an enemy to flee and hide.
I don’t know if I had written about this profound transformation were it not for the incident that occurred last Monday. At that moment I savored how overwhelming life can be and how the urge to scream can quickly seize me. I was finishing the last few chapters of the book I am currently writing and my computer got stuck.
Suddenly the last three chapters I had been correcting disappeared before my eyes. I spent a few minutes trying to get back to the last version of the manuscript. When that failed, I tried to find out if I had a backup on my computer. Realizing that I was never going to get back to work, I felt like crying, and even worse … I wanted to roar like a lion.
But I could not because it was time to pick up the children from school and take them to swimming. With great restraint, I closed my laptop very quietly and reminded myself that I might have had a much worse problem than rewriting these chapters. Then I said to myself: there is absolutely nothing I can do about this problem at this time.
When my kids got into the car, they immediately realized that something was wrong. ‘Is something wrong, Mom?’ They asked me in unison, having taken a look at my pale face.
I felt like shouting, ‘I lost three days of work in my book!’
I wanted to punch the wheel because the last place I wanted to be was sitting in the car. I wanted to go home and fix my book, not take the girls to swim, drain their wet swimsuits, comb their tangled hair, make dinner, wash the dishes and lay them down.
But instead, I said calmly, ‘It upsets me to talk right now. I lost part of the book I’m writing. And I do not want to talk because I feel very frustrated. ‘
‘We are very sorry,’ said one of my kids. And then, as if they knew I needed solitude, they stayed calm all the time they were in the pool. For the rest of the day I was calmer than ever, I did not shout at them and I did my best not to think about the subject of the book.
At the end of the day, after I laid my youngest daughter down I sat on the edge of the older woman’s bed to talk to her for a while.
‘Do you think you can retrieve your chapters? I wonder.
And that’s when I started to cry, not so much for the lost chapters, since I knew I could rewrite them. But my anguish had more to do with how exhausting and frustrating it can be to write and edit a book. It had been so close to the end. Feeling that I had been robbed of that possibility was incredibly disappointing.
To my surprise, my daughter came up to me and stroked my hair gently as she said some very reassuring words: ‘Computers can be very frustrating,’ ‘I could take a look to see if we can recover the chapters.’ And finally: Mom, you can do this. You’re the best writer I know, ” I’ll help you with everything I can. ‘
In my difficult moments, she was there encouraging me, very patient and compassionate, never taking advantage of my moment of weakness.
My daughter would never have learned to be empathetic if I had remained a shout. The shouts extinguish communication, break the bonds, cause people to separate rather than approaching.
‘The important thing is … that my mom is always there for me, even when I get in trouble.’
The important thing is … it’s not too late to stop screaming.
The important thing is … that children forgive, especially if they see that the person they love is trying to change.
The important thing is … that life is too short to get angry for little things like spilled cereal or shoes out of place.
The important thing is … that no matter what happened yesterday, today is a new day.
Today we can choose to respond peacefully.
When we do, we will be teaching our children that peace builds bridges, bridges that will take us away from problems.