Musings #2: Broken Dish, Fractured Feelings, and a Lot of Glue
Catalysts come in many forms.
This was an uninspired, stock white cheap dish now laying in wrecked pieces. It was among the first things I bought for my apartment in my twenties from a store that no longer exists, but it was not precious to me. An uninspired one of many. When my daughter broke it, I overreacted and broke off a piece of her spirit and reduced it to shards.
The day before yesterday in the evening, she had asked if she could wash dishes for me. I mumbled, “What!?” I rarely do dishes myself, giving that task mainly to the dishwasher. She’d watched a cartoon that had shown a child learning to wash the dishes and had decided that she, too, could also do this. I muttered something about maybe giving her some unbreakable dishes to wash the next day then promptly forgot about it. The next afternoon, she asked to do the dishes in a way that seemed like she was asking for a quarter to ride the faded kiddie ride at the Walmart. I was in the middle of having a much needed cup of coffee and quiet and anything seemed better than the exasperation of listening to my two spawn fighting over the “one toy” in a sea of similar toys. So I said, okay. I’d like to say that I said yes in order to foster her sense of family participation, responsibility, self-sufficiency and community. That may have crossed my mind for a millisecond, but to be honest was not the primary motivation in that moment.
I got the water at the right temperature, gave her a sponge and let her wash the three white bowls we’d used that morning. I left her to it. I resumed my mental break; craved it; needed it. I even let her almost three year old brother stand beside her and amuse himself with his color changing cars beside her. I know you are thinking I was crazy giving her an actual dish to wash, and that it was asking for trouble. Maybe it was asking to be broken, but I didn’t have anything emotionally vested in those dishes and I was really okay at that time. I knew she could do it, she handles actual dishes every day to bring them to the sink, and I trusted her to be cautious. She’s five and more than capable of washing a little dish, and since it would give a moment to myself it was game for the win-win. Kids Unleashed is a good thing.
She finished, showed me, and put them on the counter as I instructed so I could put them away. Acknowledging words were spoken. Five year old pride was charged. I felt righteous in letting her handle it. Only a few drops of water were on the floor. “Thank you. They look really clean. Just put them on the counter. I’ll put them away in a bit.” And they were really clean. She meticulously removed every trace of stain and food. Happy smiles all around.
Then the fighting started. Again.
“Okay, enough at the sink. Leave the dishes alone; time to go play.” It has already been a full morning of bickering; I had no energy left.
Screeching and more protesting against each other. Again. I approach and raise my voice a notch, “Enough!” I did not offer anything more.
It continued for several minutes. I return and I yelled, “Hey! What did I say!” My coffee buzz is now gone. Every bead and dot of stress in my brain coalesced into one massive, molten ball. Big stress, little stress, year’s stress, and daily stress.
No one is listening. Again.
There is a quiet from them and I turn my attention to reading some mail for work and amusement. Then I hear the explosive, shattering crash. I exploded unexpectedly. Anyone hurt? No. The dishes had already been cleaned; how on Earth did that happen! That massive molten ball unleashed. I yelled and growled and cut her down and berated her brother that I was sure had a hand in the whole mess. Before I had even finished with the verbal hurling she was balling and apologizing blubbering that she wanted to make them nice and showing me a fork she was washing (In retrospect, I assume she hit a dish off the counter with her elbow during a pushing match with her brother). It was a ten second rant, but she was crushed all the same. I clamped my mouth shut and took a breath; her face was crumpled; her brother forgot about himself and was only concerned for her saying, “Sista shad.” I was horrified with myself because as I was yelling, I felt good as I was doing it. Gas out of a corked bottle. I scooped her up and hugged her and I apologized profusely. I’ve exploded in exasperation before, but not connected over something that was so important to her — something that had likely made her feel nervous and vulnerable. I felt like I had just stepped on a pristine, primordial mound and forever left my lumbering foot print on it.
I tried really hard to glue back what I’d broken with hugs, apologies, acknowledgment of hurting, and a talk. The dish was not salvageable–a catalyst at most–it was unimportant. It wasn’t even about the dish; it could have easily been some other random event that set off the cascade. They are so little yet, I really hope that I didn’t leave a lasting impression. We talked about yelling, listening and the daily fighting, too. In the future, I need to release my safety valve more and not let everything build up, that way it won’t feel good to explode and I’ll have a chance to redirect before it happens. Yelling is such a trigger for me, it has been really difficult to get a handle on it as the children get older and I am not getting those moments alone to recharge my introverted batteries. Things can always be handled better, but unlike with writing when you can always do one more revision, life events don’t let you proofread before submitting.
We will all try again tomorrow.
Parenting is often a series of unfortunate events.