It started with a knock at the door. A college student working for some service organization or another, collecting signatures and donations for a worthy cause.
The children—and the dog, and probably the cat, too, because he is always trying to escape—all ran for the door, and I shooed them inside before stepping onto the porch to speak with our visitor.
When I came back inside, George was in the kitchen, looking perturbed.
"When she closed the door, she slammed it..."
I turned around to see that the lovely painted tile that had been resting on top of the wainscot just inside the door was gone.
He picked up the lower right corner, which was no longer one with the rest.
I said: Why can't anything in this house stay nice?
I said: I am so angry right now.
And then, upstairs in her room, Julia began to cry—long, loud wails like her heart was breaking in two.
(And then Myles and Ezra both started crying, because these things never happen on a quiet Tuesday morning when nothing of consequence is happening, but rather in the full of a boisterous Thursday when I'm babysitting my friends' children and the dog needs to go out and the kettle is whistling and something is burning in the oven.)
I said to Myles: Let's go upstairs and make Julia feel better.
So we all tripped up the stairs—all four of us, because Ezra would not be put down and Asher didn't want to be left out—and climbed up on Julia's bed, where she hid her face and sobbed.
I asked: Why are you crying?
"I don't want you to be mad at me," she told me before letting out another sob.
I pulled her onto my lap. I'm not mad at you.
No, I'm not. And even if I do get mad, you know, it doesn't mean I don't love you very, very much. I'm upset that my picture is broken, but I'm not mad at you; you didn't mean to break it. And we can fix it, so it isn't even something I should have gotten mad about.
We all sat together for a few minutes more—Julia & Asher, Ezra & Myles, all calm now, and happy—and when we came downstairs George had glued the corner back onto the tile and set it on the counter to dry.
It is infinitely easier, I think, to fix a broken knickknack than a broken child.
This is one of those struggles we mothers have, isn't it? Knowing that our job is to guide our children—that anger isn't a particularly helpful emotion and certainly that reacting angrily never does any good—that they don't always know right from wrong, cause and effect, and that they rarely mean any harm—but still...in the middle of actually living our lives, on those days when our homes feel like barely controlled chaos, it is so easy to let anger get the better of us.
I almost let it get the better of me, here—or rather, I did let it get the better of me, really, although it was just a moment before Julia's crying snapped me out of it. But in that moment, the most important thing, for some reason, was that everyone be 100% clear on exactly how angry I was.
Looking back at it, even five minutes later, it seemed pretty silly, to have been so upset about something so small. Something so fixable.
And I understand, in a way that I think I didn't before, that small children can't make the distinction between mad and mad at me, or between mad at me and doesn't love me. I want to remember this, in those moments-to-come when I will be close to losing my temper over something trivial; I want to be able to stop and ask myself whether it is really worth getting upset—and making everyone else upset.
I have a good reminder, hanging right inside my front door (secured to the wall this time with a picture hook): a little painted tile, with a barely perceptible crack in the lower right corner, still beautiful in spite of—or perhaps because of—its imperfection.