"Momma, are you angry with Daddy?"
"Yes," I said, feeling ashamed of all the shouting The Boy had just overheard. "Sometimes we get angry at people."
The Boy chattered on about other things as we drove to school and work and guilt built up in my chest like air filling a balloon. Finally, I sighed and said, "I was angry at Daddy and yelled. How did that make you feel?"
"I don't know."
"Well, were you sad or happy? Or scared? Or angry?"
"I was angry. You should hug him, Momma."
"What? You think I should hug Daddy?"
"Yeah. You should hug him and say sorry."
I had been throwing a tantrum, I realized. A change in the morning routine made the last 15 minutes, which always are a little crazy, more hectic than usual and lashed out at the husband. Baby poo on my hands and an endless stream of toddler questions made me feel martyred, so I started shouting. If! Then! You always! You never! No help! -- the usual litany of sweeping (and mostly unfair) generalizations.
"Yeah," The Boy said. "You should hug him and say sorry for throwing a fit."
I was glad my words are getting through to The Boy. We make him apologize when he's mean or throwing fits. But I also worried what lessons he's taking from my actions.
Parenting sheds an unforgiving light on your personality. Every character flaw and bad habit is revealed and magnified. My worst traits are a hot, quick temper and impatience, and I have never had a hard time admitting this. I've even been a little proud of these traits -- more than a little, if I'm being honest, and sometimes for good reason. I've always stood up for myself and my friends. But I was not proud the other day when, as both boys cried in the back seat, I shouted at them to just SHUT UP! The Lad was fussing himself to sleep, but The Boy was throwing a tantrum. He had been clingy all morning and we were leaving the park because he refused to play alone and instead wanted to whine and cry and flop on me. The Boy was hungry and tired and just wanted his blanky, which was at home, and was throwing a fit about that. He shouldn't have been throwing a tantrum.
But then, neither should have I.
The more I shouted, the more The Boy cried. "Blank! Where are you blank?! I want my blanky!" And you know, this only dawned on me after I managed to grit my teeth and pull my shit together long enough to calmly say, "I know you're upset. It's OK to be upset and sad, but it's not OK to throw a fit." The Boy took a deep, shuddering breath, wiped his face and said, "Yeah, OK."
I know I need to control my temper. I know I need to be more patient. But knowing and doing are too entirely different things.
You'd think I'd be a little more sympathetic when The Boy runs into that same problem.