I am not, by any means, a Guru Mother. I make mistakes and say things I wish I could swallow, even as they are flying out of my mouth. Sometimes I am dense, make bad judgment calls and end up hurting my daughter’s tender heart. Sometimes it seems that no amount of praying or meditating is going to get me through. And, sometimes, in an exhausted state, I fall off my pedestal and knock my halo slightly off center.
A few nights ago, exacerbated by a series of late nights and early mornings, my daughter was in no mood to be cooperative or pliable. I don’t even remember what the argument was about and that isn’t the point here. What is the point is that I was ready to explode and/or string her up by her toes. Neither option was very enlightened.
When we arrived home, we thundered up the cement stairs to our second floor apartment, causing the wrought iron railing to rattle ominously. Before I could remove the keys from the deadbolt, my daughter barreled through the front door, stomped across the living room – yelling the entire way – and slammed her bedroom door.
I stood in the kitchen, the slam reverberating inside my head. I felt angry. Moreover, I felt challenged. What would an enlightened mother do in such a moment? I didn’t know and, frankly, didn’t much care. I stood there seething, tired and in no mood to cook dinner. I stood still. I breathed. And I held my tongue.
Memories of violence in my marriage invaded my head and I began to tremble with capped anger, then fear, then sadness. I was stunned with the intensity of the need to respond in kind, to carry out a programmed response of violence for violence.
As I attempted to get collected, she came out with tears streaming down her face, yelled at me, then stomped back and slammed the door again. I hate it when doors are slammed and yet, I simply stood there. I was uncertain if my inability to move was a deer-in-headlights-moment or if it was sheer, innate wisdom that held me still.
I found empathy and was able to remember that it had been my choice to keep her up excessively late for too many nights in a row. I realized she was tired beyond her ability to cope and felt a tenderness welling up. My mother-love kicked into full gear and I wanted to hold her to make it all go away.
She didn’t make it easy, though. That mother-love feeling lasted about two seconds, until she came out again. She stood with her little fists clenched at her side, her face red and wet with emotion and yelled incomprehensibly at me. In that moment, I saw her father as clear as if he had been standing before me. When she abruptly exited the room, yet again, I recognized my tactic in an argument – pitch a fit, then storm out and leave the other person reeling.
I knew what had happened before I even opened the door. I knew the slam had vibrated loose her decorative shelf that held porcelain fairies and collectibles. I knew it had crashed onto the bookshelf below that held glass frames and other fragile items. I feared I would walk in and find her covered in shattered glass.
I didn’t hear any scream that I imagined would follow intense pain, so I waited. Thirty seconds. Then I quietly opened her door and peeked in. She was standing there, lamely holding the shelf, eyes suddenly dry and as big as saucers. I looked at her, saw no blood, turned around and shut the door without saying a thing – mostly to preserve her because I was hopping mad.
The only thing that had been broken was an angel – one of her last, precious possessions from my Grandma Faye who passed away a few years ago. With agony on her face my daughter came out, holding up the parts and silently pleading for help. The break, with poetic irony, is such that the angel’s feet are no longer attached to her body.
In anger, I retorted, “Throw it away.”
I was mad and far from feeling enlightened and somehow, I thought that this would “teach her a lesson.” She cried that cry that wrenches my heart out and sprinkles it with salt. Part of me wanted to cave immediately. The stubborn, exhausted part dug in her heels and pointed to the trash.
“But Momma…” she gasped between sobs. “I won’t slam the door again. I’m sorry. Please don’t make me throw her away. This is the last thing I have from Grandma.”
I realized I was being hasty, that I was delivering punishment instead of discipline, that I was not tempering my anger with mercy. I felt ashamed.
With a sigh, I took the angel and said, “Sweetie, when you resort to violence to express your anger, sometimes sorry does not make it better. And sometimes, in violence, things get broken that can never be fixed.”
The angel sat on our mantel for quite some time. Each day we talked about her and what had happened the night she had gotten broken. Then one night my daughter said, “It’s more than just fairies and angels and pictures that get broken, Momma. You’re talking more about things like love and trust. Those things sometimes cannot be fixed with a sorry.”
My daughter had understood the point. In mercy, I took the angel down and tried to fix her. Sadly enough – or, perhaps, profoundly enough – she is unfixable.
© Angie K. Millgate 6/11/07