After a sleepy forty-five minute nursing session, she slid off the chair to the floor, only to beg to be picked back up. "Elise, I have work to do in the kitchen. You had forty-five minutes of noms. It's time to play." Leaving the room to busy myself usually does the trick -- when she doesn't really need something it's only my idle-looking moments she insists are hers -- but it didn't today. She angrily followed me into the kitchen, insisting upon her wretched, sorrowful, mommy-less state. "Do you want some Cheerios?" I tried to lift her into her high chair, but she repeatedly arched her back so violently that I couldn't even sit her down in it. "Fine then!" I raised my voice in frustration as I plopped her down on the ground. "But stop complaining! There's nothing wrong!"
Of course, my harsh tone only made her sob the louder, and within seconds Colin swooped in to take over Elise-duty. I sulked back over the kitchen sink to begin my labors -- the dishwasher broke yesterday, and we've yet to call the landlord to fix it; it had been full, naturally, when I attempted to run it and failed, so last night we washed all the dishes and silverware and this morning I cleaned all the glasses and bowls. As I worked, I listened to my husband's sweet, soothing narrative. "There's a picture of Mommy and Daddy. And there's a picture of Mommy, Daddy, and Baby Elise. Can we sit on the floor now? Let's look at these. Here is a picture of a clown. Here are some flowers." I furrowed my brow: what book was he talking about? Ah, not a book, but the stacking boxes. One of those has a clown face on it.
I hung my head in guilt and shame. I felt lousy about losing my temper with my little girl, but most of my ruminations surrounded the irritation and resentment that I was convinced Colin must be feeling toward me. He isn't one to act out in frustration -- I've known him for ten years and I've never once heard him raise his voice. Surely, I thought, he's mad at me for behaving so dreadfully, and mad that he has to spend time soothing our daughter instead of getting ready for work.
Then I stopped. Wait, I thought. I'd already made one bad decision by letting my temper control me. There was no need to continue down the same path, attributing feelings to my husband that were in no way accurate, getting myself into such a frenzy over them that I ended up annoyed with him for his (nonexistent) resentment. I can make a choice, I thought. I can either continue thinking negatively like this, or I can be grateful. I can either focus on feelings which history has consistently demonstrated Colin does not foster, or I can focus on how blessed I am to have a husband who is willing to sit with our girl and play with her. How blessed she is to have a loving and gentle daddy.
After a little while, Elise was calmed down to the point that Colin was able to leave her playing alone in the living room and join me in the kitchen. "I'm very sorry about what happened," I said. "I feel terrible about it. And I feel terrible because I know you're disappointed in me." He admitted that he didn't think it was good that I'd raised my voice to Elise, but as we embraced and I buried my face in his chest, he said, "You are a wonderful mother." No resentment. No irritation. Just love.
I received a copy of Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts as a birthday gift from dear Maren, and she and I are currently reading it with another friend of ours as a book club venture. The understanding that sin begins with ingratitude made its way into my heart earlier this year; somehow, I never realized the terribly obvious implication that living fully requires gratitude until reading this beautiful and powerful book. Just last night, I thought to myself, I should do what Ann did -- I should make a list of things I am thankful for, a list of the plentiful graces in my everyday life. And you know what I felt in my heart? Resistance. Resistance at the mere thought of picking up a pen and a piece of paper and even attempting to begin a long list of blessings. Because I'm no good at thinking of them, because I feel funny writing about green grass and apple cinnamon teddy puffs stuck between my baby's toothy grin, because the devil doesn't want me to do it.
So I started it. Today. This morning, after the incident with the screams and the back arching and the tired frustrations. I wrote about my toast, my tea, and the fact that every single dish in my house is clean, because otherwise there would be dishes in my sink, and I'm hardly going to let that happen when my dish-washing somehow inspires Elise to seek independent play. I wrote about Colin's gentle voice and Elise's shrieks of delight when she plays with her musical ball-popper. I could have noticed a thousand other things and written them too, but I'm only on Day One, and my heart is just barely crawling away from the darkness of ingratitude. But crawling it is.
|I did a Google Image search for "gift," and was immediately drawn to this one for some reason.|
It is a few minutes past 10 now, and I am tired. I have been awake for seventeen hours, seventeen hours that began with an angry scream. But even in that scream, I can find gifts. My daughter is healthy and robust. She trusts her parents to take care of her. Her daddy is willing to be the nighttime comforter when such (thankfully now-rare) difficulties arise so she doesn't have to be crestfallen when I go in there and don't nurse her. And everyone in our house has excellent hearing, especially Elise -- so just hold that pee till morning, why don't you.