I did all the right things. I spoke sweetly and slowly. I knelt down to look into her eyes. I had every confidence that my 5-year-old would cooperate, happily and without reservation. She stood in her Gi, eager to practice Cross Kata and “Be a big girl.”
“I’ll be back in ten minutes. I just need to pick up your brother.” I had scheduled myself into a corner: karate class drop-off, drive across town, drumming class pick-up, return for karate pick-up. It was the exact sort of ridiculous “the kids must have it all!” sort of life I had always sworn to scoff at, not make my own.
My anxiety about rushing to my next stop transferred to my youngest. “But Mommy, I want you.” I smiled small, and held her gently by the shoulders. I should have known I wasn’t fooling either one of us. “I’ll be right back, sweetheart. You won’t even know I’m gone.” Brown eyes blinked, bottom lip pouted. “I want you, Mommy.”
Too soon, I scolded inside. I should have waited for class to start. Then she would have been fine. But no, I had to be half-way across town. Not a moment to waste! My other child is waiting. It’s already dark. And raining. Why can’t this child just understand that she must do what I want? Deep breath.
“Honey, I’ll be right back. You’re a big girl. You love karate. And when I come back your brother and I will both watch your class and be so proud.” Tight smile, firmly rubbing her arms. She Must Comply.
Her face buried in my shoulder, embarrassed tears, mumbles of Mommy, I want you, more tears. And where a kind mother would have softened, I became angry. This child was upsetting my perfectly planned schedule. This child was turning everything upside down. This child, this 5-year-old, should just do what her mother wants.
“Fine. We’re leaving. Get your shoes.” People were looking, sympathetically, I think. The only reason there was any sympathy, if it was sympathy, is because I was reining in my anger. Once my sweet girl had put on her shoes and bundled herself up in her jacket, once we had swept out of the dojo, I got nasty.
“Now we’re going to be late. Your brother is probably waiting in the rain. Why can’t you just be a big girl? I would have been back in ten minutes.” I knew deep inside that I was scolding myself. And yet, SLAM! went the car door. Down came 5-year-old tears. They fell all across town.
It was only when we three returned home, fifteen minutes to spare thanks to one less karate class, that I felt my shame uncomfortably soften my anger. And my beautiful little girl with the big brown eyes hugged my legs and said, “Mommy, I’m sorry.”
“No, my love, Mommy’s sorry. I’m sorry.” The hug was deep and strong and warm and full of love. And the mingled tears forgave the shame.