I almost lost it yesterday.
My oldest daughter came to me crying because her little sister, 5-year-old Jo, got angry and shot her with a bugassalt gun (a handy fly and spider killing tool that shoots table salt like a shotgun—it hurts, trust me). I chanted “calm down” in my mind like some mantra as I angrily stormed downstairs to the bedroom they were supposed to be cleaning. Their only chore. It wasn’t even that messy. They had been “cleaning” for 40 minutes. Jo hadn’t been helping and Liv called her out. Jo shot her foot. Liv was crying and limping around upstairs. You get the picture, right?
This is one of those moments… a hinge moment. A looming decision moment where you can almost see everything freeze in place and your mind would like to evaluate the situation calmly and rationally before you act but your body just dives right in and whatever emotion boiling inside you explodes. Yeah… one of those moments.
I found her in the closet. Pulled up into a ball. I somehow took a deep breath and probed, “Did you shoot your sister?” Emotion spilled out of her in waves of hurt and regret and anger. “I just don’t feel like I fit into this family!” she screamed with heavy sobs. My anger cooled right down to my toes and my heart swelled with empathy. Not sympathy. EMPATHY. You see, several months ago, before I realized I had depression and after an especially bad “go clean your room, 2 hours later it’s still not done mom afternoon” I completely lost it. I screamed, I threw my phone so hard against the wall it shattered, I moved to my closet where I chipped a shelf before I crumpled on the floor in anger and hurt and regret. I felt like I wasn’t good enough for this family. I sobbed heavy sobs. Little Jo found me there. She patted my back and told me it would be OK. She offered me her forgiveness and love and empathy. And here she was, one of my precious babies, hiding in a closet, feeling hurt and lost and alone and regretful—feeling like she didn’t belong, sobbing heavy sobs.
I held her. I sobbed with her, patted her back and reassured her she definitely belonged in this family. I asked her if she remembered when mom got angry and made mistakes and felt like she didn’t belong. I asked her if she remembered who came into the closet to tell me it would be OK. I told her that we would be OK together. I promised her I would help her learn how to control her boiling emotions. I forgave her. I asked her what she should do now. We picked up the pieces. Little Jo apologized to her sister for both shooting her with the salt gun and for not helping clean the bedroom. She then cleaned the bedroom and made the beds. And most impressive of all, she forgave herself.
As I served my little family dinner, I saw little Jo’s tear-stained cheeks lift in a smile at her big sister’s newest joke. I remembered my own mother sobbing on her closet floor as I patted her back and told her it would be OK. I will treasure that memory. It is one of the most precious gifts my mother gave me. And tonight, I gave my little Jo a precious gift. My failure. My tears. My hurt and regret. My love. My forgiveness. My empathy. And we will be OK because we are in this together. We’re teaching each other how to control our boiling emotions. We’re teaching each other to forgive, to pick up the pieces and start again. We are giving each other precious gifts.
So today, I hope you will accept the gift of my admitted failures and give someone else a precious gift. The gift of your own failure, your empathy, tears, forgiveness…and love. We will be OK. Because we are in this together.