Tonight we had a little incident in our kitchen. I have been home alone this week because Mark is on a business trip. When I am home alone, dinner tends to be even less structured than when mark is here. We generally try to have a “family dinner”, although this notion with kids at these ages is almost laughable, but still, we do try. But when I am home alone, well, who knows who is going to be eating what and when. Tonight Eliana had already eaten because she was clearly hungry early. Max did not want to eat anything and I only started making my dinner when Eliana was already eating. By the time I sat down to eat, both kids had eaten but then decided that they both needed to sit on my lap while I tried to eat, thus having to juggle two children, a knife (just a butter knife, don’t worry, this isn’t involved in the incident) a fork and couple water glasses, one of which ended upside down in the chair next to me. None of this made up ‘the incident’, I am only setting the scene of loving chaos that the incident took place in.
The kids have a small child’s table, which is small and square, big enough for one child to use. This table happened to be sitting close to where I was sitting so somehow that table was pulled over to the table and both kids ended up standing on it. It is extremely stable, so I wasn’t worried about that. But then Eliana fell off. The table isn’t very high, but we have concrete floors, so I, of course, panicked. My mommy reflexes kicked in and I caught her leg just in time to keep her head from hitting the ground. It was like a cartoon where the character is free falling off of a cliff and then whatever is wrapped around their leg stops them an inch from the ground, and then there is that moment of still, just before they get sprung in the other direction. But this wasn’t so funny because in my reflex to catch Eliana, I knocked Max off of the same table. He is almost 4 and anyone with kids knows, a kid who is 4 falls differently than a kid who is 1 1/2. Eliana was diving towards the floor with her head while Max has natural reflexes to protect himself and he ended up falling on his bum. But also at the very instant that Eliana fell and I reached out to grab her, something snapped inside of me and anger spewed from within – anger towards myself for having let them stand there on the table like that. So, in the most bizarre fashion, I started spewing “God Damn It!” (sorry to all Christians – I’m just reporting here what spewed) over and over again. I was simultaneously saving one kid, knocking one kid over and reprimanding myself. This was our incident. This included the aftermath of Eliana sitting safely, albeit scared out of her wits and screaming, on my lap, and Max sitting on the floor next to me, rubbing his bum and crying, reaching out to me, who was fully pre-occupied investigating every inch of Eliana’s head and body to determine the damage (unbelievably, there was just a minor red mark where her back had hit the table after my grabbing of her leg kept her from hitting the floor). When I was done investigating, I held her tight to my body, kissing her head (I felt that she really had had the more traumatic experience), and I stroked Max’s head with my other hand. It was only at this point that it dawned on me that I may have actually knocked him off the table. After everyone calmed down, we all headed upstairs for bath. We all just needed to move on and bath is always a mood booster.
Later, I was tucking Max into bed and we started our ritual of talking about our day. This is an exercise of us replaying the entire day in summary format with brief stops at important parts of the day, particularly to focus on emotions that went along with different events. It is so we can discuss, outside of the actual events, any learnings or reminders for the day, how we felt about something and what we needed to learn. For example, “and remember today when you got mad at me because you wanted to play trains and I wasn’t playing and you spit at me? Then we had to take a break together because we don’t ever spit at each other. And you know that. That we don’t spit at each other”, and then he’ll nod and smile. This way I know those lessons aren’t lost in the heat of the moment of upset and very important, he can, in a rational moment, remember how he was feeling at those times and connect the dots of his feelings and his behaviors. Anyway, sorry for the parenting talk. So, tonight, we brought up our incident as part of the recap of the day, and I said, “and you know what Max? I think when I reached out to grab Eliana, I knocked you off, didn’t I?” And his eyes got so big, and he nodded and I could tell that he was SO RELIEVED that I realized what had happened. He probably had thought I was angry with him somehow, due to the anger that I was displaying towards myself. So I added, “I am so very sorry that I did that to you. I think that probably hurt your feelings even more than it hurt your bum, didn’t it?” and the eyes got bigger and the nodding even more pronounced… he was clearly so understood! “I am so sorry honey, for knocking you off the table and for hurting your feelings. I was so scared in that moment when I realized Eliana was falling that I just reacted and I am so sorry that you got hurt. I didn’t handle that very well and I am sorry.” And then he reached out and gave me a big hug around my neck.
A wave of relief passed through me in that moment because I realized that I had caught one. I had caught a moment where so much went wrong (even though, ultimately, I saved my child from falling on her head, so in a big way, it also went right!) and so much could have been mis-interpreted and so much could have been internalized (my mommy loves my sister more than she loves me or my mommy must have thought I pushed her off because she got mad and was yelling at me or WHO knows what he thought), but it was clear from his expression and his hug that in this one moment, I saved the day. Though I knocked him on his bum, I saved him from an emotional wound.
I am ecstatic that I caught this one and have been busy enthusiastically patting myself on the back this evening for being a great mom. This may seem a strange feeling to have, given I allowed my children into a dangerous situation, narrowly escaped a head wallop to who knows what degree, knocked my other child over and blurted near profanities all the while. But if motherhood has taught me one thing, it is that I am not perfect or anywhere close. Admitting this to myself has highlighted the importance for ‘clean-up’ – apologies – admitting this to others – admitting this almost daily to my children. But even with the excessive back-patting, it does have me thinking about how many of these moments I may have already missed. Or how many I could miss or will miss in the future. Like I said, I already know I am not perfect, so I may not even catch every time that I am not. Or I might catch it but be too busy – running out the door to an appointment or meeting, intending to apologize later – then forgetting. I am a great mom, and I am human. And so is Max. So I guess I can not shelter him from me or from being human himself. I can not thwart all emotional wounds and I can not keep him from suffering. But I can love him unconditionally and I can listen and I can give him the self confidence to not thwart emotional pain, but to handle it on his own. It would be way cool to save the day every day, but that probably isn’t realistic, necessary or even very healthy. But for today, it was cool.