The Importance of Doughnuts for Breakfast
April 14, 2015
It was a Monday that had started so well. It was Ev’s birthday, and I had told her to wait in her room until I came to get her up. I could hear the two of them squeal and squirm in excitement, Sophie followed their noises and pattered across the floor. I lit her “6” candle and stuck it in a donut. Pajama clad and wrapped in the still waking, blue morning light, Theo and I sang her happy birthday before Sophie realized what it was and started grunting for her share. I love that scene in Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood where Sidda is remembering birthdays in her house growing up, and how her mom would wake them up with a cake, a secret cake that dad didn’t know about. It made her feel loved and remembered and special. It was a fun, small tradition, and it mattered.
We dropped Ev at school, a smiling ball of energy, bursting and foot hopping to tell her friends it was her birthday. She was in her new yellow dress: “Mom, do you think some of the other kids will feel bad that I get to have a new dress and they don’t?” The other two and I ran some errands and then headed home where I made brownies for her girl scouts and a cake for after dinner (and somewhere in there I realized that between Easter and her birthday I have eaten way, WAY too many sweets recently and somebody needs to stop me. Please and thank you and pass the broccoli while you’re at it). The sugar baked and the stars aligned and I got both Sophie and Theo down for a nap at the same time.
When Theo does nap, he naps hard. It really does transform him into a much more reasonable, calmer little person. When I opened the door to his room I found him shy and cuddly, he needs to warm up to the world after he sleeps. I bribed him out of bed with a brownie and dressed him in some shorts: “Mom these pants aren’t going down!” as he tugged and pulled at the hem, looking confused. I told him it’s warm enough for shorts! He wasn’t as excited as I was about that reality, he just shrugged and moved on. We loaded up in the stroller and headed to get Ev from her girl scouts meeting, and then aimed for the park where it was winding down as our clocks inched towards 5 and most were heading home for dinner. I felt a sense of relief, the less crowded it is the less likely that I lose someone or one of my kids gets into a scuffle.
Apparently the nap wasn’t as restoring as I had thought, because the scuffle happened. And not a little one, either. I didn’t even see it, but judging by how this dad was hunting Theo down, I knew it must’ve not been a light tap on the arm. The big kids were playing with bubbles with a group of 4 or 5 other kids and I was sitting with Sophie in the baby area, looking up at the trees and then closing my eyes to just let the sun hit my face and smell spring. It was a peaceful moment. Maybe God knew I needed that moment of calm before the chaos, the hurt and the anger.
I heard Evelyn calling for me, and then I heard Theo crying and saw him run off and knew something was wrong. I grabbed Sophie and ran after Theo and that’s when I saw the white haired man, holding his crying girl. “Is that your son?! He just hit my daughter. He is violent! Keep your son away from my daughter.” His eyes were furious, and as I tried to find Theo and hold Sophie and find out what the hell happened, hot tears welled in my eyes and my stomach felt sick and now I was angry. I spit words back at him, my voice shaky, alternating between apologizing and defending my son. I knew that Theo was not innocent here and I have been on the other end of this scenario and I, too, have been angry. It’s our instinct as parents to protect our kids. So I understood this man’s anger. But for him to be so nasty about it, from his tone to his eyes to his words and judgements, it just hit a nerve in me. I felt attacked. I felt it was severely unfair of him to take one isolated incident to define my son as violent. What an asshole. I gathered my kids up and I glared at him across the park, hoping I’d run into him in another setting so I could drop some f-bombs on him and get really close to his face to threaten him to say that to me again. He’ll be sorry.
It didn’t hit me until the next morning. I took my one encounter with this man and in my mind he is forever a finger pointing, holier-than-thou jerk. To be honest, I’m still angry at him. I still kind of want him to have a bad day today and possibly step in some dog poop. It’s hard for me, even now, to imagine him as someone else, because that’s still all I know of him and I want to protect my son, just like he wants to protect his daughter. And that’s just it. We are all the same. The roles could’ve been reversed just as easily. What’s more, I don’t know what else he is. He may be divorced or widowed or sick or having a bad day or grieving a loss or late on his mortgage payments. I don’t know, but I do know that it’s likely that he, like Theo, has good moments and ugly moments, and for the most part we only see slivers or squares of each others lives that don’t really give the whole story.
As much as my heart and my body want to hold onto this anger and bitterness and hope for revenge, I know that’s not the right response. I know I would’ve had a better chance at diffusing the situation that night with forgiveness and understanding and empathy. Not that it would’ve excused his words or actions, but it’s not up to me to police him. I’m responsible for me and my kids. And just like sleep begets sleep, anger breeds more anger and love breeds more love.
And also, this I feel I must say—to the moms of the misunderstood kid, the energetic kid, the won’t sit still kid, the picked on by the teacher kid, the sometimes-I-hit-when-I’m-frustrated kid—I know you’re doing your best. I know you know that it’s not OK that your kid acts out physically when upset, and that you’re working on it. I know that your kid maybe sometimes doesn’t listen and slams doors and steals toys from his siblings and pushes you far to the end of your very frayed rope. But I also know that your kid has a lot of goodness, too, a lot of sweet moments and times when he waits patiently in line for the slide or helps the baby up the stairs at the park or says, “Thank you mommy” after months and months of hoping the manners you are teaching him will kick in. And no one is there to congratulate you and cheer you on and say: “See mom! You’re doing it. You’re doing well. Keep at it.” But as soon as your fiery, passionate little one screws up, the wolves show up. Well, I see and I know because, quite obviously, I am that mom and my mom was that mom. And so I’m betting there are more of you out there. If our wild and beautiful little ones are always hearing that they are bad, won’t they start to believe it? Won’t they start to act it? What they need is a lot of patience and a lot of love, and probably a time out (or seven, depending on the day).
I felt defeated that Monday, birthday night. I walked home, unable to just let the tears pool anymore, they fell down freely. I just wanted that man to know! Theo is not malicious, you should see him with his baby sister. You should see the way he kisses me on the cheek, unprompted. He has so much goodness! He is not perfect, but he is good. And as I walked, still seething and sad at the same time, I was reminded of this verse that my dad would always remind me of whenever I felt wronged or cheated or misunderstood: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Impossible. In my own self, I am incapable. I’m too hurt, too mad. But because I have been shown love, I can then give love. It’s not easy, but it is possible.
As we ate dinner and watched Ev tear the wrapping paper off of her gifts, I still felt a little melancholy, wishing that that ugliness hadn’t tainted our day. But we always have a choice, don’t we? We can choose to focus on the good, even when there is so much wrong in this world, and we can choose to let our hearts be overtaken and freed by forgiveness or strangled by bitterness. So often the hard choice is often the right one.
So I’m trying to focus on the signs of life and growth and grace in my house, tangled in between the signs of our humanness. I’m trying to focus on the art on the wall and the leftover balloons from Ev’s birthday and the importance of donuts for breakfast sometimes and speaking kindly and taking time to teach when they are wrong rather than yell and stomp my feet because I’m frustrated. Because all this grace and forgiveness and the little acts of love that the world so desperately needs, it starts at home, it starts with me and with you and spills out straight into our kids and they carry it into our schools and between the cracks of the sidewalks leading up to our playgrounds.