By Sharon Olds
She was four, he was one, it was raining, we had colds,
we had been in the apartment two weeks straight,
I grabbed her to keep her from shoving him over on his
face, again, and when I had her wrist
in my grasp I compressed it, fiercely, for a couple
of seconds, to make an impression on her,
to hurt her, our beloved firstborn, I even almost
savored the stinging sensation of the squeezing,
the expression, into her, of my anger,
“Never, never, again,” the righteous
chant accompanying the clasp. It happened very
fast-grab, crush, crush,
crush, release-and at the first extra
force, she swung her head, as if checking
who this was, and looked at me,
and saw me-yes, this was her mom,
her mom was doing this. Her dark,
deeply open eyes took me
in, she knew me, in the shock of the moment
she learned me. This was her mother, one of the
two whom she most loved, the two
who loved her most, near the source of love
Wow. This poem settled deep inside me. Who hasn’t done some version of this? In the moments when I have been exhausted, sick, fed-up, tired, worried – whatever factors were present – and I wasn’t bigger, stronger, wiser and kind in that moment.
I am usually gentle, and I am a patient person. But I lose my cool too, just like we all do. Maybe it’s a clasp like Sharon Olds’ poem, maybe it’s moving your child less than gently, maybe it’s a yell.
I’ve felt my yell in that moment. The words I actually said weren’t so terrible. But I felt the guttural force of anger they flew out of me with. And so did my son. Even though it was just a sentence or two.
So we make a repair.
I say, “I’m sorry I yelled. I was mad, and I forgot to take my deep breaths. That must have been scary for you.”
He says, “Yes.” And I feel it. As hard as I try, as many times as I remain gentle through the storm – this time I didn’t and it affected him.
I pause. I rub his back. I say, “I’m sorry. I love you so much. I will keep trying to calm myself so we can figure things out without yelling.”
He says, “It’s okay, mom. I love you, too.”
And it’s done. He felt it, too. He felt validated for the fiery yuck he felt in the moment of my angry yell. And with that shared acknowledgement that the moment existed, and we both felt it – we can move on – stronger than we were before. Knowing that we will figure things out together.
The power of repairing relationships.