Yesterday on the way to softball practice Dotty was doing some of her math homework in the car. (Side note: These days we do a lot of things in the car such as homework, eat, sleep, get dressed, do our hair, and if we are in a pinch…wet wipes substitute as a shower sometimes.) This part of Dotty’s homework was a timed assignment. She had two minutes to answer all 25 math problems. After the two minutes were up I was supposed to check them.
Sixty-five seconds into the assignment Dotty yells “DONE!”
I replied “You still have some time left…why don’t you use that time to double check your answers.”
Dotty’s head went back down. Twenty seconds later Dotty announces “I am done checking them!”
She couldn’t even wait until I could stop to look over the sheet. She started calling out the problem and her answer so I could verify she was correct.
Dotty – 4+2=6
Me – Correct
Dotty – 2+6=8
Me - Correct
Dotty – 2+8=10
Me – Correct
Dotty – 1+2=3
Me – Correct
And so on and so forth.
About halfway down I hear “6+2=7”
Me – Ummm…what?
Dotty – 6+2=7 (she repeated in her best second grade sarcastic tone)
Me – Noooooo. Actually it doesn’t.
Dotty - ……..
She then starts wailing about how she meant to put down 8 and how I just had to let her change it. I calmly said that not only did she have time to get it right the first time but she also had time to check her answers and that I was in fact going to count it wrong since it would have been wrong if her teacher would have checked it. (We have had problems with Dotty rushing through her work so I was trying to prove a point.)
Oh the wailing and gnashing of teeth was quite the show. Dotty threw her papers into the floorboard of my car…chunked her pencil at the dash…kicked the seat with her heels with such violence I thought she might hurt herself and proceeded to scream like a possessed child.
I sat across from her gripping the steering wheel like I was holding on to a rope for dear life as I dangled over the edge of cliff. Because I was in fact standing on the edge of a cliff. The cliff was Rational Mom. The valley below was Crazy Mom. Not only was I about to fall into the valley…I was almost ready to jump willingly and with gusto into the valley.
I took five calming breaths and I noticed Dotty was taking a few breaths herself (only hers sounded like growls). Through gritted teeth I said “That is quite enough Dotty. What on earth has gotten into you to act like that?”
It was a question I wasn’t expecting her to answer but she did…loudly.
“I knew the answer…I KNEW IT!!!” Dotty yelled at the window.
Just as I was about to match her volume and surpass it by about three octaves I caught her profile out of the corner of my eye.
Dotty was sitting in the seat hunched over…head down…lose hairs falling over her face…arms crossed tightly across her chest…and her lower lip stuck out about three feet.
I was shocked.
She looked just like a picture of me from when I was a little girl even younger than Dotty is now.
That is when I realized it.
Poor kid is so much like me it is scary.
I too HATE to be wrong. I too can throw some hellacious fits when I get angry and frustrated and mostly with myself. I too am a perfectionist. I too have chunked pencils across rooms as recently as last week. I too can go overboard. I too can be mad at everything and everyone in a matter of milliseconds. I too can be so mad at myself I will literally cause myself bodily harm without even caring that I hurt myself.
Dotty is just like me in so many ways…and I think…no…I know…that is why I react so strongly to her outbursts…because I don’t like it that I have them myself so I really don’t want her to have them!
I backed away from the valley of Crazy Mom and headed down the cliff to the land of Loving Mom and in a calm voice said the only thing I knew to say…
“Dotty…it is okay to make mistakes. We all do. You can’t be perfect all the time.”
I saw Dotty tuck her chin down closer to her chest, wrap her arms tighter around her and her lip went out about another foot. She was digging her heels into this fit and she was not coming out without a fight.
I knew the other thoughts I had about being easier on herself and being okay with getting wrong answers were not the way to go. I had heard the same things from my parents, teachers, coaches, friends, employers, employees, and even from a few strangers who were witnesses to my wrath of anger and none of the things they had said had helped either.
I am still a 36 year old woman who will rip about three feet of calculator tape out of an adding machine if I can’t get the same total to come up twice after about four tries. I have left a painting class that was supposed to be a fun night out with friends only to come home and with a vengeance throw my finished project into the trashcan and slam the lid so loud the neighbors three doors down thought we had experienced an earthquake.
Nope. The words that were originally on my mind were not going to help Dotty at this particular moment. Or at least they had not helped me…so I went another direction.
I softly patted Dotty’s elbow and said “I struggle with my anger and frustration daily. Every day I have to work to keep it from coming out of me like a beast that hasn’t been fed in days. I can feel it boiling up and I try to push it down again and again…but sometimes I can’t. Those are the times I yell and slam down my purse and stomp around the house. Those are the times I regret the most. Because when the beast of my anger and frustration goes back to its cave I have to deal with the wreckage it caused and sometimes that wreckage is the look I see on your face Dotty. When I see what all damage my anger caused I have to clean up my mess. Sometimes I have to physically pick up things I threw around like my purse or the bags of groceries…and sometimes I have to pick up your spirit and feelings that I crushed when I let the beast rage like it did.
I never like it when the beast comes out and I always regret it. I have to ask forgiveness from God for my actions…from you and others for my actions…and then I have to do the hardest part of all…I have to ask myself for forgiveness too.
Forgiving myself is so hard. I am my toughest critic. I can beat myself up over the smallest things. I set standards for myself that I would never hold anyone else to and when I fail I tell myself I am a failure. I call myself horrible names and I hurt my own feelings. I am my own biggest bully.
I am also working on not doing that to myself anymore. I am working on loving myself more…being more compassionate and forgiving. It isn’t easy…I still have a lot of work to do but I ask God to help me every day.
I don’t know what thoughts go through your head when you make a mistake but I can guess and I bet I would be pretty close…because I had those thoughts too…and still do. But the thoughts we think are not always the truth…and we can control our thoughts…and we can change them. We can say nicer things in our heads. We can become our own cheerleaders in our own minds.
God knows we are not perfect. He made us to be imperfect people so we would rely on Him to help us while we are here on earth. God wants us to turn to Him and ask for help. He wants to help us…with everything…including the beasts that live inside all of us.
God lives inside us too…and He is full of love, patience, kindness, mercy and grace. We just have to seek Him out when we feel the beast waking up.
I know you hate to get things wrong and I know you hate to be corrected especially by me…because you want me to see you as perfect…and I do…in so many ways. You are my perfect gift from God. He was perfectly correct when He gave me you.
I want you to know that even when your beast is raging and you are being mean to everyone including me and including yourself that is when I am going to love and support you the most. When you are tearing yourself down and become your own worst enemy I will be your biggest fan and your loudest cheerleader. When you make what you feel like is the worst mistake ever I will reassure you that everything will be okay. If the whole world turns against you and you agree with that world, then you will all have to fight me…because I will be fighting for you!”
We pulled up to practice about that time and I wasn’t sure if I was getting through to Dotty but after practice when we got back in the car she picked up her papers out of the floorboard, found her pencil, and help my hand the whole way home.
We didn’t talk much on the way home…I guess I had said a lot and she was afraid I would go for Part Two or something. I don’t know what Dotty was thinking but I was thinking about several things.
#1 I need to watch how hard I come down on Dotty when she makes mistakes in school, sports, and life because I need to remember she is coming down hard on herself already. Compounding the problem won’t make it better but could make it much, much worse.
#2 I need to take my own advice and stop feeding the beast on such a regular basis. While I know God will forgive me, I also know how hard it is to forgive myself when I get so angry and frustrated and take it out on others and myself. I need to stop before the beast takes over and ask God for His help to put the beast back in its cave.
#3 Forgiveness is so easy to give to others but so hard to give to ourselves. I still struggle with this one most of all. If I expect Dotty to be able to forgive herself I need to lead by example and be more forgiving of myself.
I love the fact that Dotty and I have the same blue eyes, the same dimple, the same love of Disney movies and tv shows, the same love to dance and get our groove on, the same love of cheesecake, and so many other things. I love how much she resembles me and my personality in a lot of ways.
But my heart breaks for the negative traits that are being passed down to her either by nature or nurture. In many ways she is a copy of me. Sometimes that scares me. I want to pass along all my good characteristics and none of my bad ones but unfortunately they are all tangled up together in the hot mess that makes me…me.
The best thing I can do I guess is show her what I am learning…how to love ourselves in spite of ourselves sometimes