I yelled today when my son couldn’t find his sweater. I was running late for work (again), and he was just standing there, not looking for it, waiting for me to find it.
I dumped all the clothes from his bottom drawer onto the floor, and as I hurriedly pawed through them looking for the black hoodie, I yelled at him about how I was going to be late, about how he needs to be responsible with his things, and about how he should have looked harder.
I couldn’t find the sweater, either. I yelled that he would just have to wear his rain jacket, whether he liked it or not, and he cried harder.
I yelled, and he cried.
I hugged him goodbye anyway and told him I loved him, but my voice still had the yell lingering in it as I said it. I rushed out the door and into the car. As I pulled out of the driveway, surrounded by the silence of being alone, I felt a weight settling into my chest. I left him there, crying—my shouts still echoing through the house. And while my husband was still with him, hopefully comforting him, the cold fact remained that I had left him in tears.
What if there were an accident today? What if something unthinkable happened, and the last interaction I had with my son was yelling at him?
Even if nothing bad did happen, in the very best-case scenario, I had still sent him into the day on a very bad note.
We’d had an amazing weekend together. We went to the beach and chased waves and built sandcastles. We came home that night and watched a movie and drank hot chocolate and snuggled on the couch. He told me it was a great day.
But was it enough? Did it outweigh the yelling this morning, or did the yelling sour the whole thing?
I spent all day fretting about how the morning had gone. I was wracked with guilt and couldn’t stop thinking about his sweet little face crumpled in tears. Was he mad at me? Would he act out in class because he felt unloved? Had I irrevocably damaged our relationship?
When I picked my son up from school, he greeted me with his normal hug and a big smile on his face. He’d had a great day at school. They built a model volcano, and he got to sit next to his best friend at lunch. He didn’t seem to remember the yelling this morning.
Nonetheless, when we got into the car I apologized for losing my temper. I told him I was stressed but it wasn’t his fault and I shouldn’t have taken it out on him. He squeezed my hand (our in-public code for “I love you”) and said, “It’s OK, Mommy. Next time I’ll try harder to find it myself.” And that was that. In an instant, we were OK again.
To my son, it was nothing more than a tiff, a slight frustration in an otherwise good day.
But that wasn’t the end of it for me. The guilt lingered despite his easy forgiveness.
I want to be the mother that makes her family a hearty breakfast, hums to herself while packing backpacks, and kisses her kids sweetly before sending them off into their days. I want to be the soft, comforting place for them before they venture out into the world.
I had failed. No doubt, I will fail again. And again. But I’ll keep working on it. Next time I’m rushed, and stressed, and irritated, I hope I will remember today, and the way the yelling felt. I hope it’s enough to remind me to use kinder words and a softer voice. But it’s nice to know that even when I fail, my son and I will still love each other. That forgiveness is a grace we can give to each other. That the bad doesn’t undo the good.