Our schoolbooks were piled high on the kitchen table, morning winter light slanted in through the windows, warming spots on the floor. Connor opened his math book. Jojo sat eating her cereal, kicking her legs. Finnly siddled up next to her and pushed a book toward her, sweetly crooning, “Look at this book, Jojo.” The book bumped her cereal bowl, the contents of which fell all over her lap, the table, the schoolbooks, the floor. Josie began to scream, cold and wet and startled.
“Finnly!” I said his name, the way I do when I’m angry, like my voice might cut him. “Why did you do that?”
“It was an accident,” he said meekly.
Connor had been up with a stomach bug in the night 3 or 4 times, I went to the gym early anyway, Donald Trump is still tweeting. I was tired. Josie wailed louder and louder. We started school late. It was an accident, I knew that.
But, anger is a feeling that has directionality. It has to go somewhere.
Mine streamed toward Finnly at light speed.
“Mommy,” Connor said gently, “Remember: anger boomerangs.”
Connor has this uncanny ability to take whatever spiritual lesson we’ve been learning and apply it to me in my weakest moments, in the quietest, most approachable way. I want to say that I love this about him, and I do, it’s the beginning of his spiritual gifts: moral clarity, truth-telling in love, discernment. But occasionally, when I’m angry and tired and the baby is screaming, it just feels good to send my rage somewhere without thinking. Almost like it’s my right, as a homeschool mom who does everything: school, occupational therapy, I make most of the meals, manage the household, while trying to maintain my own identity and interests. It feels like I deserve a good explosive outburst every now and again. Except, of course, I don't. We all have to do the work set before us as best we can. Connor’s gift is very inconvenient. And humbling.
I read to him out of The Message when we do Bible in school because I find I don’t have to explain every other word. Yesterday I read him a verse from Ecclesiastes that had tickled me because of the imagery:
“Don’t be quick to fly off the handle. Anger boomerangs. You can spot a fool by the lumps on his head.”
Connor had a good chuckle over the visual of a boomerang flying back at the fool who reacted in anger rather than letting the emotion pass; he acted out releasing the boomerang with a dramatic flourish and then falling over when the imaginary boomerang came back and clobbered him in the forehead. He belly-laughed until he was breathless.
In the moments after I flew off the handle, as I was hastily stripping Josie down, trying to console her, replenishing her bowl, bending down to clean the floor again that morning, I heaved the kind of sigh that marks most of my motherhood. First, a small sigh of wonder, at the brilliance and uniqueness and surprising insight of my small humans, and then a sigh of weariness and exasperation, because the best lessons I teach my children are often the ones where I’m behaving badly, they catch me, confront me, and I need to apologize to them. I think this is called "modeling."
Henry Cloud writes, "Safe relationships are centered and grounded in forgiveness."
“I’m sorry, Finnly. I shouldn’t have scolded you; it was an accident. I’m tired, but that’s no excuse. Will you forgive me?"
"Fine," he said, his shoulders slumped, still looking wounded.
“Now explain to him what it means when I said, ‘Anger boomerangs’.” Connor prompted.
I did as I was directed. Finnly gave me a furtive sidehug and slinked off to play in his room.
Later that morning, when it came time to do Finnly’s school, he was churlish and uncooperative, a little dramatic, which is unlike him.
“Anger boomerangs,” I thought and sighed again, rubbing the imaginary lumps on my head. I pulled him into my lap and curled around him. I felt him soften a little.
"I'm sorry I yelled at you," I said quietly. "That wasn't right."
He put his favorite stuffy on my neck. "You have to hold this guy like this. That's how he likes it. He wants Mommy cuddles."
And we kept working, snuggled in.