When I was a kid and I knew that I had done something really awful, it was much, much worse if my mom stayed totally and completely calm. Like the time I broke an heirloom crystal vase, which I blamed on the cat. She was totally calm. She just cleaned it up, threw it in the garbage, and told me to be more careful. I still remember the beautiful etching on that vase, how she got it from her mother, and how much she loved it. It’s the only vase I remember from childhood, and I broke it. And she stayed calm. I still torture myself over that, obviously.
Tonight, for dessert, we had chocolate pudding. Alice was digging in, enjoying it immensely, wearing a chocolate goatee. Helen was a little slower to get excited, waving her spoon around and gesturing with it. I flinched a few times, and as I was cleaning up the dinner dishes and Jerry was finishing his pudding, Helen gestured a little too wildly.
Chocolate pudding on the Rhapsody quilt and chocolate pudding on the wall.
Helen’s eyes got really big. Jerry and I assessed the damage, and we both immediately ran to get paper towels. Without his saying anything to me, I knew that it was my job to tend to the quilt. Should I vacuum the pudding off? Blot? Wipe? The pudding was on one of the bright turquoise “geese” under the star medallion, instead of on the less-visible background, of course. I decided to use a mostly-dry paper towel and then warm water to remove as much as I could. The fabric is varied in color enough that no one will ever know, even if I tell them that there was an incident.
Yes, it’s a risk to hang a quilt over the kitchen table. But this one is mostly dark, so it’s not as dangerous as it could be. And it’s perfect in the kitchen, really.
But I stayed totally and completely calm about it, just cleaning up and telling Helen to be more careful. I was just on autopilot, taking care of something dear to me as quickly as I could, and rage wasn’t going to be an efficient path. It wouldn’t fix it, it wouldn’t change the outcome, it wouldn’t do anything except make TWO people feel awful.
And I realize what a powerful message this sends to a child. Because I did not yell at her or make a fuss or anything, Helen was able to really focus on what had happened instead of my reaction to it. So she understood immediately that the potential damage to the quilt was because of something that SHE had done. And she felt terrible about it almost instantly.
Just like I did when I smashed the priceless vase (which is SO much worse than a small splatter of chocolate pudding, but I digress), Helen absolutely. fell. apart. “Mommy, I’m so sorry I got pudding on your quilt! I’m so sorry!” and she had to leave the room she was so upset.
I learned something today, and so did she. And I sincerely doubt that we’ll have to remind her more than once not to waggle her spoon around like that again. She’ll probably apologize to me at every meal for a week, knowing our sensitive child.
And I hope that my memory is as good, and that I can stay calm like that next time there’s a crisis.