I’m sitting in the stands at my daughter’s swim practice, and it’s noisy.
The sounds echo around in here, with whistles and the shouts of coaches and the din of children's voices bouncing off the walls, and all I can think is, I’m so glad it’s so loud. Because it kind of masks the sound of my 5-year-old, who is currently prostrate on the dirty floor, screaming at me, over and over, that he’s hungry, and why didn’t I bring him any snacks.
He is being unreasonable. And I realize that I have no control over him. None. Whatsoever.
And I can tell that I am about to lose it.
I tell him to stop shouting at me, that he can eat when we get home, and that if he doesn’t stop screaming at me we are going to go sit in the car, buckled in our seats.
It doesn’t matter to him. He keeps screaming. He stands so he can position his mouth right next to my ear so that his shouts will land like an arrow in my eardrum, striking that last nerve that is holding me together and keeping me from erupting like lava from a volcano that has been building, building, building all day.
It started in the morning, when I let him watch "Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego" on my bed. I’ve been sick, so we were lazing about, and I considered this rare downtime of watching TV under the covers a gift. But he cranked up the volume 10 times louder than it needed to be, and he wouldn’t turn it back down when I asked.
He begrudgingly complied after I asked him three times to pause the show and get dressed.
My very sore, swollen throat doesn’t like to talk right now, let alone repeat itself, and the lava inside started to swell.
When his friend came over, he started teasing her. He made annoying sounds when she asked him to stop. He threatened to pop a balloon because she asked him not to. He snapped his fingers and did anything he could think of to be irritating.
And I was irritated.
I sent him to his room for a time-out until he could treat his friend with respect. I didn’t raise him to act like this, and I was so frustrated that he was doing this all on his own. He wouldn’t listen to me when I told him not to treat others this way.
And all along, in the back of my mind, I had an image of a boy in a red hat, sneering in the face of a Native American elder in Washington, D.C.
This column was going to be a letter to my children, telling them how I hoped they would be a force for good in this world. I was going to write about how they could make a real difference by showing kindness to others, and respect. Not malice and insecurity. I was thinking about these lines from a Maya Angelou poem, “Amazing Peace,” that say, “The world is encouraged to come away from rancor, Come the way of friendship.”
Angelou wrote, “Hope spreads around the earth. Brightening all things, even hate which crouches breeding in dark corridors.”
And when I planned on writing this letter to my children about respect, in the back of my mind, I was imagining the parents of the boy with the red hat, who stood and sneered in the face of a Native American elder in Washington, D.C.
I didn’t mean to be sanctimonious as I was composing this letter to my children in my head. But there was a part of me that wondered, what did that boy’s parents think of him? Did they teach him to be that way? Were they ashamed?1 comment on this story
And then my son never stopped screaming as he flailed on the floor of the stands by the pool where my daughter was taking swimming lessons, and I escorted him out to the car.
As we sat there, him buckled into his seat, tears streaming down his face in frustration and sadness, I knew I couldn’t write that column, that letter about respect that would have been so unintentionally pious.
The truth is, I do believe my children can be a force for good in this world, and I think that when the time comes, they will be proactive and kind, respectful and wise. That’s what I’m trying for, that is what I hope.
But really, some things are out of my control.