One by one, the four and five-year-old girls leapt off the diving board into the water. Meanwhile, my five-year-old clung to the pool’s edge and sobbed to the swim coach. I’d enrolled my shy daughter in swim class to help prepare her for school, and therefore I did not intervene.
I simply sat on the bench next to the locker rooms and observed. But minutes passed, and her crying did not stop. I walked over to my bag and fetched the beach towel. Sitting back down, I opened it, and my daughter scrambled out of the pool and clung to me, soaking the knees of my jeans.
I held her until she relaxed and then asked if she was ready to try again. She did try again, but immediately started crying just like she had before. I told the swim coach we were calling it a day. In the locker room, I helped her out of her swim suit and worked the snarls from her hair. Frustration welled up inside me. I wasn’t proud of it, but it was there. I’d tried so hard to find a social activity that would benefit my daughter physically, too, and for those first five swim classes, I’d thought this was it.
We were passing the lobby’s tea station when my daughter squeezed my hand three times, signifying, “I. Love. You.” Tears stung my eyes. I glanced down at her and squeezed back four times, signifying, “I. Love. You. Too.”
Wordlessly, we walked out of the YMCA. My daughter extended her arms to the sky and cried, “Mommy! I can feel the rain!” I lowered the umbrella so I could feel it as well.
I assumed, when we got home, that the rest of the day would go smoothly. It didn’t. The afternoon plummeted when my five-year-old still wouldn’t calm down. So, I ironically yelled, “You are out of control!” and struck the hallway’s wall with my open hand.
My hand stung. I backed away from the wall as if it’d been my child’s face. I went to the couch and sat down. My five-year-old must’ve sensed a shift because she came out of her bedroom and clambered up on my lap. She looked at me with those same red, tear-swollen eyes that had observed me when she was six months old.
Looking at her, I thought, I’ve failed. She’s five years old; she’ll remember this. I turned on my pregnant side and ugly cried for a good ten minutes.
My daughter was so alarmed that she patted and rubbed my back. Hopping down, she went to the bathroom and returned with a wad of toilet paper. She wiped my tears and unzipped my sweater—all things that I do for her whenever she’s crying.
I held her on my lap again and said, “Sometimes Mommy doesn’t know how to be a good mommy. Sometimes Mommy messes up. I shouldn’t have reacted out of anger like that.”
She nodded, still watching me with those somber brown eyes. I then clutched her and prayed God would help me be a good mother. I prayed He would help me measure my words and not raise my voice: my default whenever I’m stressed.
The next day, my husband and I noticed that our five-year-old wasn’t hearing well. On Monday, it got so bad, she couldn’t hear us ask her a question when we were eating supper at the kitchen table. I made a doctor’s appointment to get her hearing tested. Turns out, she didn’t have an ear infection but just a massive accumulation of ear wax.
But, even after using the ear cleaning kit, her hearing didn’t return to normal. All week, I had to measure my words while speaking to her. I had to touch her arm so she would look at my lips as I spoke. And then, on Wednesday, when my daughter’s hearing started improving, I started losing my voice. Now, not only did I have to touch my daughter’s arm and speak carefully to communicate, I also had to whisper.
It’s been three days since I lost my voice, and I still sound like a man. But I am grateful. I must choose each word that comes out of my mouth, and whenever I do speak, I think of those words entering my daughter’s ears and sensitive spirit, and it teaches me to guard my tongue, which can bring life or death, depending on how I use it.
Have you ever lost your temper as a parent? How did you learn to rein it in?