It was day eight without Brian here. I was tired at the end of a long, HOT day. I had just gotten the kiddos out of the bathtub and was getting Little C. ready for bed. All of a sudden I hear a gasp then something fall and something break. I look over to see that Big A. had flipped his towel over his head and knocked down a shelf in our room sending everything on it crashing to the ground. One of our treasured wedding gifts, a beautiful turquoise vase from Peru, was completely broken.
In an instant all of my “giving over of self”, all the effort over the last five years, all the times I had been jumped on and pulled on by my kiddos, all the sacrificing of me and my body, clothes (to strawberry stains!), time, social life, space – you name it – flooded my heart. And I was mad. In an instant I started to say, “A.!!! Oh no! That’s one of our favorite things! You weren’t paying attention!” I ran over to the broken vase and bent over to see tiny fragments of pottery embedded in the carpet.
A. began saying over and over again, “Oh mommy, I’m so sorry! I’m so sorry! I can fix it!” And then in the next second, I stopped.
“It’s a vase, Lisa. It’s a vase,” I said to myself. I stopped picking up the broken pieces and turned around to face A. with my arms stretched out to him, “Oh sweet Love. I’m sorry.” We sat there on the floor and C. came tottering up, pacifier in mouth, and sat quietly on my other leg. I remembered two things: 1. the Sesame Street story that A. and I had read together about Bert breaking Mr. Hooper’s teapot (I’ll get to this in a minute) and 2. my self-initiated Compassion Challenge and I was (only!) on day 2.
Background – the Compassion Challenge. A few days prior, I realized I needed to be more intentional about being compassionate. I wanted to be aware of opportunities to show compassion and I wanted to start “closer in,” as the poet David Whyte says. I wanted to start closer to home – with myself, my husband, my children, and my extended family. I felt like I had gone down that slippery slope we all can go down – being “not so nice” to the people we love the most. And I wanted to be more intentional about shifting this.
So in the moment holding A. and C., I thought about my “Challenge” and decided “No. I will end my anger right now. I will not allow it to burn down the whole forest, like Buddha said. I will not make A.’s heart hurt and him feel bad. I choose A. over the vase.”
This may sound like “duh! Of course you choose your child’s wellbeing over a vase!” But in that exact moment, I was hot, tired, and alone. I had had enough. And anger was coursing through my veins. And I loved that vase – for many reasons. It represented many dear things to me – working with the poor in Latin America, and, it may sound crazy, it represented my sanity staying in tact while having two kiddos, while giving up so much of myself, and having one space in my whole house – our room – that is in order and is mine only. And it all came crashing down. So in the moment, all of that was broken.
And I let it go.
In an instant, I held my A. while I saw the broken pieces laying in the carpet. I felt A.’s skinny body wrapped around me, I heard C. sucking away on her paci. I smelled their freshly bathed little naked bodies. I felt us all just breathe together.
“A.,” I began, “Do you remember the story about Bert and the broken teapot?”
Me: “Do you remember what Mr. Hooper said to Bert when he told Mr. Hooper that he had broken his favorite teapot?”
A: “That he’d fix it?”
Me: “He said, ‘My friend Bert is more important to me than a teapot.’ A., my little A. is more important to me than a vase.” …….and all it represented. And I meant it.
So we made up. I was feeling all good about myself that I had showed compassion (you know what’s coming, right?????!!!!), remembering that Sesame Street story, and not scarring A. for life over a broken vase. I nursed C. while A. laid on his pillow next to us and then we went to A.’s room to tuck him in.
As we lay there in the darkness doing our normal bedtime routine of singing a song and saying our prayers, in the quietness I hear A.’s soft little whisper,
“Mom (pause)…you are more important to me than my batcave.”
In an instant, my heart dropped, did a flip, felt humbled, small, and embarrassed, burst into tears, and was full with immense love that comes only from grace. Anyone who knows our son knows how “in” to superheroes he is. His batcave stays on his dresser in his room in the “I’ll share everything else but this” zone. So here I was pretty happy with myself for showing compassion, “getting over a vase,” and not losing it…when here was my little four year old…telling me that I mattered more to him that his most prized possession. Here was my A. surprising, expanding, deepening, humbling, and gracing my heart. And I laid there next to A., my tears wetting my face and his pillow, as I felt A.’s breath against my chest and he peacefully drifted off to sleep. And I thought, “Truly, my life is full of grace. Humbling grace. Thank you, God.”