Mothers have a sixth sense that can pinpoint when their kids need to get out of the house. You intuitively know when you cross the line between it would be nice to leave the house and venture into the territory of leaving the house is the only way that we'll survive the remainder of this day.
Last night, we were in the latter camp. I announced that we'd be heading to the library after dinner.
Two of the three children cheered; the remaining child spontaneously combusted into a tantrum that left her lying on top of the kitchen table and choking out irrational fragments of seven-year-old reasoning along the lines of "you're torturing me!" and "this is the worst day anyone in the whole world ever has had, ever!"
In a circumstance like this, sometimes a mom falls into a self-protective shell and plods through these outbursts because other things are vying for her attention as she's trying to get out the door -- like, the little one who's crying because she's put her shoes on the wrong feet, or the middle child who's yelling because she "accidentally" undressed herself in the bathroom and lathered her entire bare stomach with hand soap.
Even so, this particular outburst got to me. Aren't we beyond temper tantrums? Did she really just make a comparison between the visiting the library and torture? Torture! Torture? Are you serious?
Like quicksand, my thoughts sucked me lower and lower. My frustration wasn't just about her; it was about me. Haven't we taught her better to realize that the world doesn't revolve around her? Does she possess even one ounce of sensitivity to actual human suffering? What have I done wrong here?
Long after we should have been on the road, all three girls were finally buckled into the back of the van, the little one clad with shoes on the correct feet, the middle one dried and clothed, and the oldest one still tear-stained but calm.
I felt a nudge in my spirit as I drove. Sometimes, I don't feel like I'm making progress with my children. I think that my kids, especially my oldest, should be past the stage of misbehaving, but the truth is that I haven't entirely stopped misbehaving -- and I'm thirty-four.
I forget that progress is slow. My daughter's kitchen table tantrum, while explosive, had been relatively short-lived. That's a vast improvement from the tantrums of yesteryear.
An hour later I asked the girls to clean up their toys and gather their books for check-out. My oldest sighed. "But I'm having so much fun here."
Clearly, she has not mastered the skill of not leaving an immensely wide-open door. I couldn't resist pointing out the irony of how twenty minutes had been wasted in hysterics and poorly-constructed metaphors. "I knew that you'd have fun when you got here, just like you always do. You've got to trust me. I sometimes know what I'm talking about."
She stacked her books and nodded. "You often know what you're talking about, Mom."
That kid stopped me cold. All I could do was wrap my arm around her and kiss the top of her head. All is not lost.
I'm convinced that we'll have more tantrums in our household. I can write this with assurance because I'll probably be one of the people throwing them. But thank God for those little reminders that progress is being made.