I made Rory some fish the other night. I even prepared her’s special — extra brown sugar glaze and no heavy spices like her mom’s and mine.
Getting a two year old to eat anything but bread and candy is a huge achievement. I was sure I had it in the bag that night. She usually loves salmon. And then it happened…
After a few chews, her facial expression turned to disgust before she spit it out in her hand and threw it across the kitchen.
Instant. Ego. Trigger. This dad was on f*cking fire.
“No!” I pointed at her. “You do NOT spit out your food and throw it!” The dad-voice was in full-effect.
I took her out of her high chair. She was pouting pretty heavy. Sat her down on the floor (she refused standing and went with the wet-noodle maneuver).
“Go pick it up and put it in the trash, please.” I had my cool back a little.
Be. A patient. Dad.
Second time… “Rory, go pick it up and put it in the trash. You made a mess and that isn’t nice.”
Nothing. It was a standoff for a solid five minutes. I was keeping my cool, but felt the dragon fire creeping up on me again. I started taking this personal and could feel it in realtime.
“Rory. I’m serious,” my tone was sharpening, “Pick up. Your fish. And put it. In the trash.”
She was bored now. Mr. Nice Guy was getting nowhere. Whatever I’d read from Dr. Shefali was being muted by something more carnal in nature. I had nothing. I was drowning. I was about to lose and my ego couldn’t stand that. I erupted…
I marched over to her as she laid, head in hand, on the kitchen floor, picked her little ass up, carried her to the half-eaten glob of fish, picked it up, then marched her over to the trash can where I disposed of the saliva-laden mass of salmon — all the while, yelling…
“I TOLD you NICELY. You do NOT make messes! If you don’t like something, you leave it on your plate. And if you make a mess, you will CLEAN IT UP!”
Now, she’s crying. Bawling. Daddy had his full-on dragon voice on. Not pretty at all.
I sat her on her bed — red cheeks full of tears and pigtails disheveled. I was still fired up, but able to calm down a little.
“Rory, listen to me. You do NOT make messes. That WASN’T nice. You know better.”
Wherever my ego was minutes before, it was long gone at that point. It’d left me high and dry. I was alone. Looking into my beautiful daughter’s pristine blue eyes that had now welled up with alligator tears.
“Daaaad,” she sobbed… “I wanna take a naaap.”
Ugh... Fuck. I’m such. An asshole.
What a stupid bully I was. Not that she was right — not that I shouldn’t have exacted her behavior. It IS my job to draw the line… But to get as mad and to be as much of a fire-breathing buffoon as I was — just wasn’t necessary, and I knew it.
It always happens like this, doesn’t it?
Our kids know EXACTLY which buttons to push. And they push the shit out of them.
What a fantastic lesson — every time. There goes my little guru holding a proverbial mirror up to my ego’s face again. There it is, Daddy.
I crouched down and looked her in the eyes, “Rory — I’m sorry I yelled at you. That wasn’t nice of me. I was just upset that you’d made a mess. But I shouldn’t have yelled like that.” And I hugged her.
And then, there it was... A smile. A huge, teethy, bright-eyed smile. Ear to ear. Complete forgiveness. Amazing. She was released. I was released.
“I love you, Daddy.”
Melted. Done. Put a fork in me. This little girl has my number.
It’s amazing what our kids teach us. In a moment of complete clusterfuckery lay a profound, universal lesson on forgiveness.
Rory showed me how close to the surface true forgiveness actually is. It’s just that, as we grow up, we bury that pureness of spirit with story after story after story.
And there she goes again. Taking me one step closer to the top of the mountain.
Jonas Ellison is a coach and writer who helps people find their Mojo and dismantle their self-imposed limitations using spiritual, philosophical, psychological, and practical tools. To get his short vignettes in your inbox daily, click here.