Today I dropped a glass. It was a large glass filled with iced tea, and it didn’t break, though the entire contents spilled onto the table and the floor. I was standing at the dining room table, about to put the glass down. I had it gripped in my hand between my thumb and middle finger, and my hand involuntarily relaxed just enough that it slipped right out and banged onto the table. We had guests, family visiting for Christmas, and almost everyone was at the table in the process of sitting down for lunch. I was asked what happened, and the only thing I could think to say was I must be very tired.
The night before was an unusually tough one. Siena came it just before four because she’d had a nightmare, and I soothed her and sent her back to bed. Shortly thereafter, Penny got feisty and jumped on my dresser twice, the second time knocking most of the contents off, including my MP3 player, my Flip video camera, Mama’s Kindle, and a bunch of gift cards, business cards, and other knick knacks I had moved there from my office in order to clean up that room for Siena’s cousin to sleep there. The girls were up around six, and even though they bugged Nonna and I didn’t get immediately up, I was still awoken by Thalia’s loud responses to whatever Siena and their cousin were saying to her. So by lunch time, I was tired, but I’m not sure I can blame a dropped glass entirely on exhaustion.
Nonetheless, the glass was down, the floor was wet with sixteen ounces of tea, and I was frustrated. This mess was going to require a mop to clean up.
Thalia was asking something like What did daddy do? And Siena was answering her, He spilled his water. Now, Siena knows a thing or two about spilled liquids. And most significantly, she knows just how mad and upset I can act towards her when she spills her milk after all the times we’ve told her to be careful with her cup. You can see it in her face and in her eyes when she knocks over her cup and milk is flowing across her plastic place-mat and seeping into the cloth ones we use that she knows I’m upset with her. Sometimes she’ll freeze and go into a shell, which only exacerbates the problem, because what we are then loudly commanding her to do is get up and get paper towels and clean up the mess before it gets any worse. In other situations when she’s done something wrong, I have observed her trying to hide what has gone wrong from me, or to see if she can get away with me not finding out, which I can see through in her face and the way she acts usually, but she cannot hide spilled milk or water, and she knows she has displeased me when that happens. And despite my best efforts to not be too harsh with her–she usually is careful, it always is an accident, and she is just five–I’m not sufficiently good enough, not sufficiently even-keeled enough any more to not let it get to me and not express my frustration with her through a raised voice and stern glares. And it’s times like that I think, despite all the things I am able to do for her, I’m still not being as good a father as I had wanted to be.
As I stooped down to survey the extent of the ice tea lake spreading on our floor, I was thinking of whether I really was tired enough to just drop a glass, of being tired enough that I wanted someone else to clean up the mess. But no one else could clean this up: I had to set an example that we clean up our own spills. I was thinking how much I wanted to just pick up the glass and throw it against the floor until it did break, but I couldn’t demonstrate such force and violence with the kids, let alone our guests. I was thinking whether I should get a bunch of towels from upstairs or go and get the mop from the closet first. Paralyzed by my thoughts, I knelt while the liquid kept spreading, and Thalia kept asking what did daddy do, Siena repeated that I spilled my drink, and eventually Mama told them both to stop it since I didn’t need to hear about it any more and they were just making it worse.
Then Siena said, “It’s ok daddy. I’ll always love you no matter what.”
I had already decided to get the mop first, but with the combination of my exhaustion, my anger, and this, I had to staying kneeling at the floor for a moment longer to fight back tears. I know that Siena is paraphrasing something Mama says to her when she’s has been upset with something Siena has done. But that Siena thought to say it when in the reverse situation she is presented with admonishment instead of such unconditional compassion, and that it came so quickly and easily to her, made my heart big and break at the same time. Of course you hear this from every parent, but we are both constantly amazed by and proud of our girl, with her sweet and caring nature.
Cleaning up the spill after that was no longer an annoying chore, and I sat down for lunch next to Thalia and we had a delightful time. Which means that Siena’s comments, most likely unbeknownst to her, had exactly the necessary effect.
And I hope Siena will always know that we love her forever, too, no matter what.
Merry Christmas, Siena.
P.S. As usual with these kinds of ramblings, it’s late and I’m sentimental. Time to go check on the girls and give them quick kisses while they sleep.