Her nails were cracked, peeled back from the edges. She had been picking again, unable to keep her fingers still as she listened for instructions at school. She’s a good listener, but if something is sticking out where it shouldn’t, poking something else, rough to the touch, it has to go.
I know the feeling; I’m a picker too.
“Honey, you have to STOP doing this!” I grab her fingers, a little too firmly, trimming the edges clean. “You are going to hurt your fingers!”
“I’m trying Mommy, but I just can’t” she whines.
I see the future, I know where picking leads. Scars, infections, doctors appointments and medications. So, I persist.
“Just STOP! Just STOP doing it!” I grab the broom, sweeping up little broken crescents. She stays seated, looking defeated. I sit back down. She stands up, trying to walk away.
“Baby, I used to do the same thing. Except, I bit my nails. And I would bite them till they bled. So you know what I did? I sat on my hands. I sat on them while I listened to the teacher. My Mommy suggested that to me, and it worked.”
She looks down at me, big blue eyes wide with a question, “Did she get mad at you, too?”
“Your Mommy. Was she mad at you?”
My heart leaps and my stomach drops. Tears spring to my eyes, and my cheeks blush hot embarrassment.
“No. My love.” I whisper “She was not mad at me.”
I gather her in my arms, and for the millionth time, ask her forgiveness. Over and over and over I fail at this parenting thing. Over and over I lose my temper over teeny, tiny things because, in my mind, they become big, giant things.
Ripped finger nails lead to infection leads to medication leads to another doctor appointment leads to finding someone to watch my other kids leads to….on and on and on. Until I’ve lost sight of the truth.
A tiny, ripped fingernail. Now clipped. Now swept. Now gone.
I am a big person. I see the big picture (realistic or not). She is a little person. Her picture is so, so little. And I want it to be that way for a while yet.
So now, in our house, we’ve established a new rule. There are “big deals” and there are “not big deals”. Spilled milk- small deal. Sissy running with scissors- big deal. One requires yelling and immediate reaction. The other requires calm and a response.
The kids are pretty good at recognizing one from another.
Surprise, surprise: I am not.
There are lots of excuses for reacting badly to little things: no sleep, hunger, answered 10,000,000 questions already today, worried about other people, worried about medical stuff, about the world, about the future… My brain is a flurry of worry. Excuses they are, but not good excuses. Those are big people problems that take up space in my brain and wear my patience thin. To expand my big-people-problem-world into their little-people-problem-world is to ask them to grow up already.
I must let the little things be little so that my little people can stay little… For as long as they can.