We pray the anger melts

Isaac and IsaiahI’ve got all four boys to myself and I’m trying to plot a course halfway across America, a course that doesn’t entail careening off an icy highway to our deaths. They are, meanwhile, chasing one another about upstairs, with occasional crashes that sound to me, hunkered in front of a computer below, like they are near to breaking through the floor and landing on my head. They smell bad, and they need baths, and now that I have plotted our course I must engage in a kind of geographic sudoku, wherein I endeavor to find a hotel somewhere near our first night’s stopping place that will take some of my tens of thousands of points and yield up a room with two clean beds and a pull-out couch. I am not in the mood for silliness.

This is when they are silliest.

I put the youngest two in a full, warm tub of water, and warn them on pain of death not to play while I finish up the trip arranging downstairs. I don’t know why this sounds reasonable to me, leaving a six and three year-old in a perfectly good tub of splashy water and expecting them not to play. I tell the ten and eight year-olds, meanwhile, to stay in their room and be utterly silent. Might as well double down on the stupid demands, after all.

Complex trip planning completed, a quick prayer uttered that somehow we’ll actually leave on time in the morning and complete our first leg before midnight, I go back upstairs.

The tub is completely empty. Isaac and Isaiah look up at me with a mixture of amusement and guilt. They are trying to determine, I can tell, whether my head will actually explode.

I burst out with a fit of blustering, half-articulate outrage, much like Clark Griswold’s discovery that Uncle Lewis has burned down his Christmas tree. Where, I demand of Isaac, did all the water go?

“Down the drain.”

This does not help his cause. We do some root cause analysis, which amounts to my asking him, over and over and over, what the heck happened to all the water. He finally confesses that he was playing with the drain plate.

I give him a disgusted, angry, glowering look. I have had enough with this child, and I tell him so. “You make messes and you cause work for other people and you don’t care one bit,” I lecture him with a snarl. His face clouds over, and he cries, and I don’t care.

Then it is as if I’m standing outside myself, looking at my crying child with his water-matted tangle of hair and his puffy red eyes, and at my angry posture as I loom over him, and I am ashamed. This is not how it is supposed to be, I think. This is not how I am supposed to be. But I am so angry, and so very tired.

I get him out of the tub and dry him off, and all the while I am praying: Please help me be patient, please help me be better than this. I dry his head roughly, and his neck and arms and back less so, and his legs less roughly still. I wrap the towel around him and cradle him in my arms, even though he has become such a big boy. I carry him to his room and kiss him on the head and tell him I love him. And I do. I really, really do.


  1. Marc V

    As parents, when we’re tired/frustrated/irritated we can let our love shield go down and hurt the ones who mean so much to us. Kids mess up, and they do need discipline but not scorn or derision. One of the great joys in my life was discovering how quickly my kids would forget the times I had to discipline them and would come back to me for a hug.

    We watched “Beezus and Ramona” last night, and there’s a great scene where the dad (the cool, playing with the girls dad) has finally had enough of Ramona and loses his temper. Her reaction hit me hard as I’ve seen the same from my own.

    It sounds like you’re heading close for Carrboro, the Piedmont’s liberal oasis. We have snow/ice forecast for tonight into tomorrow, and then a heap of snow for Monday. Be careful going over the Smokies/Appalachians, as they’ve had a bunch of the white stuff. May God bless you with travel mercies.

  2. Tony

    Thanks Marc, for the encouragement as well as the travel prayers. We were headed the other way, though — 13 hours from Greensboro to just outside St. Louis, where we are safely hunkered down for the night.

  3. diane

    Wonderful read! I travel via RV with 3 on my own and still haven’t got the timing of travel down. Great work on shifting gears with your pack~they will raise your grandbaby’s with the same skills you can pull out of yourself.

    ps…you know about that mother who was convicted when it was shown she was online buying shoes when her preschooler was in the tub and the worst happened (while the older sib was present). ipad in the bathroom works great!

  4. Ruth

    I think it a blessing that the water went down the drain. It does happen that you find the tub is emptied but the water is all over the bathroom floor instead of down the drain. PS I leave my 3 yr. old and 6 yr. old in the tub unsupervised all the time.

  5. Howard

    What I love the most about you, Tony, is that you’re real. This is a scene repeated in many a home, but few are willing to confess it, expose themselves, seek healing from it.

    It’s much easier to keep it hidden, erect a facade, and pretend it never happened.

    Yours is the anti-Pharisee heart, and the one that God will perfect, because you let Him. You are also teaching your sons to be real, too, and it will serve them well in their lives. They will also love you for it.

    You may not feel like a good person, but you are a good example. Thanks for giving me courage to be real, too.

    I hope you enjoy your trip with your boys, an build some lasting, cherished memories.

  6. eli

    I’m seconding what others have said, i’m sure. Thanks for sharing the bad with the good. It makes the good that much more real.

  7. Tiff

    Ah, yes, you have penned what so many of us parents feel: “Please help me be better than this.”

    Thanks you for the wonderfully honest picture of how parenting really looks… not a glossed over picture of kids smiling, baking cookies in a perfectly clean kitchen or something else highly unrealistic (at least in my world!)

  8. marnie

    ahhhhh. why do we make such unreasonable requests of our kids…. i’m praying to be able to remember (and maybe even do more) thinking like a child, so more of our frustrating moments can be melted away before they even happen.

  9. Rena

    Wow! Just wow. Suddenly I don’t feel so all alone. But I do feel like sneaking into the youngest’s bedroom and giving her a kiss.

  10. Lynae Carelse

    Thank you for the encouragement this morning as I have been having real attitude issues from my 16 year old son. It hurts and I can easily act like a wounded bear instead of a child of God who is secure in HIM.

  11. Tony

    I don’t know what to do with all this encouragement about admitting my faults. You people are only going to get more faults from me, you know. Incentives and all that.

    And Howard, my pharisaical hypocrisy runs deeper than you imagine, though I appreciate your kindness all the same.

    Diane! An RV? Have you ever seen “The Blue Collar Comedy Tour”? Bill Engvall says it stands for “Ruins Vacations.” And yet I envy you it.

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