A little over a year ago, I did something that triggers rage in children all across the globe: I enforced one of my family’s rules about screen time. I know, I’m pretty much a monster. In response to my mean-mommy parenting, my 6-year-old son scrawled the following note onto origami paper and slipped it under the bathroom door while I was peeing:
In that moment, I faced an enormous parenting test: How could I laugh silently, get all my laughter out and figure out precisely how to respond to this note before I opened that bathroom door?
Here’s what you can do if you find yourself in a similar situation:
Lucky me, I had the bathroom door to block my face from my child. If I hadn’t, he might have seen me laughing. And do you know how children interpret laughter in times like these? They see it as weakness. Our laughter means that they own us. It means that they will never, ever see any wrong in what they’ve done.
So hide your damn face. Stick your head under a pillow. Cover your eyes with your hands. Duck into a closet and make your giggles sound like crying.
Otherwise, your kid might find their deed so funny that, the next thing you know, they’re calling Grandma a pain in the ass.
He’d struggled with writing and reading all throughout kindergarten, and there he was, writing his own letter to me with no help at all.
2. Don’t go negative
Do not, I repeat, do not consider yourself a parenting failure. And trust me, I did, at least for a brief moment. Surely, I thought, a “good mom’s” first-grader would never call her a pain in the ass (or a pan in the ass, for that matter). And surely a good mom’s 6-year-old shouldn’t even know the phrase “pain in the ass.”
Whatever. To err is to be human, or some shit like that.
3. Take pride in that shit
Do you know what I realized as I examined my son’s note? He had sounded out the words all on his own! He’d struggled with writing and reading all throughout kindergarten, and there he was, writing his own letter to me with no help at all.
I considered sending a picture of the note to his kindergarten teacher so that she could see all the progress he’d made over the past year. Then I realized that this was a terrible idea.
As I studied the letter further, I also noted how he’d misspelled “dear” and “pain” but gotten “ass” exactly right. In fact, it looked as if he had really taken his time writing out each letter—a-s-s—just to make sure that I knew exactly what kind of pain I was. He wasn’t just angry with me—he was also meticulous with his anger.
And finally, as I wondered where on Earth he could have learned this phrase—one that’s not a normal part of my vocabulary—it dawned on me: "Home Alone." Freaking "Home Alone." In the movie, Kevin’s brother calls him a pain in the … butt. Not ass, but butt.
And then I realized: Hot damn. My boy knew how to use synonyms.
Not once did I contemplate telling my son, 'Just wait until your father gets home.'
4. Scatter the seeds of joy
Before I emerged from my bathroom hiding spot, I texted a photo of the note to my husband. And to my parents. And my siblings. And a couple friends. And the note brought so much joy to their days that I couldn't help but smile. It was brightening days. Inspiring smiles. Creating laughter. In fact, it was contributing a net good to the world.
I dare say that this note was doing God’s work.
5. Try and sound like a grown-up when you confront your child
Not once did I contemplate telling my son, “Just wait until your father gets home.” I’ve never said that. I am a fully capable parent. (Or maybe not. See: my son’s note to me.)
But I did feel as if I had to act like a grown-ass woman when I talked to him about the note.
“This was a really inappropriate letter,” I told him. “I’m glad that you expressed your feelings calmly, but there are much better ways to show your anger. You don’t need to call names. You don’t need to use hurtful words. And these words,” I said, pointing out the worst offenders, “are way too strong. They hurt my feelings. Next time you’re angry, you can tell me so without these kinds of words.”
And then once he was out of sight, this pan in the ass went upstairs to her bedroom and placed the note in the box where she keeps her most treasured cards and letters.
Because let’s be honest: A note like this is goddamn treasure.