I yelled at my three-year-old last weekend.
It wasn’t without reason. In fact, I had a very good reason. She’d been goading me for months with unswerving disobedience, blatant impertinence and full-blown temper tantrums.
One notable fit took place in the doorway of Big Lots. As she kicked and screamed from the floor, shoppers stepped over her, saying, “Oh, I remember those days.”
But weeks of ineffective time-outs and even spankings had put me at my parental wit’s end. It was Saturday, and we had made the dreaded trek to Wal-Mart. I had bribed my children with treats from that hallowed American institution, McDonalds. I had said no to drugs and limited myself to unsweet tea, which I had placed in the seat of the cart, next to the three-year-old. She knew better, but she waited until my attention was diverted and removed the plastic top. The tea ended up on me, her sister, our sweaters and my purse.
We trudged on. I navigated the teeming aisles with one child reaching for passing merchandise, the other jumping on and off the end of the buggy and both begging to purchase everything in sight. Finally, I found what I was looking for.
We made our way to the front of the store and began the interminable wait for a cashier. That’s when I made my mistake. I let my three-year-old hold the candles I was buying. It kept her quiet. And quiet, when it comes to preschoolers, is Valium to the soul – especially when you’re 45 minutes past nap time and facing the distinct possibility of another temper tantrum.
Finally, it was our turn. I reached for the candles, only to discover that my daughter had snapped them all in two. Worse, her face showed no remorse whatsoever. Worse still, I could tell that she was about to launch into the long-awaited hissy fit. That’s when I yelled.
Later, I apologized. I cuddled her and asked for forgiveness –which she granted, of course. Children are remarkably quick to forgive (a lesson we could all learn). But I still felt awful.
Then I met Grace Dibble Boyle. She lives here in Sumter, South Carolina, in a wonderful old home that once belonged to her grandmother. She hosts an annual Easter egg hunt – famous in these parts – where she serves old-fashioned food and teaches old-fashioned manners to the children. What many don’t know, however, is that Grace has lived through tragedy. Way back in 1984, one of her children drowned.
They were playing on the river bank. Grace was paying attention. But somehow, on that day, the unthinkable happened. Little Charles went missing. Minutes later, Grace found him floating, face down, in the water. They took Charles off life support and donated his organs. He was three years old.
Imagining the death of a child is excruciating for any parent – and hearing the details of Charles’ drowning was no different for me. I wept, and I wept profusely. But as I did, I felt something far greater than fear. I was gripped by the unmistakable sense that God was speaking to me. I had a three-year-old, and I loved her as fiercely and as passionately as Grace had loved little Charles. And there, but for the grace of God, go I.
The next morning, my daughter came over and hugged me. To my surprise, she looked at me with her big blue eyes and said, “Mama, I sorry I bwake your candles.”
One week after the Wal-Mart incident. One morning after I had heard Grace’s story.
Coincidence? Perhaps. Or perhaps the intervention of a sovereign God, who knows that we all need to learn and grow and change. And sometimes, that takes a little nudge.
I learned a lesson that day. I learned that thanksgiving – true thanksgiving – isn’t only for the holidays. It’s for every day. Especially days when we’re tempted to forget how truly blessed we really are.
Annabelle Robertson is the the author of "The Southern Girl's Guide to Surviving the Newlywed Years: How to Stay Sane Once You've Caught Your Man." She is the editor of IRIS magazine and a reporter with THE ITEM newspaper in Sumter, South Carolina.