Zach had taken Zoey to swim lessons. I had just finally finished getting Eleanor to eat her dinner and she was helping me give Alden a bath. It had been a fun but exhausting and long day, as I’d spent almost six hours with all three kids at a pumpkin farm that day. I’d only had five hours of sleep (at most) the night before and been up since six in the morning with the baby. I was feeling tired and cranky, and the Eleanor was pretty well worn out too, having skipped her nap and spent the entire day playing outdoors.
I had the bathroom nice and warm to keep Alden from catching a chill while we gave him a bath. I asked Eleanor to quickly take something out of the bathroom for me, being sure to close the door behind her to keep the heat in. I then reiterated that she should close the door again when she came back in. Eleanor went to the door, opened it, and then just stood there. I felt the draft, looked over my shoulder, and yelled for her to “Shut the door!” She very slowly reached out a hand and touched the open door, not closing it at all. Naked, wet baby in one arm, I reached over and slammed the door shut. Then, in one of my finer parenting moments, I proceeded to yell at Eleanor for leaving the door open. “Why didn’t you shut the door?!” I shouted at her.
Eleanor responded something unintelligible in that tiny, squeaky voice young children use when they know they are in trouble and feel ashamed. That voice that tells you they feel about two inches tall at the moment. “No!” I yelled. “Don’t whine at me! Answer me with words! Why didn’t you shut the door?!”
“Because I’m a stupid person!”
My heart dropped to the floor and I froze. I sat there, stunned, in complete disbelief that those words had just come from my brilliant three year old. How did she even know the word stupid? It is a word rarely – if ever – uttered in our household, and certainly never directed at people. Did she hear it at school? Why on Earth would she ever use such a word to describe herself???
I collected myself quickly and said, in a quiet, calm voice, “Come here Eleanor.” She hung her head and walked over to me and I wrapped my arms around her. “You are not stupid. You are smart. Very smart. You are kind and funny and wonderful and I love you. I love you, Eleanor.”
I told her I was sorry for yelling. That I was feeling tired and cranky but I still should not have yelled at her. We finished getting Alden dried and dressed and I read her extra bedtime stories. As I tucked her in, I wrapped her in another tight hug and told her to repeat after me:
“I am smart.”
“I am funny.”
“I am kind.”
“I am wonderful.”
“I am amazing!”
“I am loved.”
At first she copied my words in a small voice that said she didn’t believe what she was saying. By the time we got to the end she was smiling and there was confidence in her voice again. I think this may become a daily ritual with my girls. These self-affirmations. Perhaps, if I hear them say these words with enough conviction, as if they truly believe them, then these pieces of my heart that just shattered can knit themselves back together.