THE TIME MY middle child licked a fabric-covered Metro seat was, I thought, my lowest parenting moment. Luckily that episode was immediately followed by his month-long bout of diarrhea to assure me, “Oh, no. It gets worse.”
In his mere six years on this planet, my middle one has broken his older brother’s nose, given his younger sister a black eye, scratched my cornea and visited all manner of abuses on my beleaguered husband.
I sometimes joke that Child Protective Services is going to take him away for our protection.
But here’s the thing about my middle child: He’s actually quite sweet. He’s smart. And he’s intuitive. He is incredible at aggregating and synthesizing information to form logical (or logical for a 6-year-old) conclusions. He’ll share his cookies with anyone. Even his little sister. Even when she’s being all whiny about it.
The fact that he’s sent both his siblings to the ER, gotten disciplined at school for questionable behavior and is maddeningly, consistently, frustratingly the cause of so much conflict at home, is, admittedly, hard to overcome.
But here’s the thing about me: I’m a grown-up. I have the laugh lines and stretchmarks to prove it. So when he grabs a fistful of his sister’s face because “she didn’t understand that I didn’t want to play with her right now.” It falls to me not only to stop the action, but to comfort the afflicted and send the aggressor to his room. And to, eventually, forgive him.
That’s the grownup part. Sometimes I’m just not a good grown-up.
On Yom Kippur every year we talk about forgiveness and teshuva (literally “return” and figuratively “cutting out all the nonsense that requires forgiveness in the first place”). Our tradition teaches that through teshuva we will be forgiven for all the sins we commit against G-d. But for people to forgive each other requires not only teshuva but also reconciliation.
The idea here is that saying “sorry” is hard work. It means owning up to your mistakes and asking the person you hurt to agree to walk with you down the path of healing. There are people in my life who have hurt me deeply who have never been adult enough to say “sorry,” so when a 6-year-old says it, I kinda have to accept it. Like, really accept it.
Sometimes I’m just not a good grownup.
I hold grudges. I do. It’s one of those sins that we beat our chests about on Yom Kippur. I tend to believe the worst of people. Even 6-year-old people. I’ve never really done the work of teshuva about that. But if my middle one can own up to the fact that he hit his brother because “he moved my rock,” I should be able to own up to the fact that failing to forgive is toxic. It teaches my child that he is unforgiveable. That he is the sum total of all his worst deeds, a measure by which any one of us would be considered monstrous.
And so this year, I will quell the anger that rises too quickly from me. I will treat each infraction as an individual case and stop looking for proof of recidivism. I will let go of everything he’s done to tick me off in the past, and not let it color my response to things he might do in the future. I will actually forgive him.
And I will ask him to forgive me.
Mayrav Saar is a writer based in Los Angeles.