One of my favorite authors (using “author” loosely here, but, let’s be real, the body of literary work most moms are referring to amounts to funny shit on the Internet) is Allie Brosh. She introduced me to the concept of the Sneaky Hate Spiral in her hilarious blog Hyperbole and a Half.
The Sneaky Hate Spiral occurs when a few little innocuous annoyances throughout your day snowball into you ultimately losing your mind and thinking the entire world is conspiring to make your day the absolute worst day of your life.
Our family was collectively having one of these days this past weekend. And if there’s one piece of parenting advice I can give, it’s this: When your kids are acting like assholes, and you’re in a deep, dark place, don’t, under any circumstances, get it in your head that it would be a great idea to all go to lunch together, you know, “to give everyone a change of scenery.”
Here’s how that will inevitably go:
You will be trying to get your little hellions dressed and your three-year-old will shove your one-year-old by the head onto your stone floors because your one-year-old accidentally touched your three-year-old’s sock. While you are disciplining your three-year-old for this unacceptable behavior, your one-year-old will somehow manage to not only wade through a puddle of dog pee in the clean clothes you just literally manhandled him into, he will also find a pile of errant dust-covered dog kibbles and start to eat them, while touching your three-year-old’s sock again, inspiring round five of TOTAL MAYHEM. You will then begrudgingly let your three-year-old pick a sticker out of his sticker collection to wear on his shirt for your outing, even though you originally said no to this request, because FOR THE LOVE OF GOD YOU JUST WANT TO STOP WITH THE NEGOTIATIONS ALREADY and said sticker will rip in transition, which will launch the tantrum to end all tantrums. You will then find yourself looking around in desperation for that flask you received as a bachelorette party favor ten years ago, wondering aloud but to no one in particular if it’s okay to bring it with you — filled with whisky (for everyone), of course — in the car.
It was that kind of day, and I thought it was a good idea to actually go out in public — to a respectable winery restaurant, no less.
We got through lunch, but it wasn’t pretty. Among bites of our own food and large gulps of wine, we ping-ponged between offering random items to Luke to keep him from literally hanging out of his high chair and yelling like a drunk frat boy, and ordering James to “SIT THE BUM DOWN! NO FEET ON THE TABLE!” At one point, I took Luke out into the restaurant’s garden area to let him crawl in the flower bed (read: eat wood chips) and promptly got a splinter through my jeans into my butt. We finally resorted to giving Luke wedges of lemon to simultaneously fascinate, entertain and horrify him, and accepted the fact that James was just going to eat ketchup for lunch.
The calm before the storm
When we got home and got everyone down for a nap, I decided to plan an activity for that period of time after nap but before dinner, bath and bed. We live on a little lake that rents large pontoon-style paddle boats by the hour. What a perfect idea for a day that was practically daring me to introduce more disaster potential.
We managed to get everyone post-nap into the car, despite the fact that James yelled the entire time about how he didn’t want to go do anything fun, in particular anything involving us, his brother or a boat. As we rounded the corner to the lake, Tim suddenly took one look in the rearview mirror and let out an alarming “OH FUCK.”
To all you husbands out there: Please don’t ever do this.
In an already high-stress situation, those two words are among the last you want to hear. While I was envisioning every catastrophe under the sun in that exact moment, it turns out the source of Tim’s panic was because he saw Luke in the mirror, happily holding his previously entirely full sippy cup of milk upside down, top off, empty.
Given there was now a full 8 ounces of milk pooling in Luke’s lap and carseat on an 80-degree day with no change of clothes to be found, we had no choice but to turn back. In this moment, Tim made the executive decision that a boat ride was not in the cards.
Upon learning the news that we were no longer doing the thing that he really didn’t want to do in the first place, James lost it. Like, NO MORE WIRE HANGERS batshit crazy lost it.
Wrestling one milk-soaked screaming baby out of a filthy, sticky carseat, then straight-up MacGyvering the carseat itself out of the car without spilling what looked like a gallon of milk sloshing around in the bottom of it, while listening to a toddhole have the aural equivalent of an anesthetic-free root canal, I questioned every decision I had ever made in my life.
Nerves were FRAYED.
One of the things I love most about my husband is that, while he is certainly capable of ratcheting up a fight with me, he is also uniquely gifted at remaining unruffled during tense situations with the kids — situations in which I am trying my hardest not to stab myself in the eye with a corkscrew.
This was one of those moments. After getting James under control, he strapped a rabid, flailing Luke into the Baby Bjorn and ordered us all to walk to the park.
The baby/toddler whisperer in action
And during this walk, I learned something important.
As we were strolling, I found myself still stuck in a tense, grouchy, sneaky hate spiral state. James wanted to stop to point out to me — and celebrate — what seemed like every stone, seed, flower and blade of grass along the way, and I became cranky and impatient about it, rushing him along.
But then it occurred to me — this was part of James’ experience. A big part of it. As clichéd as it sounds, the journey was as important as the destination for him.
He treated every dandelion puff as though he had never seen one before. He collected pine cones like they were going to run out, stashing them in the bottom of the stroller to save for later. He insisted we reach down to feel how “pokey” the flower buds were on our neighbor’s lawn. Pointed out the new LED lights that lined their driveway.
Most importantly, he had fully recovered from what had previously seemed like the WORST DAY EVER for him. He wasn’t mad at anyone. He wasn’t holding a grudge. He wasn’t dwelling on what had happened. He had fully, unapologetically returned to a happy, carefree, joyful mood, and shared this openly with us.
Even Luke nattered away, strapped to Tim’s chest, feeding off his big brother’s warm, happy energy… or something even bigger — the gift of living in the moment.
I hold on to this clarity, and share it in hopes of nipping in the bud those moments when we feel the world is going out of its way to make us miserable, and we grasp at people, things, situations to blame.
May we all be as forgiving and open to happiness as our children. It’s all around us, ripe for the taking.
Try to remember how you felt the last time you were truly joyful