We sat together on the beige carpeted floor of her room, our legs criss-cross-applesauce and my large pregnant belly housing her little brother resting in my lap. We were just finishing up our nightly reading before bed time snuggles. Tonight was a selection from a children's devotional book that relates animal characteristics to our own behavior as humans. We love this book for the conversations it starts between us adults and the kids; plus the mix of animal facts combined with a life lesson is a fun way of going about learning. My daughter chose this page not knowing how fitting it would be: a few hippopotamus facts together with a lesson about anger and self-control. According to this short page, a hippo is dangerous because it has a temper (who knew?!). It might appear friendly in the water, cool and collected as it goes about its business floating down the river, but get too close and what happens? It snaps. It turns into an angry hippo. With its sharp teeth and mighty roar, it will slash at whatever has crossed into its hippo personal space bubble until blood is drawn or even death by drowning. Yikes!
My then-three year old daughter pointed to the hippo drawing, the one with its mouth wide and teeth exposed, clearly warning others to back off and exclaimed excitingly, “Mom, you could really learn from this!”
Yes, folks, I am an angry hippo.
Sigh. Nothing like a three year old telling you what you can improve on as a Mom. Shouldn't it be the other way around? Aren't I supposed to be doing the correcting? It is rather convicting. And humbling. At least she said it nicely.
Indeed, I've found over the past eight years of parenting that my kids often are the ones teaching me. With their wide open hearts and unfiltered mouths, they are not afraid to speak the truth. Many times that truth stings, as in this instance of a temper lesson. My kids are all too happy to point out my flaws sometimes — like it is thrilling for them to know adults are not perfect either. I was just 19 years old, though, when I became a mom and I feel like I have grown — no, I am growing — right along with my oldest daughter. I'm figuring this life thing out with her by my side, making way for her siblings to follow. We're a team at times. We teach each other; we learn together what works or does not.
I'll admit it and own it: I am an angry hippo. Having claimed it, I know I can change it. The first step is admitting there is a problem, right? Over the past five years we have worked on this together. Having patience and taming our tempers has been a process — one we are still and always will be working on! Are we always calm? Not nearly. But, having this visual of what we don't want to be is a great tool to make baby steps to being better people. I have this reminder to pull out to stop and take a breath before showing my teeth and slashing at the next child who crosses into my mommy bubble. I have good days and bad days, of course. But, I'm satisfied with the bad days being farther between since my daughter pointed out this flaw of mine. That's progress.
We also have adopted the phrase “Don't be a grumpy pants” in our home for the same effect. If one of us is having a bad attitude we tell them to take off their grumpy pants and put on their happy pants. Ha! Whatever works to break the tension with a silly smile and have a more peaceful home.