See that bowl? It’s a part of a set. There are three that size, and three bowls just a size larger. My mom bought them for me years and years ago, because she knew they would make my heart sing.
Immediate digression: Mom likes to buy me wee things, and I used to feel guilty about it, back before I was a mom. Ok, WAY before I was a mom, I felt more resentful than guilty, because “What is she doing? Does she think she can make me TOE HER LINE just by buying me this STUFF? I AM MY OWN PERSON, THANKYOU VERY MUCH.” But then I grew up a little and got over myself a lot, and I segued to guilty. But then I had kids and now I understand, because I can’t pass certain things without seeing them in my boys’ hands, and it’s only the combined forces of motherly wisdom and financial limits that stops me from buying them everything there ever was, except porn because ew.
Mom bought me these bowls, because I love to cook, and she knew I’d use them…somehow. And I do. I chop things and measure them and put them in my bowls, one tiny mound of pearly minced garlic here, a warm brown puddle of soy sauce there, neon shreds of lime zest in another. It gives me almost TOO MUCH delight to line up my ingredients. When the boys wander in and see my collection of little bowls, I grin and gesture at them, announcing, “Mise en place.” They wander away, puzzled. No one really understands me. (Ahem. In the interest of full disclosure, my little cooking-show fantasy only happens on the nights when I have the time and temperament to prepare dinner at a leisurely pace. Which is to say…one out of every seventeen nights, or so. The rest of the time I’m flinging ingredients around, wild-eyed and slovenly, with butter on my elbow and flour on my chin.)
Those tiny bowls? Like the one above? Are amazingly strong. Despite being made of glass, I’ve dropped them several times and had them only bounce and skitter across the floor, unbroken, unchipped, unphased. The sturdy roundness of them, the relative thickness of the glass compared to their size, makes them seem unbreakable. I have come to sort of assume that they are.
The other morning I was sitting at the kitchen table, drinking my tea, reading my newspaper, and trying not to snap at Max. He was emptying the dishwasher. I’ve recently realized that at least two thirds of my children are plenty old enough to empty out the dishwasher, and there is therefore no reason for me to do it ever again. This is fine news, because that is one of those chores that makes me want to lie down on the floor and suffer a mental break rather than slog through the boringness of it all.
Max agrees with my assessment of this particular chore. Unfortunately for him, he is eight, and therefore somehow benefited by boredom, and besides it’s payback for the time I sat through “Thomas and the Magic Railroad” with him, because I will never never get those hours back and I still resent that, four years later. It was just SUCH a bad movie.
My point is that Max HAS to empty the dishwasher at least two or three mornings a week. This particular morning he was making his way through this hated chore by employing an old technique used by children everywhere. It was “I can’t possibly do this, see how many things I drop?” and it was interspersed with, “I’m sorry, I saw a bird outside and forgot I have arms or legs.”
“Be careful,” I said through gritted teeth as yet another fistful of spoons slipped out of his hand and crashed to the floor, silverware clattering in every direction.
A few minutes later - “Max? What are you supposed to be doing?” He looked up, startled, from his inspection of the underside of a kitchen chair.
About halfway through his task, he reached up to put one of these small bowls in a cupboard. He caught the edge of it on the shelf and it slipped out of his hands…
…and smashed on the counter below.
Max froze. I smacked my paper down on the table and strode over to look at the damage. There were glass shards everywhere. It was like the remnants of a child’s Christmas craft, glittering from every surface.
“DAMNIT!” I barked. It’s my one big curse word, and when I use it the boys know things are bad. I grabbed Max under the arms and swung him out of the kitchen.
“Go put shoes on, and don’t come in here until I have this cleaned up!” And then, just for good measure, I turned back and stomped my foot (yes, literally. Am such a grown up), and repeated, “DAMNIT!”
I swept and swept and wiped down surfaces. I threw away one tub of butter, one loaf of banana bread, and three brownies that were all dusted with glass. It was amazing how far that one tiny bowl spread. And I scowled and muttered and felt very sorry for myself.
Finally it was done, and I turned to call Max back in to finish his job. He was hovering near the kitchen, and as I moved toward him, I heard him mutter,
“I mess everything up.”
I stopped and looked at him.
I do not, for a moment, believe that Max thinks he messes everything up. I don’t think that my childish outburst damaged his sense of self. I don’t even think it’s wrong to ever get mad at your kids.
But I also know better. I know that it’s wrong to assume that anyone is unbreakable.
I got down and pulled him onto my lap.
”Max? I’m sorry I yelled.”
He nodded and buried his face in my shoulder. His fingers tangled in the hair at the back of my neck, a self-soothing gesture that lingers from his babyhood. I bit back the things I wanted to say, about being careful, and doing his work. He knew what he did wrong, and an apology followed by “- but YOU” is no apology at all.
“I’m sorry I lost my temper. I was wrong. Will you forgive me?” He looked at me and nodded and grinned in gap-toothed joy. I nudged him toward the dishwasher. “Thanks. Now back to work.”
He leaped back into his task with a fair approximation of sincere effort, and I watched him work.
May he always look so unbreakable.
May I always remember that he’s not.