When I’m a Terrible Human


I was such a jerk.

I was a jerk to a kind, unsuspecting person who didn’t deserve it in the least.

My stomach churned with a particularly shameful cocktail of guilt and regret.

It had been a day. Well, I suppose it had been a month. The kids were back in school, with complicated schedules and about ten forms to fill out each day. I had started a new job, my first since having the boys. And my husband had just returned home after being away for work for four months. It was Operation Adjustment in our household, and I was drowning.

My list quadrupled each day, and I couldn’t keep up, let alone make headway. The fridge was empty, the sink was overflowing and the laundry was conspiring to overthrow us all. I was juggling new terms and systems at work, desperately trying to pass myself off as competent. And, as per usual, the first days of my husband’s return were not full of confetti and general elation. They were awkward and overwhelming; his sudden presence felt a bit strange. We had to get used to each other again.

I really needed a win.

And that day  I was going to get that win. I had a plan. I was going to get on top of everything and prove to myself I could do this. I organized my day with naval precision. A row of empty boxes awaited my checkmarks. There was zero margin for error, no room for anything to go amiss.

Unfortunately, the universe decided to go amiss.

All day, my frenetic pace was halted by traffic, by phone calls, by temper tantrums, by shoppers who chit chatted about vacation destinations with the cashier for ten minutes. As I spun my wheels, the hands on the clock spun at double time. When—sweaty and exasperated—I arrived for school pickup, my to do list looked virtually the same as it had five hours earlier.

I dragged my eldest from the classroom door to the car, not-so-silently muttering about the snail’s pace of the other parents. An aggressive driver cut me off on the way to my son’s gymnastics class, simultaneously managing to terrify me and put me so on edge I was practically vibrating. But we still arrived at the gym early, as planned. Something had gone right! Now to pay for class, dash home to pick up my youngest, and I would be right back on track.

Except that they wouldn’t let me pay. For twenty more minutes. Which, in hindsight, was not a large amount of time to wait. But rational thought was not my driving force at that particular moment. A twenty-minute delay meant the final stake was driven straight through the heart of my gorgeous plan. I had utterly and completely failed on a day where every fragile ounce of my self-worth was riding on success

I let out a deep sigh. The passive aggressive one. And before I had time to remind myself that I was a nice, Christian lady, a sarcastic remark slipped out to the young girl behind the counter. A girl who had no part in crafting the rules I was making a fuss about. She meekly apologized, obviously unprepared for a cranky mother whose entire mental state was on the verge of collapsing.

I huffed my way out of the gym. My four-year-old could have taken notes on that hissy fit.

And lest anyone think I repented immediately, I still managed to act put out when I returned exactly twenty minutes later to pay. Moments after the second interaction, I came to. I began to feel ill. I could not believe I had acted so terribly. I had dumped all my exhaustion, frustration and not-enoughness out on this girl. What was I supposed to do now? Assign my husband gymnastics drop-off from now until the end of time? I wanted to pretend it never happened. Convince myself it wasn’t that bad. She had surely dealt with far worse.

I couldn’t.

I couldn’t move on. The knot in my stomach was threatening to take up permanent residence.

My son was settled in class, so while my youngest sprinted around me like a puppy, I slowly approached her. Tears were already welling up. I ignored them and looked straight into her eyes. I told her I was so deeply sorry. I said that I had no right to speak to her that way. And that it would never, ever happen again.

She graciously accepted my apology, and I realized I was being out-matured by someone at least ten years my junior.

I asked if she liked doughnuts, and she grinned. She told me chocolate doughnut holes were her favourite. All right then, I thought. The old list is out the window. I have a new mission.

I returned to pick up my son with a box full of chocolate doughnut holes. I handed them to her, apologizing again for good measure.

I couldn’t go back and change my horrible behaviour. But I could choose to confront it. I could try to do the right thing. And the right thing wasn’t a row of tidy checkmarks, earned at any cost. It wasn’t morphing into an overstressed monster of productivity. And it certainly wasn’t whining about what a failure I was.

No, the right thing was far more simple than that:

  • Abandon giant, impossible list.
  • Apologize for being a jerk
  • Buy chocolate doughnut holes.

To-do list complete.