The slime wasn’t working.
His brother’s slime, bright yellow and glittery, had just turned into a perfectly smooth bouncy mass while he stirred and stirred and watched as his bowl of gluey goop did nothing. More baking soda was added. No change. More activator was added. No change. The brother tried desperately to be helpful, while I fretted about using the last of our ingredients. He became more and more surly by the second, lashing out at the helpful brother and fuming from the other side of the table while the rest of us tried to help.
Finally, I’d had enough. My own stress levels already high, and rising by the second, I snapped and yelled “We’re done here! If you can’t be kind to the people who are trying to help you, we’re not going to help you!” I snatched the bowl away from the table and put it away.
He crumbles. Crying, he runs into the living room and burrows himself deep under the couch cushions. We can hear his heaving sobs from the kitchen. I take a breath. Thank the brother for trying. Take another breath and head into the living room.
One foot sticks out from under the pile of cushions and sobs brake through. Hesitantly, I place a hand gently on the foot – it is immediately lurched back into the cushions.
I sit in silence for a moment, resting my hand on top of the pillows enough that he knows I am there before snuggling into the couch myself – but with enough distance that he doesn’t retreat again.
“You are so disappointed that the slime didn’t work. Your brothers worked and yours didn’t and you’re disappointed and jealous and frustrated. I’d feel the exact same way.”
I continue. “I don’t know why it didn’t work. I’m pretty frustrated and disappointed too, we tried so hard.”
Silence. I wait.
“Do you want me to go away and give you some space or stay here near you?”
His gruff reply: “stay”.
I wait a moment more. This time when I gently place my hand on his foot he allows it, inching imperceptibly closer to me.
“I’m so sorry I yelled at you. I was feeling frustrated but it wasn’t fair for me to yell. That must have felt really bad.”
The tears come again, but it is sadness, not anger that dominates now. And this time when I pull him into a hug he curls his little body into mine. “I TOLD you when you yell at me it makes me too sad. I told you a million times”.
“I know buddy, I’m so sorry.”
He sits in my lap and cries for a few moments, holding me tight. I breathe deeply, kiss his head and rub his back. He calms down.
I ask if he wants to keep trying to make the slime or find something less stressful and after considering his options he’s off to play legos with his brother. They share the yellow slime.
Later, there is another moment of disappointment when we throw away the bowl of unsuccessful slime, but it is mild, a blip in an otherwise lovely afternoon.
The kids will fight. Disappointments will be suffered. They will act badly. You will act badly. It is unavoidable, but avoiding it isn’t the point. The point is we can fix it & we can teach them how to fix it. It will rupture, time and time again. But if you carefully, intentionally and compassionately repair you’re all going to be ok. More than ok, in fact.