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Faith in Vermont: Curses!

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Posted on March 13, 2018 | Blog Category:
By Faith Gong



“Mommy broke the compost bin and said a bad word!”

On the first Friday of March, my daughters broadcast this announcement to every person we saw: friends, family, neighbors, check-out clerks. It was BIG NEWS in our household, because it was the first time my daughters had heard me swear.

I am not a swear-y person (at least, not outside of those conversations that happen behind our closed bedroom door when I update my husband about certain events of the day.)  It’s just not my habit: I didn’t grow up in a swearing house, and to this day I’ve never heard my own mother utter anything stronger than, “Darn it all!” I try to set a similar example for my daughters, while encouraging them to be careful about what comes out of their mouths.

“The words you say paint a picture,” I’ve told them more than once. “Think about what kind of picture you want to be painting.”

To this end, not only the “big bad swear words” are verboten in our house; we also try to avoid words like, “shut up,” “stupid,” and “hate.”

All this to say: If curses are coming out of my mouth, it’s a sign that something is dramatically off; that something has pushed me outside the limits of who I want to be.

On that first Friday of March, there was a lot pushing me past my limits. My daughters had been battling fiercely all morning over the Lego table. My husband was sick…again…with the awful coughing virus that’s circulated all winter among the adults in our family. My in-laws, who’d been staying with us for two-and-a-half weeks already, had just learned that their flight home was cancelled due to the Northeastern “bomb cyclone” that was swirling snow outside at that very moment, and were not entirely thrilled that they’d have to remain in the loud craziness of our house for an additional three days. And I was exhausted, between arranging celebrations for my daughter’s actual 7th birthday the day before, and her “friend party” the next day.

In other words: I was halfway through a day that was already full of dark energy.

At this particular moment, I was waiting for my daughters to finish eating lunch, so that we could meet two other families at Middlebury College’s indoor track for some snowy-day playtime. Of course, because we were already late and would have to drive slowly through a snowstorm, my daughters were taking a painfully long time to eat.  (What I didn’t know yet was that, when we finally arrived at the field house, the track would be unavailable due to team practices, so our seven children and three adults would become recreational refugees on a desperate search for any indoor space in which to run around.)

While I waited, I decided to burn off my impatience by taking out the compost. The week before, I’d accidentally broken our countertop compost bin when the porcelain lid dropped to the ground and shattered, so this was a brand-new compost bin. I didn’t love it; the metal handle had a tendency to slip off, something I’d ask my husband to fix once he was feeling better.

I pulled on my blizzard gear, braced myself against the howling wind, and trudged across our snowy yard to the outdoor compost heap, where I emptied the bin. Re-entering the house, I set the empty bin on the mudroom floor in order to remove my coat. The bin’s handle chose that moment to slip off, and the bin settled to the floor unevenly, which caused the lid to clatter onto the ground. In a horrible repeat of what had happened only one week before, I watched the lid shatter on the tile floor.

It was the last straw. “G_d__mnit!” I shouted.

I was sorry for my outburst and my language almost immediately; if this had just been between God and me, we’d be fine. But then I looked up through the glass door that separates our mudroom from the rest of the house. This door acts as a buffer to keep cold outside air from our living space, but apparently it is not soundproof. My two oldest daughters, still eating their lunches in slow motion at the kitchen counter, were staring at me with their mouths open.

“Mommy?” one of them whispered as I blew into the house a moment later. “Did you just say a bad word?”

I could’ve denied it to keep face. I could’ve claimed that I was making literal and appropriate use of the word: Calling down God’s swift judgment on a cheaply made compost bin. But just that week I’d started reading Daring Greatly, Brene Brown’s bestselling book about her research on shame and vulnerability. Putting my trust in God and Brene, I decided to be vulnerable with my girls.

“I did say a bad word, and I’m so sorry,” I admitted. “Mommy is having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.” (The last sentence a nod to one of our favorite children’s books.)

Then, I ordered us a new, plastic compost bin.

Being vulnerable and owning up to my mistake really did help diffuse my shame at falling short in front of my children. And, because my daughters quickly spread the story of my blow-up throughout Addison County, I got to be vulnerable over and over again! (At the very least, I figure I’m doing my daughters the favor of not having to live up to a perfect mother.)

I could blame many things for why I lost it at that moment: the difficult day, the cheap compost bin, the full moon the night before. It’s also March, with its grey skies, its teasing cycles of warmth followed by yet more snow, and its nasty attempt to make us “spring forward” through Daylight Savings. March, in my opinion, has always beat out April for the title of “the cruelest month.”

This year, it looks like I’m going to need to take my March with an extra side of grace.

 

Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit manager. She lives in Middlebury with her husband, four daughters, assorted chickens and ducks, and one anxiety-prone labradoodle. In her "free time," she writes for her blog, The Pickle Patch.

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