His face was red, his nose was running, and tears were streaming down his cheeks.
"But Mommy," he sobbed. "I need you to help me!"
"No you don't, bud," I said, in what I hoped was a calm but firm voice. "You can do it yourself."
"No I can't!" he wailed, slumping to the kitchen floor.
"That's enough!" I snapped.
He didn't agree.
The tantrum had started approximately 23 minutes earlier, when I asked Topher to take off his shoes and wash his hands after coming home from the playground. He's four years old: He takes off his own shoes and washes his own hands multiple times every day. I saw absolutely no reason for his anguish.
I sighed, trying to ignore the howling so I could concentrate on what needed to be done for dinner. Cooking creates stress for me on a normal day, never mind when there's a screaming child at my feet!
Finally - when I could take it no more - I crouched down to his level. "You know, buddy, there are more comfortable places to sit."
"Like where?" he sniffled.
"Like your bed. My bed. The couch. Why don't you go and sit on one of those?"
"Okay," he agreed - and scampered away, wiping his nose with the back of his hand as if nothing at all had happened.
I, however, remained frazzled for the rest of the evening. I had done the right thing, hadn't I? I had done what the parenting books said! I was calm, I was firm, I stuck to my guns.
Later - much later, after the dishes were done, the laundry was folded, the kids were in bed, and Nathan and I were relaxing on the couch - I learned that my husband had had a talk with Topher.
"Do you know why he was so upset?" he asked.
"Because I wouldn't help him take his shoes off," I said, still angered by the whole incident. "He knows how to take his own shoes off!"
"He wanted you to help him," Nathan said.
"I know," I replied. "But he can take his shoes off."
"He can," Nathan said slowly. "But he had sand in his shoes and he didn't want to get it all over the floor."
I had been congratulating myself for handling the whole ordeal "properly" when all along, my son had a completely valid reason for wanting my help.
It was a lesson in patience, a lesson in communication, and a lesson in grace.
I'm not Supermom. I don't always get it right. No matter what the parenting books say, sometimes I make mistakes. I mess up, I snap at my kids, and at least once a day I find myself asking for their forgiveness.
Topher shrugs it off in the same way he dismisses his tantrums. "I love you, Mommy!" he says every night before bed. Little Ellie just opens her arms for a hug.
I'm thankful that they are both so full of grace!