Young child, with anger all over her face: I hate you! I don’t want to be here! You’re not my mom, and I hate you!
Me: I understand you are upset. Remember that if you keep going, you will end up writing an apology note.
Young child: Never! I will never write an apology note. I will never be sorry!
Of course, she did eventually write the apology note to me. It said, in part:
“I’m sorry I said those mean things. I really do love you. Sometimes my mouth opens up and says things I wasn’t even thinking!”
I taped that note to the back of the bedroom door. I have received many other classic notes, artwork and opinion letters over the years from the children in our home. (Opinion letters are just that: giving me their opinion of me in writing. While some are loving, some contain lingering anger. Those notes keep me humble.)
Although I parented 16 children over several years, I am surprised at the large number of sorry notes I have accumulated after outbursts of anger. Thirteen of my children were entrusted to me from the foster care system. Also most were teen girls. Therefore, we are fluent in drama and anger in this house!
The other day I paused to read the notes on my way out of the bedroom. I mused about how funny each of the notes’ writers were, how quickly they spew anger and then just as quickly, calm down—if they chose. Almost universally, they liked junk food, loud music, hula hoops, tether ball, movie night, and shopping, shopping, shopping. Likewise, almost universally, they didn’t like change, complying with requests, and doing chores.
Additionally, there was another striking similarity. Each child had been required to write several “I’m sorry that…” notes to me or other household members during their stay in our home.
Copies of the cute ones from the smallest children always made it to the back of the bedroom door. While reading those notes, I was reminded that behind those fiery temper outbursts was a child who simply couldn’t handle anger or any of their emotions.
Why were angry outburst so frequent?
Frequently their lives were in chaos, and it manifested in tantrums. My heart was turned away from the memory of faces reflecting anger and unkind comments to the child who was frightened and totally dependent on the adults in their world. Like babies, the only way they felt they could get their needs met was by crying or tantrums or angry outbursts, depending on the age of the child. They simply didn’t have the words to express their deep sorrow.
As they spent time in our home, the number of outbursts lessened. While the children gained confidence in their ability to control their emotions, including anger, they left stronger than they were when they came.
I wonder how many “I’m sorry” notes are strewn on the path of life behind me. Or worse, how many should be there but were never written nor said. I’m not one to make New Year’s resolutions, having lived long enough to know I’m not going to keep them. Ever. Not a single one. However, I am rethinking the notes.
Perhaps sending notes that say “I’m sorry” if I wronged someone or simply “I appreciate you” might be a good resolution to keep. Maybe, just maybe, as I look at this year in hindsight, I will see friendships strengthened and find pleasant memories like those taped to the back of the bedroom door.
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