The first time it happened, my daughter, Meagan, was still really little, not yet 2. We were living in Brooklyn in the days when many people only lived there because they couldn’t afford Manhattan. I was exhausted. Maybe I had been up late the night before working on deadline, or maybe it was because I was five months pregnant. I don’t remember. I do remember it was a hot summer day and I was sweaty and in a lousy mood.
We had spent hours at the playground, as we did most days. I wanted to go home and shower, maybe take a nap. Meagan had a different idea. She wanted to return to her friends in the park and was determined to break free from the stroller and run. I said no. She said yes. I said sit down. She arched her back and tried to climb out. I handed her a plastic container of apple juice. She threw it toward the street. I pushed the stroller faster. She screamed louder.
I tried to hold back tears. I wanted to run away from Meagan and my responsibilities as a new mother and never look back. I was quickly learning that when parenting is going well, it’s extraordinary. But when it isn’t, it can be excruciating. A single afternoon can feel as if it is taking years to get through.
I pushed the stroller off the sidewalk so others could get by. Then I engaged the brake, unfastened the strap, and watched as Meagan climbed out of the carriage. With one hand holding her in place, I got down on my knees, wiped her nose and deep blue eyes that were brimming with water, and pushed back the blond curls that were matted to her cheeks and forehead.
Then I asked her something I had never said before: “Can we turn the day around?”
She looked puzzled. Then, surprisingly, she sort of seemed to comprehend what I was asking. It took her a moment to respond, but then, stifling sobs, she reached out and put her arms around my neck. We hugged. Then we looked at each other and laughed. She seemed to be as relieved as I was.
It was as if we had hit an imaginary reset button and got our day back on track. After that, I helped her get back into the stroller and pushed her home, both of us pointing out the flowers, dogs, and babies that we spotted along the way.
As Meagan has moved through preschool, elementary school, middle school, high school, college, and now medical school, this simple act has helped us both on many occasions.
Experience has taught us we can turn the day around at any hour, even when it’s close to midnight. When necessary, we can also turn it around multiple times within the same 24-hour period. Sometimes Meagan is the one having a hard time, but there have been plenty of occasions when I’m the person who is struggling.
It doesn’t happen often, but every once in a while conversations are abrupt. Angry words are spoken. Or worse yet, no words are exchanged at all. Eyes roll. Shoulders shrug. Footsteps are heavy. Then finally, one of us will ask if we can start over and try again. And we do.
It isn’t easy if the tension has lasted for a while or if moods have been especially bad. But the results are always the same. We both feel better. Relieved. Closer.
Perhaps the day will come when we are so well adjusted, so mature, we stop doing this. But I doubt it. The best part is that it always leads to a talk about what’s really going on. It’s funny. It almost never has anything to do with the two of us.
Mary Rae is a writer in Boston. Send comments to email@example.com.TELL YOUR STORY. E-mail your 650-word essay on a relationship to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please note: We do not respond to submissions we won’t pursue.