Last week as I was leaving for work, I buckled my 3-year-old into the car. And then. Could not. Find. My car keys. Anywhere. New smart keys have not helped me keep track of them. If they are anywhere in the car, the car will start. They were not in the car. My 3-year-old was impatient. And I was getting more impatient by the second. I handed her a pacifier -- the iPad -- and went back in the house -- for the third time -- to look. They were not in the house. I called my spouse to see if they were left in her car from the night before. They were not in her car. They were gone. I needed to suck it up and face reality.
Before I moved to seeking a solution -- how I was going to somehow drop off our daughter and make it to my doctor appointment -- I lost it. My daughter was (fortunately) obsessed in the cartoon of the moment and barely noticed as I alternately riffled beneath and banged my fist on both front seats yelling, “Shit! Shit! Shit!" I knew what was happening. Somewhere inside me was a kinder, gentler, nobler me full of compassion watching a 3-year-old tantrum as expressed by a 41-year-old adult. Three-year-old me and mature-adult me both had on a collar. The me who was cursing was judging the cursing too. It was the perfect opportunity for our daughter to cry "Hypocrisy!" Fortunately, I was spared. This time.
I called the only person in the world I would bother at 7:45. This noble friend would have to go to my office and obtain the spare key, then drive 15 miles out of town to give it to me. She knew I wouldn’t ask unless I were desperate. She knew I would do it for her. As soon as she said yes, I unbuckled my confused child. I told her I had lost the keys and our friend would bring me an extra. Then I took her upstairs where she was giddy to have a chance to increase the length of her cartoon fix.
Then, I went to sit at the dining room table. There, laying on the table where I had looked three times previously, were my keys. I quickly called off the rescue mission to a very grateful friend who earned all the points having never left her home. I turned off the television and moved the real 3-year-old full tantrum now in progress back to the car.
Now that the roles were righted, I approached her freak-out with patience and grace. I was ashamed of how I had acted. What kind of a role model was I to our child? What kind of minister curses and pounds her fists on the seat like a toddler?
I regained something in that moment that I had temporarily lost, the keys to compassion -- for both of the 3-year-olds in the car.