The circumstances of that evening made ideal kindling for the explosion in store.
I was running late to an event, for which we couldn't find a sitter. I was exhausted near the end of a hectic weekend and already making mental lists for the week ahead.
It was in this perfect storm that my husband noticed the spilled nail polish on my daughter's bedroom floor. The very nail polish I had explicitly forbidden her from using on the new carpet.
My voice reflected how upset I felt at my tween daughter.
It was a loud and angry voice.
But rather than apologize and attempt to clean up the mess, which had happened some time earlier and been conveniently ignored, the child began crying herself, as if she was the victim in this scenario.
The more she cried, the angrier I got.
And the louder I yelled.
Any rational person could see the cycle between my yelling and her crying, but neither of us was having a rational response by this point.
It's fair to say that I lost it.
I screamed at her to stop crying and slammed my hand on her doorframe so hard that the sharp pain startled me. I had never hit something so hard out of anger. It knocked a degree of sense into me. I stopped rushing to get ready. I stopped yelling. I sat on her bed and told her to clean up her room while her father worked to get the stain out of the carpet. I talked to her about why I had gotten so angry. She apologized, and we hugged before I left.
I felt completely drained.
It's exhausting to get angry and yell. I grew up in a house with parents who yelled, one much more scarily than the other. While it's never fun to be yelled at as a child, I have learned that it feels far worse to be the enraged yeller. There's the physiological discomfort that accompanies rage: Your pulse picks up, eventually pounding; your breathing becomes shallow and jagged; you feel slightly out of control.
For those of us who relish a sense of control, this temporary sense of its loss is perhaps the most damaging piece of rage -- beyond the remorse, beyond the hurt.
As part of the generation of parents who gave up corporal punishment to discipline our children, we defaulted to yelling to get their attention and let them know that we really meant business. In the short-term, and with some children, yelling might work. But in the long-term and with many other children, it is useless.
Intellectually, I knew that getting angry never made a lasting change in my daughter's behavior. And how ironic that what would upset me most about her -- her struggle to regulate and control her emotions -- was exactly how I was responding to her.
The day after the nail polish incident, I opened a drawer of my nightclothes and found a large box with a bow tied around it. Inside were two books from my bookshelf: "Love and Anger: The Parental Dilemma" and "Loving Your Child is Not Enough: Positive Discipline That Works," both by Nancy Samalin and co-authors. I had intended to read both at some point but hadn't gotten around to it.
I asked my daughter if she had put them in my drawer. She said she had. She had read them both and said I might find them useful.
I read the slim volume on anger first. It offered a straightforward, simple message: Parents can be driven to periodic madness by our children, yet we rarely talk about it. "Love and Anger" is more than two decades old, but the advice is as practical today as when it was first written. Learning to respond in a calmer way takes some self-awareness and practice.
The book helped change my perspective. I was done giving away my own power and allowing a child to push my buttons to that extent. The bruise on my hand for the rest of the week reminded me that I was never going to let myself get that angry again.
It's been a few months since that incident. I've certainly had moments when I've felt a surge of anger at some misbehavior or disrespect.
But I am more aware of how I'm feeling when I start to get upset. I deliberately lower my voice when I want to raise it. I realize the only way to regain a measure of control in such a situation is by controlling myself.
Recently, I asked my daughter: "Have you noticed a difference in the way I respond to you?"
"Yes," she said.
"You can do the same thing. You can reclaim your own power in how you choose to respond to us," I told her.
The purple bruise eventually faded from the side of my hand.
The lesson is still fresh.