It was a perfect storm of frustration.

A long day. An even longer night.

Two screaming kids, one screaming in outrage because she Still. Wasn’t. Asleep. yet, the other screaming out of some deep-seeded need interwoven with his XY chromosome to be constantly noisy, an otherwise preoccupied husband out of earshot, a frazzled mother trying to alternately soothe a fussy baby and get the other clean and ready for bed…

Eventually the wave crests, the earth cracks, the aria crescendos.

Please. Shut up.”

The fat lady sang.

I let my frustration bubble up and out of my mouth, and, sweet Mother Mary, it worked.

He fell absolutely silent as I scrubbed his hair dry, counting the seconds before I could rush into the other’s bedroom to replace the white noise monitor with a mother’s shushing.

I got to thirty before I realized I had just carelessly tossed out the forbidden “s” word. I got to thirty-two before I realized that my boy, my firstborn, was not silent out of obedience, but from full-fledged fragility.

He was stunned, dumbstruck, blindsided by my cruelty. He had no words for this betrayal.

I had hurt his feelings, and now I had to watch him crumple beneath the weight of two thoughtless words. It’s one thing to see your child get hurt. It’s another world entirely to know you dealt the blow.

It took an hour, curled around the curve of his fragile shoulders, trying to undo the few seconds it took to break his heart. When he looked at me, with tears in his eyes and a hand on his chest, and said, “You hurt my heart,” I knew I would have cut out my own and given it to him, had he but asked.

It took an hour. An hour of hugs, of kisses, of prayer, and, most importantly, of words. Words reassuring my love, words requesting his forgiveness, words expressing my earnest regret.

And even after speaking those new words, as if they were mortar to the cracks I caused, I knew he was still hurt. Despite his active forgiveness, despite his promise that he knew I loved him, that he was no longer angry with me, I knew he still nursed a throbbing heart, a heart tender to its core, wrapped in dirt stains and bug juice, a heart split in two by his own mother’s harshness.

But then he crawled into our bed, early the next morning, whispering, “Mom, I forgive you,” and I wanted to open up my chest and tuck a piece of him inside me, next to my heart, because I want to be just like him when I grow up.

[ Note: This was originally written on my family blog, recycled and revised for The Red Dress writing prompt, Forgiven. Constructive criticism welcome; in fact, I pretty much beg for it. ]