My foot-in-the-mouth moment when I realized I’ve become my father

My Daughter’s Gingerbread House

Today the kids were home — sick with a head cold (thankfully confirmed as Covid-negative) and I took the opportunity of having them both at home to get started on a Christmas tradition at our house: Gingerbread house making. The kids were surprisingly cooperative and engaged at the beginning. (Often these kinds of things immediately inspire a FIGHT between them) We made and rolled the dough with little to no drama; my son, surprisingly helpful and his sister happy to let him in on the action.

Before I get into what happens next, I should preface this with a bit of “history” around this particular tradition. I distinctly remember taking great joy myself in the process of making gingerbread houses until the fateful day when the “magic” got snuffed out of it by ONE comment from my father. I must have been about 10 or 12 years old and that particular year I decided to “kick it up a notch” and build a more complex house with REAL windows that had panes of “candy” for glass and even little lights to go inside. I agonized and toiled for hours, to finally make what I believed was my best house yet. I recall it being late and when I finally triumphantly held up the house on it’s tray to show my father, I can still vividly see the look on his face, as he cocked his head to one side, paused, and then said,

“The windows are not even. You should have used a ruler to set them straight.”

And that was it. That’s all he said.

I was crushed.

I don’t remember making another gingerbread house after that for a very long time. Perhaps not again until I went to pastry school and I remember making a class one with my fellow pastry-school classmates. We actually won an award that year at the Hyatt Vancouver’s famous Gingerbread House Competition. I made sure to mention that award to my dad. The significance was of course completely lost to him.

Fast forward to today.

Part of why my daughter was so amiable to let her brother help is she had taken it upon herself to look up and draw all the templates for the gingerbread houses we would need. She even kindly offered to make her brother his templates (not for a house but for the TNT box from Minecraft). So just as I was wrapping up the rolling of the dough with my son — S triumphantly presented me the hand drawn templates she had just made. I looked at them and said,

“WOW you even made your brother’s that’s awfully kind of you!”

S: “it was easy — it’s just a square”

Me: (pointing to her symbol of 2X on one template piece of the TNT cube) “You only need two of the sides though?”

S: (looks up as if to think about it) “Oh yeah -it should say 6!”

Me: “Did you use a ruler for this?”

DUM DUM ……DUMMMMMMMMM (YES — what I said was also DUMB)

S narrowed her eyebrows at me and I knew in that instant what I had just done.

I was suddenly seeing myself as a 10 year old kid reflected back at me.

The expression of shock and also hurt slowly spreading across her face.

S: “FINE- I’ll do it again with a ruler!” as she snatched the templates off the counter and stomped off with the ruler.

I could feel my heart drop to the pit of myself stomach and I heard myself shamefully trying to recant and regroup, “I’m only asking because I know how frustrated you’ll be when the pieces come out crooked later and you’ll want to do it again!”

Dum dum DUMMMMMM — AGAIN.

At this point I suddenly had this irritable urge to clamp a hand over my own mouth and utter to myself, “For Pete’s sake, shut up already… you KNOW what you just did and there’s only one thing you could say that would make this better”.

I paused, recollected my wits, and said, “Sophie, I’m sooooo sorry — I just did exactly what my Dad did to me once.” I still for some reason needed to try and reason WHY I said what I said but I I think it was more to absolve myself of my own guilt for doing the very thing that had crushed my gingerbread making spirit so many years before. I lamely ended off with “What I said about the ruler doesn’t even matter because later you’ll still need to trim the edges anyway when the dough spreads in the oven.”

One would THINK that that would’ve been ENOUGH to gravely imprint the need to refrain from feedback or further comment on any part of the process for the rest of the afternoon. But I am FAR from a perfect parent.

Later that afternoon when assembling the houses had come and gone in what seemed like a very short time (just pulling out all the decor and organizing the space took longer than the kids spent on actually decorating there houses! ) I committed foot in the mouth moment #2.

I looked over at the kids now watching a show on the tv and to the candy-strewn dining table with my daughter’s house on it and I asked, “Are you done?”

S: “Yes — why?”

Me: “Oh — okay…. I wasn’t sure cuz this wall looks like it needs something else”

S:”I was done….but FINE i’ll do more” (stomping back to the dining table)

What I said may not SEEM that bad on the surface, but to my daughter, a highly sensitive person, who’s attuned to the most minor of minor changes in tones of inflection or prosody, what I had said was essentially the equivalent of: “What you did was not good enough and you need to do more.” (which she later told me herself was how she read my question) That simple question was followed by an HOUR long heated discussion of how she feels she can’t help that her brain is always paying more attention to what other people want and how she ends up choosing that over what she wants or needs in the moment in order to keep the peace.

It never ceases to amaze me how very articulate she is at 10 on the inner workings of her brain and thought patterns. That aside, I knew I needed to find a way to change the course and level of consciousness of the conversation. Rather than defend or justify my question, I put it aside to once again (second time in less than 5 hours!) find myself gravely apologizing, “OMGoodness S. I’m sooo deeply sorry. How I phrased my question earlier included unsolicited feedback and I regret that how I said that implied that something was wrong with your house. What I should’ve asked was, “Are you done with your house? May I clean up now?” which is really what I wanted to say but instead I made an unsolicited comment about your house that was not warranted.

Suddenly I could see my daughter’s shoulders drop. Her brow softened a little and then all of a sudden she started to cry — muttering how people at school are always telling her what’s wrong with something about her or what she does. My heart broke open for her in that moment.

I suppose I can give myself grace for the fact that despite BOTH of my foot in the mouth moments today, the difference between me and my father then is that I CAUGHT MYSELF. I caught, with empathetic awareness, how my words landed and I made sure to make immediate amends. In that moment I was not only apologizing to S — I think I was also apologizing to my 10 year old self so many years ago on behalf of my father who still to this day remains unconscious of the impact that that comment had had. It never ceases to amaze me time again how that attachment wound — the message that what I did was just not enough or that there was always something wrong — gets played out in my own situations today. It’s not as a hopeless reminder that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree — but rather it was an OPPORTUNITY to heal something for myself AND for my daughter today.

(P.S. it’s never too late to make amends. If this post has triggered an example of your own but you realize that you haven’t yet made amends to the impact that your foot-in the mouth comment has made, its NEVER too late to take ownership of that. I no longer long for it, but nor would i scoff, if my father were to read this and suddenly find himself apologizing for the impact of his comment. Nevertheless, I now feel healed and whole regardless of whether that day comes and grateful that I could find that forgiveness and peace through this experience with my own daughter. Another poignant example of how our children are our greatest teachers and raising them also means growing up the parts in ourselves as parents that were wounded and are showing up to be healed when a situation with our kids triggers them.)

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A Registered Therapeutic Counsellor, Mom, Wife, Sister, Daughter, Friend, Seeker and HUMAN.

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Shaya Sy-Rantfors

Shaya Sy-Rantfors

A Registered Therapeutic Counsellor, Mom, Wife, Sister, Daughter, Friend, Seeker and HUMAN.

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