In these moments of reflection, I can see that most of the time, my increase in volume and rapid reaction time are the manifestations of my own feelings of stress, tiredness, or feeling inadequate. At the scene of the crime, my impatience and human frailty render such powers of discernment useless.
This summer I had a bout of pneumonia that made yelling physically painful in my left lung. I took it as a wake-up call. What had started as a gradual increase in the intensity of my speech through the course of a day or week had become an impulse.
When something annoyed me, my voice was going from zero to sixty, regardless of the situation. More and more often, I heard my older son yelling directions at his younger brother. Something needed to change. That something was me.
At a loss for where to start, I considered how we discipline our children. While we don’t offer rewards for all good behavior—the servant must not expect a great reward for completing the task set out for him (Luke 17:7-10)—sometimes bait can provide the motivation to get the job done. For example, if you ditch the Pull-ups and sleep in real undies with no accidents for a week, you can move from the toddler bed to the bunk bed. Everybody wins.
My plan, then, was to reward myself with a latte from a local coffee shop when, and only when, I was able to go for a week without unmerited yelling. I filled my husband in on my plan for added accountability and the “Latte Clock” began.
Day One was okay at the start, but I got impatient by the afternoon. Day Two was similar. Day Three, I didn’t get enough sleep, so the clock reset before lunch. I went about two weeks like this, every day informing my husband that for one reason or another, the Latte Clock had been reset.
Getting frustrated with myself wasn’t helping the situation, and one Saturday it got to the point that I was exclusively yelling at one of my children. Though he had misbehaved early on, I felt incapable of encouraging him to reconsider his actions once his apology had been made. My forgiveness was lip service.
My husband suggested it was time for me to get out of the house for a little bit. I already had an afternoon of writing planned. By the time I left the house I’d have only an hour at the library. The other option was to sit at a coffee shop for a while. I tried to tell myself I’d get a cup of tea, but my husband’s empathy convinced me I needed to cut myself some slack. Thus was born the Consolation Latte.
The Consolation Latte is to be used sparingly, as it is potent and highly effective. As I indulged in coconut milk and caramel goodness, I thought about how I’d failed every single day. If I couldn’t make it a day, how was I going to make it a week?
I realized I’d set a goal out of proportion with where I was spiritually. I’d fallen out of the habit of saying even just a decade of the rosary each day, and that always has a significant impact on how I am able to conduct myself. I wasn’t getting enough rest, either. I had lost a sense of discipline and was cycling away from where I wanted to be.
The Consolation Latte was a wake-up call. We are called to strive for perfection, but not on our own. Motherhood is my vocation, and if I don’t let God in—really, really let Him in to every aspect, especially the ones I find most challenging on my own—I can’t be the best version of myself. I can’t give my best to my kids.
Monday morning, the Latte Clock started over. I still haven’t made it a week, but I’m making progress. I am more aware of when I yell and why, and so I can make changes a few steps farther back into myself. I apologize to my kids when I’m out of line, but I’m sticking to my guns when they need to be disciplined.
Every day of parenting brings some new challenge, something to grow from. My experience with the Latte Clock proves that coffee doesn’t necessarily stunt your growth.
Which virtue are your struggling to live today? What’s at the root that makes it a challenge? What can you change to live more fully? Remember that the sacrament of Reconciliation is always a good place to start!
Copyright 2016 by Lindsay Schlegel