Somehow, I ended up arguing with my oldest child about doughnut holes. Again.
My three kids and I were driving to my mom’s house late on a Sunday morning. As is tradition during our hour-long drive, we swung into the drive-thru to pick up coffee for me and a treat for the kids to share. After collecting the bounty, I always pass the cup of doughnut holes to the kids in the back seat and they fight like a pack of agitated badgers over whose turn it is to hold the cup and dole out the contents. Holder of the cup is the highest of honors, so a fair amount of squabbling and thrashing is to be expected. It’s tradition.
Shortly after we pulled back onto the road, my oldest, who was seated between his two younger siblings, let out a wail. I assumed it was fallout from the cup holder death match, but I was wrong. It was something much worse.
The kids had determined it was my oldest son’s turn to be in charge of meting out the chocolate glazed, and he had dropped them onto the floorboard. I took a quick glance back to see a handful of delicious spheres trundling around on the dirty, fuzzy floor.
In the midst of his crying, I asked my oldest child why he had dropped the cup. I didn’t ask this dumb question because I was upset. I asked because I was still peeved at him for taking what seemed like hours to get into the car before we left the house, and I wanted to be snarky.
Of course, this only made things worse. A full-on meltdown commenced.
Now, I’m typically pretty good at staying calm and cool in such situations. Or at least as calm and cool as can reasonably be expected for someone who is isn’t a Zen master or Billie Eilish. I turned the music up a few notches, focused on the road, and mentally prepared to ride it out.
However, the ruckus didn’t stop. In fact, it kept getting worse. Until finally, I snapped.
I raised my voice more than I normally do — I have a particular aversion to raised voices, so I try to avoid raising mine whenever possible — and told my son to calm down or we were going home. I then flipped my turn signal on dramatically, because there is nothing quite like slamming on a turn signal to show someone who’s boss, and turned onto a side street at the next stoplight.
Best parenting moments, worst ones part of same fabric
Not surprisingly, things got even louder and more screechy at this point. I kept trying to pontificate over my child’s protestations, but nothing was getting through.
And then my younger son’s voice cut right through the noise.
“Daddy, he just needs a few minutes to calm down,” he said. “He needs to breathe, and he’ll be OK.”
The noise level in the car dropped dramatically, my older son started to catch his breath, and I wallowed in a pool of shame and misery.
I remember an old song called “Nice Guys Finish Last” was playing over the car sound system as we turned back onto the main road toward my mom’s house. I was definitely finishing last in that moment, but I did not at all feel like a nice guy.
After a few minutes of driving in relative quiet, things returned to normal. My oldest son relented and ate the final two doughnut holes that had remained in the cup during The Great Doughnut Hole Spill of 2020.
I reached back and patted his leg and apologized for getting upset. I reminded him that while he didn’t react the right way, I certainly didn’t either. And that we all get upset sometimes; we just have to do our best to learn how to handle it.
He grabbed my arm and leaned forward to press his wet face to the back of my hand.
As I reflected on the incident later, I thought back to what my younger son said to bring us out of our collective tailspin.
“Daddy, he just needs a few minutes to calm down. He needs to breathe, and he’ll be OK.”
It sounded very familiar because I have heard myself say almost those exact words more times than I can count in the last half decade. I guess they have been listening!
Which just goes to show, when it comes to parenting, there are good days and bad days and great moments and terrible ones. There are times when you react just the right way to whatever your child throws at you (literally or figuratively). There are days when you go on family bike rides and eat healthy foods. And then there are days when you turn on the screens, hole up inside, eat ice cream for breakfast, and try to stay out of each other’s way.
We are not defined by our worst parenting moments any more than we are defined by our best. Best and worst are threads in the same tapestry. They weave together and cross over in intricate and unexpected ways to create one whole that is all the more beautiful because of its imperfections.
In those difficult times — the tantrums, the heated exchanges of cross words, the mistakes we know we’re making even in the moment — it’s important to remember that the distance from your worst parenting moment to your best isn’t as far as it seems.
What you really need to do is find a few minutes to calm down. And breathe. And try to never, ever get into an argument with your child about doughnut holes.