Let's say you have a three-and-a-half-year-old. Let's say she is sweet-natured, brimming with compassion, and pretty darn smart. And you love her dearly.
And then, let's say, you say something flippantly that causes her anguish ... and you to kick yourself repeatedly, apologize, ask for forgiveness, etc., and still feel awful about.
Caroline is toilet-trained. (Sorry, I hate the word potty.) She does not have accidents. She wears a diaper to bed at night, but we've stopped with the naptime diapers. She usually is awake long enough before she falls asleep that she asks me if she can go to the bathroom, and I always say yes.
Today, I was feeling irritable because of the MESS these kids make. Why can't they ever put anything away? And why won't they keep their clothes on? I'm tired of saying, "Where are your clothes??" Anyway, I put the girls down for their naps, and then I was tackling a couple tasks (disassembling a piece of furniture in the kitchen, updating our tax return online with the tax statement I received today, checking Facebook, etc.) downstairs. Caroline asked to go to the bathroom. Twice. She went. Twice. The third (or maybe fourth? I don't remember--) time, she called down from upstairs, "May I go to the bathroom?" I yelled back, "No, you may not go to the bathroom again!" This is all in the space of about ten or fifteen minutes.
Five minutes later, I heard her upstairs wailing, and I knew something was terribly wrong. I raced up there and found her, peeing, in my bedroom. The white noise machine was near her on the floor, and I wasn't sure exactly what had happened. Was she hurt? Had she gotten shocked? I raced her into the bathroom, sat her on the toilet, and calmed her down. She concocted a story about where she was hurt, but when I pressed her, she admitted she was crying because she'd peed in her underwear.
Oh my goodness. Dagger to my heart.
I almost lost it.
I apologized profusely and told her it was my fault. That I was not angry with her. That I should not have told her no. Etc., etc. Then I cleaned up the bedroom and got her some clean clothes.
I thought I'd better talk with her again about what had happened, so I reiterated that this was MY fault and I was not angry. And would she please forgive me? She said yes. And then she said, "Momma, what's 'forgive'?"
I thought hard. How do you define it? So, I told her, it's like this:
I say, Caroline, I am so sorry. I should not have told you you couldn't go to the bathroom.
And then you say, Momma, it's okay. I love you.
That's what it means to forgive.
To which she replied, "Momma, it's okay. I love you."