Thursday, March 30, 2023

With a loud thud, the cardboard carton fell over on the kitchen table. My son was pouring himself milk in his bowl of cereal, and while I was proud that he was doing it himself, he accidentally dropped the nearly full container. It lurched out of his grasp, overflowing his bowl, spilling milk on the table, and onto his lap.

“Sorry Mommy!” he muttered, his eyes looking down, squeezing back tears.

“It’s okay! No big deal, just milk!” I said, forcing myself to seem nonchalant when internally I was groaning and mentally having a tantrum about the spilled milk. (They’re always spilling! The house is a mess! There is chicken-wings-sauce wiped on the couch from last night’s football game!)

Despite the well-known aphorism, “Don’t cry over spilled milk,” it really is something to cry, or scream, over. Firstly, if that was your last bit of milk, and other children still need some in their bowls of cereal, then you are doomed. You should most definitely cry, or at least run away and hide in the bathroom until it is time to leave for the school bus, so they can’t yell at you. Actually, they can, and probably still will yell at you through the closed bathroom door, but at least you can pretend you don’t hear them, and then won’t have to come up with an explanation as to why you didn’t stock up your refrigerator with a two-week supply of milk, or listen to, “Mommy, really what were you doing yesterday that was so important that you didn’t have time to go to the supermarket and buy more?”

You might also want to cry over your spilled milk because it is so incredibly annoying to clean up, but not as annoying as juice or soda. If you don’t properly alternate between dry and wet and then dry paper towels, and then finish it off with a generous spritz of spray, some surfaces will have a lingering rotten-milk stench that will only disappear after the cleaning lady comes. These are all very good reasons to get incredibly mad when a child spills milk. And yet, I mustered up Herculean strength and pretended it was fun! Yay! Spilled milk! My paper towel roll looked extra large anyway, and needed a thinning down!

I used to get outwardly mad. But as a young toddler, my son would burst into tears of guilt and shame when he would spill, adding more grief to the situation. As if a giant milk river wasn’t bad enough, I then also had to comfort an inconsolable child, and on top of that, make a new cup of chocolate milk, hot-chocolate, or milk with with whip/froth from this whipping machine my mother-in-law bought for me (but I always try to hide from my children because it’s yet another thing to wash). And so I learned to hold my tongue, to not visibly sigh or groan, and to pretend like I was so thrilled to have a fresh spill on the floor, because really, I had nothing else planned for the day, except to wait around for spills to happen and jump right in to test out which holds more liquids- napkins or paper towels?

I was helpless to forcibly change him, but knew that all I had to do, all I COULD do, was change my personal reaction. After years of abstaining from revealing my true frustrations when he spilled, dropped, or broke things, my son no longer bursts into tears. He still displays some regrets over his sloppiness, but I think because we tiptoed around this situation, we actively played it down, he learned not to care as much. I’m hoping that soon he will not care at all, and then I can begin to loudly curse as my inner voice explodes within me. Or, maybe he will have changed me in return, and I too, will just shrug and effortlessly brush the whole thing under the rug, along with the sticky, dried up curds of milk.

Sarah Abenaim is a freelance writer living in Teaneck. She can be reached at [email protected]

By Sarah Abenaim

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