Mom Explains The Muzzle-Nuzzle Rule

The other day it rained, and I was very, very crabby. It didn't help that the entire afternoon had been carefully crafted around my son's piano lesson, and that I had scolded him - gently, but firmly - about our being four minutes late to music school.

For some, dawdling is an art form. I extolled the virtues of punctuality, only to find that his teacher had completely forgotten about his lesson - and all her other students, for that matter - and had left town for the week.

This I learned after listening to my son play "Chopsticks" for half an hour, and my daughter who'd come along for the ride, play something I'll call "Adagio for Elbows." I had planned to do errands while my son had his lesson. No lesson, no errands. Hurling two six-year-olds in and out of stores in the rain is more than I can muster. One six-year-old, yes. Two, out of the question. Errands can wait; six-year-olds won't, not when they travel in groups.

So though nothing had really gone wrong, nothing had really gone right, either, and I kind of sort of lost my perspective. No self-respecting journalist would have covered this story. I can just see the headline: "Day Ruined Because Piano Teacher Left Town." And, sad to say, by the end of the day I was not voted Ms. Congeniality. Not by a long shot.

I'm amazed my family didn't put me out with the cat, the only possible explanation being that we don't have a cat. Crabbiness is a little like crabgrass - same root. Same route, too. Crabbiness tends to take over the landscape of the mind, coloring everything dull and dismal. It's a weed, so by nature it's a spoilsport.

I should know, I've worked this garden before.

But the next day, it was sunny and springlike and it seemed as if all the trees had sneaked into their fine greenery overnight. The kids got up without protest, and we made it to school better than on time, five minutes early.

And then I got to do the errands, nothing important, just the small stuff that needs to get done or our lives fall apart. Grocery store, post office, other necessary incidentals. And as the day went on, I realized I had been the recipient of several small but significant kindnesses.

For starters, the book my husband and I have been waiting and waiting and waiting for finally came into the bookstore a day earlier than its so-called publication date, and the booksellers let me have it anyway.

They did make me promise not to tell anyone, but they didn't specifically rule out writing about it, so I think I'm in the clear.

Then the young man at the bagel store gave me four raspberry jam-filled croissants for free because he knows I love chocolate croissants and he feels bad about not carrying them any- more. And I've never even complained about it. No, really I haven't. Occasionally I even buy bagels at the bagel store.

Finally, the teenager at the beverage mart loaded all seven cases of seltzer into my car without my even asking him to. (Why seven cases? We like to buy in bulk. We really like seltzer.)

And I knew the piano teacher would eventually return, all apologetic and repentant, and in the meantime there's always practicing at home. It's not like our son is booked on a concert tour. He only knows three songs.

But I was struck, figuratively of course, by the rampant niceness that met me at every turn. It may have had something to do with better weather and spring in the air, but I suspect it also had more to do with clearing out the crabbiness. All that merciful kindness was probably there the day before. Goodness always is, rain or shine. Sometimes I growl too loudly to notice. That's usually when my kids are smart enough to give me an unexpected hug and a kiss.

Some days, moms just need to be muzzled. And some days we need to be nuzzled. But kids, if your mom is in a really crabby mood, first muzzle, then nuzzle.

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