The Age of Accountability

explosivebirthdaycandles1This evening we celebrated my daughter’s seventh birthday. We went out to dinner at Medici, a local restaurant that we adore here in Hyde Park. We had pizza, and then split some ice cream.

After, we went down to 57th Street Books, and both the kiddos got to pick out a couple of new morsels to devour.

In short, this was one of the most pleasant evenings I have spent with my family in quite a while. Nobody yelled. Nobody lost their cool. Nobody had attitude. Just… pleasant.

I point out all the ways the evening could have gone wring, to emphasize that this night was and is a bit of an anomaly.

We are a family of strong personalities. My wife and I have a difficult time with our passions, fear, and emotions – and we are adults.

So our kids get it honest.

A little over two years ago, we hit a patch with my daughter where she was inconsolable. Unrelentingly. It was like she went from three straight into thirteen.

My chief memory from that time is my four-year-old daughter standing on her bunk bed. She was staring me straight in the eyes, and screaming at the top of her lungs.

So a period of about seven months, this happened every night.

It was a bit of trigger for me, to say the least.

No amount of calm, reflective listening or gentle voicing would defuse it. My daughter was a bomb, and she was exploding.

It was in these seven months that I met my best and my lowest points, in rapid succession. No one who saw me during that time could have possibly come away with the impression that I was an effective, in-control parent.

Those seven weeks made me confront some of my own demons from when I was that age, as well.

My beacon was my wife. She kept reminding me that these are children. They are growing and exploring and testing boundaries and they have no idea of the power they have to drive us crazy.

Most important, my wife reminded me – more than once – about the notion of “the age of accountability.”

In our Catholic faith, we believe that there is a threshold of moral maturity. In the Catechism, this is often referred to as “the age of reason.” It is not a fixed point in time, but rather a state of being that the child might attain – some sooner, some later.

Somehow, that reminder would help me when I was beside myself with despair over our daughter. Literally, my wife was saying to me, “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.”

The nights when my daughter was screaming, she seemed like an otherworldly creature. More than once I worried she was possessed, because we ventured into some Exorcist-level provocation at times. It was exhausting. It was nerve-wracking. It was Hell on earth.

My wife had my back, and I had hers. We would tap each other out of the situation, like we were pro wrestlers getting each other out of the ring. We would stay up late at night, strategizing and agonizing.

I wish I could report that all my worrying, and planning, and steadfastness saved the day. But I don’t think that is the case. In the end, my daughter found her own way out of the bramble thicket of her own mind. She is the hero of this story. My wife and I – and our trouper of a son – have been the loyal supporting cast.

She still visits that thicket occasionally, and the flinty hellishness returns. But the episodes are brief these days, and she has learned some good coping mechanisms – we all have – to help us get through.

So this evening was a revelation, and a rare victory for all of us. We all realized that we could make it through an evening without the wheels coming off. It was singular. It was delightful. It felt solid. It felt real.

I hope it is the first of many more such evenings to come.

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