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Essay: The Peony Bush Incident

A flowering peony bush, safe from the reaches of essayist Meagan Schultz's children and their foam swords

Flowers are in bloom around southeastern Wisconsin. That includes the flowers in all but one case in Lake Effect essayist Meagan Schultz’s yard:

The Peony Bush Incident, or how to deal with your kids when they make you really, really angry:

For example, like when your two boys use their play swords to hack every single peony bud on the bush you transplanted from your Nana’s house. First of all, do NOT remind yourself that this bush came all the way from Ohio, or that your mom sprinkled her mom’s ashes on it three years ago, and that ever since, the blooms have quadrupled in number and actually smell like the inside of your Nana’s house when she was alive. Do NOT remind yourself that peonies bloom only once, and that therefore, you will not see a single flower this year.

Instead of screaming for all the neighborhood to hear, step back inside the house, lock your two boys outside, and calmly return to pureeing the soup on the stove. Remind yourself that these are flowers. Special flowers, of course, but flowers nonetheless. No one is dead. (Yet).

Once you’ve taken a deep breath, and checked to make sure there are no choking hazards on the baby’s high chair where she sits staring at you, head back outside. When you see that your boys are laughing maniacally at what they’ve done, do NOT recall how earlier in the week you talked to your elder boy, the six year old, about his great-grandmother and why this bush was more treasured than any of the other peonies dotted around the yard. Do not interpret his evil laugh to mean that he is, indeed, a devil child. And do not follow that train of thought with the next obvious thought: that you are raising a devil child, and that since you stay home while your husband works, this is all your fault. Whatever you do, do not lay the blame at your own feet. This is not the time.

Instead, walk over to the boys as calmly as you can and rip (er, take) the swords out of their hands. Since they are foam, bend them in half, and say in the strange, guttural voice that only comes when every bit of breath has been exhaled, “You. Will. NEVER. Use. These. Swords. Again.” Then find a large knife, cut the swords in half and throw them in the garbage. Try to forget that every parenting book you’ve read says that punishments are NOT the way to deal with events like this. Or that they will only serve to make things worse in the long run when you tell them they cannot wear their sweats, or their basketball jerseys, or the sporty shorts they love to school this week. Forget about the experts as you swipe your elder son’s Pokemon cards off the kitchen table and into a bag along with his Lego Ninjago character encyclopedia and his new baseball hat. Remember, you are nearly forty-three years old, and the fact that they will no longer go to the waterpark this Friday when school is off is NOT revenge. Try to think of it as a lesson instead. That will help.

And if - after your husband rushes home - because you told him to hurry back, saying that if he didn’t, you might actually beat his child (which of course you would NEVER, ever do, but which somehow oddly calms you to say aloud) - if you feel like you want to collapse in heaps of sobs for everything - for the flower heads now strewn around the garden; for your mother who is coming to visit in two weeks and would have seen them at their peak, which also happens to be the anniversary of her mother’s death; for yourself and the way you reacted (and what the neighbors must think); for the boys you will have to put to bed tonight and the kisses you still have to give, and for the fury in the pit of your stomach that simply will not budge … well, that’s OK too. It pretty much always helps to cry in these situations. You can even let your boys see you cry if you’d like.

And when your son hands you a note that he wrote on some of the nicest stationery you own, that he dug out from your desk drawer, the kind you save for Really Important Letters, and you can just about make out that it says “To mom. I’m sorry for what I did.” Try to remember that this is a really important letter. And pull him in and give him a hug. You don’t have to tell him that it’s okay. But tell him that you still love him. And you always will.

Lake Effect essayist Meagan Schultz writes and lives on Milwaukee’s east side.

Meagan Schultz is a mother and writer living on the East Side of Milwaukee with her husband and two young boys. She recently fixed up her basement and fashioned a small space for a writing desk where Legos are not allowed.