The Crescent Roll Chronicle
I knew that throwing a half-eaten crescent roll at my mother would not help me get my way. But she had just let me know that Jamie couldn’t sleep over, and I was furious.
I was ten years old, and even though I still believed in Santa, I had enough good sense to know that overreacting to my mother’s decision would not help to change her mind. As she sat there, dusting crumbs off her lap in the silence that followed, I remember trying to choke down the shame that was rapidly spreading through my body. Before my outburst, my family and I had been enjoying a lovely meal with my cousin, Jamie, who I rarely got to see. I had spent the entire week preparing for the occasion, picking out clothes and toys that would impress my cousin who was three years older and a thousand times cooler than me. Wasn’t it enough that we had spent the whole day playing? Couldn’t I just be satisfied with this brief glimpse into the life of a teenage girl; ten consecutive hours with the older sister I never had? Why did I let my temper ruin an otherwise perfect day?
You could say that the crescent roll was propelled my immaturity; nothing more than a temper tantrum reserved for the young and juvenile. But there have been many moments since then where I have felt like hurling a crescent roll at someone, for something equally as insignificant. Moments where I’ve succumbed to irrational impulses, dubbed myself the asshole who ruins the party because she doesn’t want it to end. The reasons for my overreactions have changed, but the cycle of emotions remains: anger, impulse, shame. Sometimes the shame comes first; previewing itself as if to change my mind, though it seldom works.
These overreactions are like Easter Eggs that dot the memories I have of my childhood. I see them as I flip through photo albums; hear their piercing screams in between pauses in the stories my parents tell. At every Power Rangers themed birthday party, I see a little girl with straggly blonde hair, sitting in a corner stewing in a mixture of anger and guilt. Every trip to the park, every game of laser tag, there she is, waiting to expose the part of her that can’t be controlled by reason or logic.
My mother tells me that shortly after my sister was born, I started pulling off her socks when nobody was looking. She would turn around to grab something, and two seconds later, turn back to see my sister’s little toes, poking out from underneath the cover of the carriage. She thinks it was my way of rebelling against this tiny person who stole half my room, and all of the attention from me. I wonder what I was rebelling against, when I flipped off the person who cut me off on the highway the other day?
We all overreact, but my sister must do it when nobody is watching. She has always been the laid back one. I don’t remember that she ever ruined a sleepover with her favorite cousin, but maybe I was too busy with my own self-destruction to notice. Maybe I’m just being hard on myself. Isn’t overreaction a part of human nature?
A few months ago, I was sitting at my cubicle, when I got an email from one of my coworkers. I opened it to find a paragraph long rant about the anonymous person who left his dirty dishes in our communal sink. The strongly worded email, which must have taken hours to write, was sent to everyone in our agency, and immediately became the topic of the day. I wondered what was going through her mind as she walked from the kitchen to her desk. Was her anger slowly simmering with every step back to her cubicle? Had it been building all day? Did the anxiety kick in immediately? Or did she wake up in the middle of the night, with a bad feeling in the pit of her stomach for something that could not be undone? A part of me wants to laugh at her anger, but mostly I want to tell her that gilt isn’t going to make it any better.
I think that often, our overreactions are merely misplaced reactions. We are surrounded by so many complicated problems we cannot hope to solve in one lifetime. It is a small wonder our anger is unleashed on trivial concerns; we dream of solving world hunger and settle for scolding the culprit who left his crumbs in the sink.
When I witness these overreactions, I imagine my ten year old self sitting at the dinner table, awaiting my mother’s punishment. What was I so mad about then? How could I have been lashing out a world I didn’t even realize existed?
I’m sure if I asked her, my sister could pinpoint a handful of different times that even she has overreacted. I think everyone can. In fact, I’m going to suggest that those who cannot call to mind a single instance in which they’ve lost their composure are just forgetting that occasion or choosing to deny its existence. When put into perspective, we usually acknowledge these minor offenses and overreactions as the result of fatigue, stress or irrational impulses we promise ourselves we’ll try to contain next time. We play eeny-meeny-miney-mo with our blame; which came first, the dirty dish or the contempt for ill-mannered behavior within communal kitchens? We extinguish our overreactions with good deeds or justifications as we wait for the next overreaction to occur.
My cousin Jamie says that she will never forget the look on my mother’s face after she’d been hit by the roll. I don’t remember it, but I’m sure it resembles the one I’ve seen in a dozen other contexts. Even though I laugh about the incident now, there is a small part of me that still wants to go back in time and re-do the ending; as if dwelling on it long enough will make it somehow not true. I didn’t ruin the night. Let’s all just go back to enjoying our chicken divan, and pretend the last five minutes didn’t happen.
It’s easy to justify our overreactions: we’re young, tired, we don’t know better, next time we won’t react that way. A lot of times, they’re not that big of a deal. I imagine my future child throwing a crescent roll at me, and in this hypothetical situation, it melts away any previous tension like butter. My mom doesn’t even remember it, but I wonder if a part of her was trying not to laugh when it happened. For a few minutes, the biggest deal in my ten-year old life was nothing more than a funny story about parenting that would later tell her friends. When I told my friends about the email that the lady in my office had sent, I wondered, in that same moment was she thinking of a way to apologize?
Last Christmas, we were exchanging gifts when I noticed my sister was laughing at one of hers. My mother had given her a little sign for her room that reads “I have the best older sister in the world. It’s just that, she’s crazy, and scares me a little.” I joined in their laughter, even though there was a small pang of jealousy that they were bonding at my expense. Maybe my mother wouldn’t have thought I was such a handful growing up if she didn’t decided to give birth to the perfect child twenty months after me. Maybe I need to stop comparing myself to other people so much. Maybe I need to realize that just because my mother praises my sister for her even-temper and sensibility, it doesn’t mean that I don’t have other qualities that she loves. If we’re going to compare our overreactions to those of our peers, perhaps we should do it to shed light on our actions, rather than to judge them.
I am caught between reminding myself that we’re all crazy, and scolding myself for whatever it is that I’m doing wrong. I think that part of being an adult is mediating between the two, and knowing that no matter what happens, you probably shouldn’t throw anything at anyone.