It was after school on Monday.
After snack time, after tennis, after battling traffic to get home from tennis, after hamster time and general fooling around time. I was chopping peppers while simultaneously quizzing Child #2 on his treble and bass clef note flash cards.
The noise came from the dining room like a fire engine. "I CAN'T DO THIS." I pretended not to hear and continued chopping and quizzing. Two seconds later Child #1 poked her head into the kitchen.
"You need to help me. NOW!"
I took a deep patient mommy breath. "Okay honey," I said in that overbright voice which means I would really rather be anywhere else. I hovered over her shoulder and re-explained principles of rounding to the right of the decimal and money that I was certain she knew.
"BUT I CAN'T," she wailed as I turned to go back to the kitchen. "YOU have to STAY and WATCH me."
"I'll watch you do one," I said and then, I'm embarrassed to say, things got ugly. There was the point where I stomped back to the kitchen and hacked at vegetables like they were convicted pedophiles.
There was the moment when she chased me down and attempted a sit-in. Nonviolent, but filled with words designed to send me over the edge. "How could you refuse to help me. I'll never help you do anything ever again. You're a mean, mean mother and I think dinner looks disgusting."
At this point there should have been a punishment. Time out would have good for everyone involved.
Except there wasn't. We did battle over the dining room table. Me, with poison seeping out of my voice saying things like, "In your opinion, is the number three bigger than five or smaller than five?"
She retaliated with tears and guilt. "You don't even love me a little bit, do you?"
My husband came home to mayhem. Angry wife, one child sulking and one child who wouldn't stop talking about Pokemon gym leaders. He took over, for which I was grateful, and told me to go to my dance class.
Afterwards it occurred to me I owed my daughter an apology. I took a deep breath and entered the sanctum of her room where she was using her hamster as a mustache (don't ask). "I'm sorry," I told her. "The way I spoke to you was inappropriate. I hope you can forgive me."
"I'm sorry too," she sobbed.
We cried. We hugged. We cozied down on her bed for some girl talk.
Later that night I realized maybe math wasn't the most important thing my daughter learned that evening. Maybe it was everyone has to be accountable for their behavior.