The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Health & Family

July 25, 2013

Sarah Coyne: Grandmother's advice about dough applies to kids

JOPLIN, Mo. — Some parenting days make me want to escape across a vast ocean on a slow boat. All I had handy, though, was an escape downstairs into dinner preparations. So I stomped into the kitchen, fuming. It was either that or lose myself to an unflattering display of temper.

I grabbed some risen pizza dough and dumped it onto the counter with more force than was necessary. After pulling the dough into a rough disk, I began flattening it with my heaviest rolling pin.

The dough was thick and tough -- much like the stubborn wills of my children that day -- and it wouldn't quite do what I wanted it to. With each particular angle and pressure I used, the dough always returned to a small oval instead of the wide circle I was aiming for.

It seemed both my dinner and my children were conspiring against me.

Behind my anger, tucked away in a little crevice of memory, I suddenly saw my grandma's hands rolling out dough for hot rolls. She was telling me about elasticity and patience.

She was trying to teach me that the dough, fresh out of a yeasty rise, would be reluctant to be shaped. It needed a few minutes to rest and relax. Once the dough had lost its tenacity, it would be more submissive.

Standing there in my kitchen, I could hear her voice in my head. My grandma was patient and understanding. She waited until the obstinate dough softened, never once cursing under her breath at the irritation of the wait.

Sighing, I pulled a stool to the counter and sat down to wait. I rolled my shoulders. I cocked my head and listened for the sound of little rebels playing upstairs. They were being quiet, probably to avoid any further mama-wrath.

What we all needed, I thought, was a few minutes to relax and have some of our elasticity removed.

Even though there were things my children needed to hear about their behavior, now was not the moment to give them voice. Not only was I so overwhelmed that anything I had to say would be incoherently fussy, but my daughters were so stonewalled against me that my words would be unheard anyway.

There is no rule that says we must participate in every battle to which we're invited and do so right away. We know what hot-buttons get us too riled up to think straight, so we can also know that a period of rest will help us gain perspective.

Even the age-old maxim that one must never go to bed angry can't solve every problem. Sometimes -- and maybe more often than we think -- our emotions need time to mellow before a wise solution can be reached.

If we teach our kids that every problem results in passionate flares of temper, that's exactly how they'll grow to react. Isn't it better to teach them the art of waiting patiently, instead? Of reining in their emotions so that they can approach the situation with a fresh, calm head?

So I let it rest. I wouldn't let the kids sit long enough to forget the issue entirely or think they'd gotten a free pass at misbehavior. I would simply give us all a few moments to unwind our bundled-up nerves. I would let them relax until they might readily accept a new shape.

I stood back up and tried rolling my dough again. This time, it softened and spread beautifully. It turns out my grandma was wise even beyond her intent.

Sarah Coyne lives in Joplin. She writes about life and motherhood at her personal blog,

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