The Grumper

If you’ve ever had the privilege to be a parent, or a brother, or a sister, or a friend, or an acquaintance with more than one person – basically, if you’re a human that’s ever interacted with other humans, chances are you’ve had to deal with a grumper. As a recovering grumper myself, I’m fairly well acquainted with how they operate. On any given day, at any given time, for reasons that can be so obscure even the grumper doesn’t understand them, the grumper decides it’s time to grump. This child might care very deeply about the people around her and even be very sweet on other occasions, but when she decides it’s grump time: DO NOT APPROACH.

Under no circumstances should you attempt to cheer her up. Whatever carrots you might think of dangling to motivate her to do the simplest of tasks she hasn’t specifically chosen for herself will only deepen the grump session. WALK AWAY. The time for reconciling will come at an unspecified point in the future. Only the grumper decides when the grumper is done grumping. There will only be emotional consternation for those who attempt persuasion. Today, in my house, was grump day.

In spite of all that, I had a deep bonding moment with my middle child, even though she has no idea. As my oldest child was sitting quietly on the couch (completely ready for school) and I was helping my three year old navigate her morning potty routine, I heard from upstairs the 23rd stomp and/or slam of a cabinet. Not taking the bait, I ignored the grumper, didn’t shout upstairs (major win), and got the other two children in the van. Walking back in the house, I took a gamble and casually mentioned at an audible volume, “We’re in the car. If you’re not down here, we’re leaving without you.” Amazingly, the stomps downstairs came hard and fast, and she made it with all her stuff before I finished pouring my to-go coffee (win number two).

On the ride to school, she barely moved her lips for car prayers (I let it go. Win number three.), and kept an intense silence as she angrily stared out the window. Sometimes we listen to saint stories on the way to school, but today I’m so glad we didn’t. Today we listened to episode two of a theatrical reading of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, in which Scrooge mistreats his delightful young nephew and says for the first time, “Bah, humbug!” Now, I’ll let you in on a little secret: there is nothing a grumper loves quite so much as recognizing another grumper on their grump day (as long as it is not grump day for both of them – then there are no guarantees). Perhaps this why, many years ago now, I decided I kind of prefer Scrooge before he meets all three spirits.

I was still living in a monastery, and I happened to be the brother assigned to do the table reading when I got to read A Christmas Carol aloud for the first time, including this very scene. Scrooge’s nephew sounds like a truly delightful person, and that is what makes Scrooge’s verbal abuse of him so endearing. Scrooge’s rudeness is so over-the-top, uncalled for, and downright cruel, that I couldn’t help but smirk. I don’t remember if that was a particularly grumpy day for me or not, but either way, my overall mood improved dramatically after recognizing what was happening. Scrooge got to say all the kinds of terrible things I often felt like saying when I was grumpy, even though I knew there was no justification for them.

In other words, Scrooge wore my heart on his sleeve, and seeing it out in the open made it so preposterous that even I had to laugh. So it was that my old heart softened just a little bit more when, upon hearing, “Bah, humbug!”, my little grumper brightened up and started joyfully quoting all the other grumpy lines from the book she could remember.

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