we all go a little mad sometimes

We all go a little mad sometimes.

What I'm not going to say is
give yourself a break.
You're only human.

I won't join that chorus.
I don’t like that song.

Do you ever see pictures in the news
of a mother who's hurt her child?
glassy eyes?

Somebody says,
"What a monster."
Somebody says,
"Can you imagine?"

Do you ever feel pity?

Do you ever feel

Me, too.

What I'm not going to say is
you're not like HER.
Don't worry about that.
You would never…

I've been a parent long enough
to pray those promises,
rather than make them.

Holding my newborn son in my arms
I cried and told my husband
I was afraid I'd hurt the baby.

He looked at me
like I was yelling at a store manager
with a gun holstered on my hip:
measuring the distance between us,
measuring me.
"I don't think you would."

"No," I said, "I wouldn't.
But I might become
who would."

When Somebody told you
that having a baby changes you forever,
you imagined you'd start saying "fiddlesticks”
and develop brand loyalty to paper towels,
start wearing high-rise jeans.

You imagined you'd be the yourself
that's cast and costumed
for a Swiffer commercial.

Then you had the baby
and you realized for the first time
what changed forever means.

Your organs migrated.
Your bones could bend.
No part of you was untouched.
Including your kindness.
Including your mind. 

The world was suddenly strange;
you, a stranger.

I was born spitting nails and slapping back offers of help.
I climbed to the top of a ladder in a cherry tree
before I could eat a cherry
or say the word "tree."

And suddenly,
I didn’t believe I could do

What else could be lost?
What else that I was sure of
could leave me?

What about the fixed part of my humanity,
that does

Having a baby changes you forever,
Somebody said.
They forgot to add,
"but you won't lose your mind.”

Or maybe Somebody didn’t forget.
Maybe Somebody has been a parent long enough
to pray their promises, too.

You’ve felt the occupation?
Lusty rage pours into your fingers
curling them into fists
full of a child’s arm.

Me, too.

I’ve checked, shaking,
and exhaled deeply
thank God
there was no bruise.

What I’m not going to say is
you’re such a great mom.
Your kids know you love them.

I will not try to make you comfortable
in a place you do not want to call home.
Even though it seems to be
the kind thing to say,
reflexively: “it’s okay.”

Somebody told us, 
kids have to learn
what happens when they push buttons.
Somebody told us not to worry about it. 
Somebody said, 
don't be too hard on yourself. 

We are worried about what we’d have to do
to earn the concern of these nice people
who seem to think we are like them.

They've seen us patiently smother a tantrum
with silence, back rubs, patience.
They've eaten our homemade bread.
They're sure we're just
being hard on ourselves.

We know
how scary we can be.
When no one else is around
at home
where the children bend us
like bones,
where we scream.

We are worried they think we’re exaggerating
when we say, “I really lost it this morning.”

Because they smile at us and say,
“I understand. I snapped at Sophia,
‘young lady,
get downstairs
I really lost my temper.”

We think,
you are nice
but you do not understand;
When I lose it,
I can’t remember
what I said.

They think the “it” we lost was our temper.

That’s the difference between temper and rage:
In a temper, you slam the door.
In a rage, the rage slams it
with the arm you left behind
when you stepped out
for a minute.
For some air
when it got
too hot in there.

What I’m not going to say is
Everybody gets mad.
Give yourself a break.
Kids are annoying.

I’m going to say:

I never hungered for the sound of a voice
I hated
until I met my son,
the love of my life,
my nucleus,
my nemesis,
the nails on my chalkboard.

He turned me into one of those bugs
drawn inexorably to the humming light
that will consume it in its ecstasy.
But I can’t blame the light for shining. 

I can wait out a tantrum,
humming "you are my sunshine,"
I can be safe.
I can be not.
You, too?

I'm so glad I found you,
here in the place where everything you do to your child
is two stories in your head:
what I have done,
what was done to me.

Both stories are yours to tell,
but you only get to write one.

My friend,
your guilt isn’t crazy.
You have reason for regret.

You have already hurt your child
as you were hurt
when you were small
and hid from your loving parent.

You already know that you don’t have to hurt your child
to be heartbroken
by your child’s fear that you might.

Before the baby
changed you forever,
you thought
I’ll never scare my child like that.
What a monster.
Can you imagine.

You thought
Kids are annoying
and they need to know what happens
when they push buttons.

Then you realized that bones bend
and loving parents lose their minds
for seconds at a time.

Loving parents open bedroom doors
walk to their sleeping children
lie their heads on the pillows
and say
I’m sorry
I’m sorry
I’m sorry

You touch his hair
determinedly gentle,
as if fingers could clean the wound
that he may be dreaming 
bad dreams
about you.
I will never hurt you.

Loving parents cry.
They pray the promises they can’t make:
I’ll never scare you again.

You can’t stop seeing
the way your toddling baby’s hands flew to his chest,
the flinch
so soft,
so small;
the instinctive gesture of defense
against the slippery beast of rage
that shot out of your mouth 

Now you know
all loving parents
are sometimes monsters.

I won’t say
cut yourself some slack
because it is your job
to get better.

It is terribly, mercifully true:
we can change

I will say
you are not past forgiveness.
You are there,

I will say

me, too.


  1. Katie, you have been killing it with your last few posts. This one, though, hit me right between the eyes. All I can say is thank you. Thank you for writing this. I STILL don't know how you come up with the energy to write after a day with two kids (i can barely do it with ONE), but I am grateful you do.