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?
Orange-jumpsuit,
glassy eyes?

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

Do you ever feel pity?

Do you ever feel
dread?

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.

"Really?"
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
someone
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
anything.

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
not
hurt
children?

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
when
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
this
instant!’
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,"
safe.
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,
and
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
baby.

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
just
nothing
against the slippery beast of rage
that shot out of your mouth 
screaming.

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
forever. 

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

I will say

me, too.
Part I of Parental Anger Management - The Night Before The Intervention
Part II of Parental Anger Management - A Very Special Family Meeting


Parental Anger Management and The Mommy Blogger:
A Case Study


what are you doing
making a spider web
i thought you said you were dressed for school
i am
you're not those are dirty pajamas
i am
buster you're not wearing pants
i spider
okay but
spider no wear pants
that's a fair point but



Part I: The Incident

It's 8:30 am on a Wednesday. We have to be in the car at 8:40 or we'll be late for school. Chicken has no pants. Buster has just dumped a full glass of water on his pants. Buster needs new pants.


10 minutes.

No pants.

Wet pants.

Where are the lunches?


"Chicken, I need you to go put on pants right now."

Chicken runs into the bathroom and turns on the sink.

I pick up Buster and feel his wet legs wrap around my shirt. I stalk into the bathroom, slip on the wet floor, and snap the sink handle to off.


8 minutes.

No pants. 

Wet pants.

Where are the lunches?

Bathroom floor puddle.


"Chicken. Pants. Now."

Chicken runs out of the bathroom and starts to turn toward the playroom but I've seen this move before and my hand snakes out to snatch his upper arm. With Buster on my hip, writhing and trying to escape, and Chicken in my other hand, I march into the bedroom, slam the door, and twist the lock so hard I bend a fingernail all the way back. Goooood daaaaaamn iiiiiit.

I put Buster down, extremely gently. He runs to the door and bangs on it, screaming OUTEEEE OUTEEEE WANNA GO OUTEEE.

Chicken has run behind the reading chair and is darting back and forth from arm to arm, waiting to see which route I'll choose for my attack. He trips and smacks his chin on the back of the chair. He screams OWEEEE OWEEEE.


Seven minutes.

No pants.

Wet pants.

Where are the lunches?

Bathroom floor puddle.

OUTEEEEE

OWEEEEEE


I say, without affect, "Are you okay." Chicken screams, "NO!"

I can see that he is not bleeding. I can see that he's okay. I can see that he is also not okay.

I take a deep breath and recite the script: "I saw you fall and bump your chin on the couch. That must have been surprising. Are you okay?"

He calms down. "Yeah."

I say, "OK, it's time to put pants on."

He grunts the "oh no!" panic grunt, a scream that caught in his throat, and he darts away from me, as agile as a minnow.

I get pants for Buster and wrestle him into them. While I'm yanking the pants over Buster's kicking legs, I yell above the howls: "Chicken, you can pick your pants or I can pick your pants."

"NO! PANTS! TODAY!"

Four minutes.

No pants.

Pants.

Where are the lunches?

Bathroom floor puddle.

OUTEEEE

NO

PANTS

TODAY

"Okay, Chicken. I will pick your pants today."

I pick a pair of pants for Chicken. I grab for him but he skates away. I grab for him again. He almost dodges me again, but I manage to pluck just the sleeve of his t-shirt, and I pinch a centimeter of tender arm-skin underneath it.

He screams.

WHY DID YOU PINCH ME

WHY DID YOU HURT ME

I pull his pants on, even as he goes rigid as a pointer with the scent, screaming and staring up at me with blame and confusion and fury in his eyes.


Three minutes.

Pants.

Pants.

Why did you hurt me.



I unlock the door and let them out.

I walk into the kitchen to gulp a drink of water, grab the lunches, and check the time.

One minute.

"We have to get in the car in ONE MINUTE, you guys."

Chicken should go to the bathroom before we go. 
Don't think about it. (But--)
Don't think about it.  (But--)
Don't think about how hard it's going to be to get him to go. (So hard)
Just ask him. (He'll say no)
You have to ask him. (I know)
You have to be consistent. (I KNOW)
Just do it.

"Chicken! I need you to go to the potty before we get in the car."

Silence.

Fuck it, he can pee on himself.

I go into the bedroom and get another pair of pants from the drawer, stuff it in the backpack.

I come back out. I see the boys.

Chicken has no pants.

Buster has just dumped a full glass of water on his pants.

___



Normally, a blog post would go on in one of three directions:

1) ... and once I got the boys in the car they held hands, sang a duet of Bridge Over Troubled Water, and said, "thank you mommy for these pants," and I knew I was doing something right.

2) ... but I'm so blessed to have these fierce-spirited warriors and someday I'll admire the very spunk that makes me want to tear my hair out.

3) ... and that's why I drink.

(Silver lining, silver lining, punchline.)

(They're great. I'm great. It's all fine.)


___


Here's the direction a blog post doesn't go:

Why am I so mad?

___

Why am I so mad?

I don't usually spend a lot of time exploring why my children anger me, mostly because I think my target audience doesn't need me to spell out why young children make you want to tear your/their hair out.

They're deaf when you say it's time to go but develop doglike superhearing every time you mutter "fuck this" under your breath.

They're quick as greased cockroaches when you're trying to catch them at the park and slow as snails when putting on their own fucking shoes.

They ask for pancakes and then cry when you give them pancakes. 

Every kid is a special snowflake but they're all made of frozen water, so all parents, like, GET frostbite.

But none of that explains why we're so mad.

And that's a question we deserve to answer. 

Really. Why are you mad?

We all have our own reasons. Here are mine.

1. Because it embarrasses me when my children are flagrantly disobedient just for the hell of it. My children are unlikeable and it's my fault.

2. Because it scares me when my children act irrationally while doing unsafe things. My children are unsafe and I can't live without them.

3. Because it humiliates me when they follow one step behind me all day long, unfolding the laundry, re-sprinkling the carpet with new Cheerios, re-smearing the fresh sheets with peanut butter handprints. My work means nothing. 

4. Because I'm desperate to still be the person I used to be: intelligent, on time, organized, bright, articulate, generally pleasant to be around, occupying a home that is basically clean and stylish. Every time we're the last family to arrive at school, my hair in a dirty ponytail, my car riding low from the gross tonnage of empty Starbucks cups, formerly and now crusty socks, board books, and broken sunglasses; every time a guest in my home steps on a banana slice so brown and leathery it blended in with the carpet, I grieve the loss of the person I was for 28 years, and am no more.

5. Because it shames me when I lose my temper, scare my children, and enjoy it, just for a second, before the guilt floods in. I'm not okay.

6. Because it discourages me when we have to fight the same battles every single day, and I've failed once again to adequately babyproof the bathroom, and I've depleted my creativity, and curiosity, and patience. What else is there but anger?

7. Because I feel judged by strangers in public.

8. Because I feel disrespected and belittled by my children.

9. Because I feel powerless to change any of this.

10. Because I guess this is supposed to be normal? It doesn't feel like enough. It doesn't feel okay.


I'm mad because I feel afraid, sad, helpless, humiliated. I'm mad because I feel like my work is pointless, and that I'm bad at it.

And then I get mad because I'm so mad.

DAMMIT, Katie, why can't you just be BETTER at this?

And then I get ashamed because I'm so mad.

So many people would give up their limbs for healthy, intelligent children like yours, for a house full of things that make messes like yours. Shame on you, ungrateful girl.

And then I get embarrassed about the strength of my shame and my mad and I remember my 3rd-grade teacher who ran up and embraced the boy who had just pulled my pants and underwear down around my ankles, and who had then recoiled, tripped, and hit his head on the seesaw when I screamed "NO!" an inch from his face. She told me that kind of screaming wasn't very ladylike. I feel quite sure I shouldn't be feeling this way at all, at least not out loud.

Quick, crack a joke. Smooth it out.

My mad is all about my missed opportunities, failings, perceived shortcomings, the ways I'm wrong. (To be fair, my mad is also about living with two children who do not yet abide by the rules of civilized society. If an adult treated me the way they do, I would get mad, because that shit is disrespectful as fuck. My mad is also about my urgency to defend them against a world that has given parents reason to think they should prepare dozens of ADORABLE goody bags for fellow airplane passengers JUST IN CASE their baby DARES to BE A BABY IN PUBLIC. I'M SO MAD RIGHT NOW.)

But the message is clear: my mad is mostly about me. 

And the kids? They're the messengers.


___

What This Rookie Did On Day One

Not having any idea what I was doing, and on the advice of a website that I found through googling "Anger Management for Parents," I started by making a list of all the things that make me feel mad in a day:

- When Buster pours water on the floor
- When Chicken refuses to put on pants
- When they kids are running around hitting each other and screaming while I'm trying to make their damn breakfast of chocolate chip happy pancakes and strawberry slices

The list goes on.

I realized that there is shit I can eliminate from this list: toys that are always broken that can make a quiet, silent exit to the great toy store in the sky. Fruit can be moved to a different spot on the counter where chubby, snatching hands won't send all half-dozen apples rolling across the floor, fresh bruises already browning the shining green skin.

These are messes I clean up every day.  I can make them go away. 

On day one I didn't dig into parenting techniques, or really the social/historical reasons that I'm not comfortable expressing my anger in an appropriate way. 

I started with triage - the big psychological questions have to wait. What can I do to make my life easier tomorrow

Patience is a well that has a bottom. If I can spare myself a bucketful at breakfast by setting my alarm for 7 and cooking breakfast in peace...  If I can spare myself a bucketful at lunch by picking a story to read... maybe I won't be scraping the wet rocks at the end of the day, ready to bleed to quench my thirst.

Maybe.

I'll let you know tomorrow.