I'm going to tell you how I totally sucked as a mother and as a human being this morning, and then I'm going to tell you how I handled it afterward. And some of you are going to be like, "Oh, I am so relieved I'm not the only one who sucks!" or "I've never done that myself, but it's good to know that the world wouldn't end if I did."
But some of you are going to be like, "Dude, I guess you get points for fixing it rather than, like, thinking you did nothing wrong or pretending it didn't happen--but you still really really suck, and I hope you don't think that knowing how to glue things back together cancels out the part where you broke it." And I'm going to be all, "Dude! I KNOW! I totally suck sometimes!" What I try to work on is (1) reducing how often my suckiness presents itself, (2) reducing the severity of the attacks I fail to prevent, and (3) finding ways to handle things so that we don't have to get a third mortgage to pay for the kids' psychiatric bills.
I get frustrated very, very easily. And when I'm frustrated, I'm FURIOUS. This morning I was frustrated with the children: I'd been working all morning on THEIR routines, and I finally took my TEN MINUTES to take a shower, and it was "Mommy, Rob hit me TEN TIMES and he's doing that voice he KNOWS I hate!" and "Mommy, William sat in the baby swing and it made a CRUNCH noise," and lots of crazy laughter and giddiness and the jarring irregular banging sound of toys being thrown down the stairs, and a toddler screaming and a baby fussing, and I couldn't quite hear the older-kid reports/tattles over the shower/fan and had to keep asking for repeats.
As I dried off, I could hear part of my brain advising me that this was a good time to go to another room and calm down, but I couldn't take the time to do that because we needed to be at the bus stop in 20 minutes and I was still in my robe, and how was it possible to even SPEAK to a child who would think it was a good idea to sit in a baby swing, and that swing cost $80 and I NEED it for Henry, and everything was so UNFAIR, and so I felt that little catch being released, and I flipped the flip out.
There was enough yelling that afterward my throat felt rough. There was self-pity at top volume. There was door-slamming. There was door re-slamming, and re-slamming, and re-slamming, with "URGGG!!!!" sounds of frustration and anger. Afterward, the door wasn't closing right.
It was an ugly, ugly temper tantrum. Part of me was watching it happening, eating popcorn and saying, "Oh, girl, you are not going to say THAT. Oh you DIDN'T! Oh, girrrrrrrrl." The rest of me was like a tower of flame. There is nothing like rage for feeling SO GOOD and SO HORRIBLE at the same time. Sickeningly exhilarating.
I went into my room afterward to get dressed. I felt stunned and sober. Lightheaded. I felt like trying to talk myself into thinking it didn't happen. I dreamed it. I fantasized it. I read it in a book. I saw it in a movie. I didn't really yell like that. No, my mind said back: you really did. Then I started thinking, I can't fix this. There's no way to fix that. It can't be undone, and children are too young to understand, and this is terrible, and there's nothing I can say to make things better, and nothing can be done about it.
But I had to go back out of my room, to where they all were. And so I went out like this: I said, "Geez, that was enough yelling to last us about TEN YEARS, wasn't it? Man, I yelled SO LOUD, my THROAT HURTS!" The children visibly relaxed. I said a few more things along those lines, and Rob said, tentatively, "I thought the door was going to bend backward on its hinges!" and I said, "It was actually STUCK a little! I thought I was going to be locked in my room!"
Then I made strong eye contact and said, kindly but very seriously, that I should NOT have yelled like that. That no one should. That I was sorry. That they had indeed needed to be reprimanded, but not like THAT, not with anger and yelling. That although toddlers have tantrums (glancing in twins' direction), adults should not. That I should not have yelled like that. That I was sorry.
I reminded them of conversations we've had before, about how everyone has their own issues to struggle with: some people battle self-pity, and some people battle discontent, and some people battle addictions, and some people battle anger--and I was someone who struggled with anger. That I was working on it, always working to control it and to control myself, and that a lot of times I succeeded, but that sometimes I screwed up, and that I had screwed up really badly just now.
The kids weren't sitting silently this whole time, they were making eye contact and looking a little shy, and saying "Yeah" when they knew what I meant; and William was smiling but Rob was trying to keep himself from warming to me, because he was still mad about being yelled at, as well he could be, but on the other hand this kind of talk really appeals to him and to his sense of justice. I kept going.
I explained how I'd gone wrong. How in the shower I'd been thinking of things that had happened when I was working at the pharmacy, situations where the customer was so mean or blamed us for things that were not our fault. I'd gotten myself all worked up about these things that are long in the past, and I explained how that was another thing I had a problem with. I asked if they ever did that--thought of things that made them angry a long time ago--and they both said they did.
I said that thinking about those things had put me in an angry mood, and so when the kids' behavior frustrated me, I had taken the anger I felt at those old situations and directed it at them. That I hadn't even been angry "at them," but rather just ANGRY. Since we've been watching the show Avatar, and there are people on that show who can take lightning and channel it through themselves to use it as a weapon, I used that as an analogy of how anger can come in from one direction but get flung out in a different direction. They lit up with understanding. I said it's like how you can scuff your feet and build up more and more static, but you don't have to put that static shock back into the carpet, you can use it to shock a person. I said that I should not have done that: that I should not have taken anger and shot it at them. I said that I should have gone into my room and calmed down if I felt like I was going to yell. Rob said, "You know what helps ME, is I read a book for a few minutes."
We talked about it a little more, but the bus was coming and we needed to wrap it up. I was glad to see that the storm seemed to have passed, that we seemed to be coming out of the bad situation I had created. Rob said, grudgingly, "At least it doesn't take long to get your temper BACK." I agreed, and--lest they think that their mother showing human flaws meant it was open season on her entire personality--reiterated that that was one of my good points. That everyone had GOOD things about them, just as everyone had things they had to work on, and that "getting over anger quickly" was one of my good points. They agreed.
I took them to the bus. I felt wrung out. I'd slipped, and in fact I'd slipped badly. But I am okay, and the kids are okay, and I took a really bad slip and found a teaching opportunity: (1) people screw up, sometimes REALLY screw up; (2) people should acknowledge their screw-ups and apologize for them; (3) people should continue to work on their weak points; (4) fortunately, our weak points are balanced by strong points.
I don't know if you'll see it that way or not. Some people don't struggle with anger, and I can see how those people might be appalled that I could think anything good came out of this, so I want to re-emphasize that in no way am I saying, "See? It seemed like a bad thing but actually it was good! I can yell all I want now!" My behavior was shitty, and I hope I communicated that to the kids: that I treated them shittily, and that people should not treat other people that way, and that there is no excuse for it.
And what is it I hope I'm communicating to you? I hope I'm not communicating that I need to be reassured, or that I need it re-emphasized to me that I should not have yelled. But I'm a fan of truth-in-motherhood, and I hope I'm communicating to you the same thing I was trying to get across to the kids: that I screwed up, and that we all do sometimes. That being flawed human beings does not mean we're not qualified to be mothers.
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