I am staring at a four-foot-tall, trembling bundle of rage. It is a blonde bundle with brown eyes and a cowlick. Normally I view this bundle as rather cute, but that right now I am angry too, and rage doesn’t allow cuteness in. Rage doesn’t allow anything in.
Before I got married and had kids, I thought I was a fairly wonderful person. I didn’t run red lights. I paid my bills on time. I taught children—who, as you know, are our future. I donated to charity, and I got a shelter dog. I didn’t make fun of others or gossip (much). Also, I never once blew up in a rage about whether Boba Fett was cooler than Jango Fett.
Now that I’m married and have two kids, the Fett argument, and lots of anger, happens much more often than I like to admit. In terms of my own anger issues, I am so often frustrated by the constant audience. For example, a few years ago I dropped an open, 10-pound bag of rice over what seemed to be the entire first floor of the house. I only remember this because I am still sweeping up stray grains of the stuff, which makes me sound like a horrible housekeeper—or maybe just a parent. Anyhow, after the rice spill, some special language started to bubble up inside of me, and my tiny, ever-present audience was there to critique my reaction and my volume. The tiny audience asked fifty million questions about it all. “What’s for dinner now? Dat rice? You spilled? You made a mess, Mommy? This mess, here? All over? You mad? What’s that word you just said?”
Your children are doing their job, which is to watch, and learn.
Then there’s the added horror that happens when you later overhear your four-year-old lecturing the three-year-old in exactly the same tone that you used with that bag of rice. “Oh MY WORD. I’m gonna put you inna timeout!” the older one says, and the younger tells him to take a hike.
With lispy, adorable mimicry, your children are doing their job, which is to watch, and learn. It’s enough to make you mad.
A few days ago Charlie, now eight, was playing with his dominos, painstakingly setting each one up in a long snake around the living room. I was preparing some sort of meal in the adjoining kitchen, as I always seem to be doing. And then, something did not go as planned.
Perhaps Charlie spaced a domino incorrectly. Or he knocked one over accidentally. Or, maybe, the whole thing just wasn’t as exciting as he had hoped. At any rate, as I chopped carrots and stirred soup, I heard a small boy in the adjoining room start to rail against life and all its malpractices. THE DOMINOS WERE NOT WORKING. THEY WERE TERRIBLE. And, as a result, Charlie morphed into an unhinged Al Pacino in that famous “You’re out of order!” scene from And Justice for All—but without the rumpled suit and ’70s hair. It would have been an Oscar moment, if it hadn’t been so heartbreaking.
My first reaction with anger is to snuff it out like a stray spark from a fire. It must be stopped. Anger is bad. It’s loud, and it’s messy, and it is inconvenient.
My kid gets angry more often than I think he should. It’s hard to admit. I want good kids because then it would be like I have two little, breathing seals of approval walking around, proving my excellent parenting skills. But an angry kid means I am messing up. I am doing something wrong. I have failed.
My first reaction with anger is to snuff it out like a stray spark from a fire. It must be stopped. Anger is bad. It’s loud, and it’s messy, and it is inconvenient. Anger doesn’t seem to understand good timing or polite conversation. Anger is like those television shows on the news with all the people sitting around yelling about politics. That channel must be changed, no matter what. I’m not going to sit around and try to figure out if the topic of debate is worth a listen. Nope. I’m going to lunge for the remote and get thee to the Food Channel within seconds.
When I was little, my dad got angry a lot. He’s in recovery; he has more than forty years sober, and I love him like crazy. But anger still happened. It was loud. It had bad timing. And it made me a mess of nerves and sadness. I vowed to do whatever it took just to make the anger go away. I was very good at being a quiet and tidy daughter. I was very good at being good.
And now, it seems, that little girl is trying to parent her own little boy. And she is too little for that. Oh, why didn’t someone tell me that being a grownup would make me feel so small?
I am, once again, watching and learning through my children. Their anger makes me angry. Now the anger is multi-leveled, like a big, fat layer cake of doom, which then makes me feel guilty and sad. Then I feel angry about that. I want to take this gigantic mess of questionable parenting and frustrated child behavior and chuck it out the window. Since I cannot do this, I go for Plan B, which is to unleash massively unsuccessful anger-squashing strategies like stomping into the living room and staring down at the dominos and the small child and belting out, “STOP YELLING. STOP YELLING RIGHT THIS MINUTE. THERE IS NO YELLING IN THIS HOUSE.” Parenting is where irony hunkers down, I tell you.
Here is all I know: whenever anything breaks in our house, it is not a quick fix. My husband, who is quite handy and seems to think that all repair technicians are evil and out to get us, always says the same thing, “No problem. I can fix this. Should just take an hour.” Two weeks later, my kitchen floor is still littered with tools and user manuals, and I have been washing dishes in the sink for way longer than anyone in the first world ever should. This is how I view anger. It has levels and problems layered on problems. Sometimes it seems like the user manual is written in a different language. You fix one valve and another one breaks. You can’t find the right tools. Also, there might be some swearing, and sometimes, we just rig things the best we can. But we don’t give up on it. We don’t ever give up.
“I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6, NRSV).