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Okay, so who remembers the movie Tootsie? For those of you who don’t, check it out because I promise that there is nothing like watching Dustin Hoffman shave his legs to let a little steam out of the near-bursting pressure cooker that is day-to-day mothering. For those of you who know and love this little bastion of 80s awesomeness, recall, if you will, the scene where Hoffman tells Terri Garr that he’s in love with another woman. She flips her ever-lovin’ shit in the most spectacular of ways. Before she storms out, chocolate-covered cherries in tow, she pointedly and profoundly declares,
“I just have to feel like this until I don’t feel like this, and you’re gonna have to know that you’re the one who made me feel this way.”
I am a keenly emotional person. I feel all things deeply, like Mariana Trench deeply, which means that I take the greatest, most profound pleasure in the glinting, glittering joys of life (from the tiny ones like opening a fresh Cadbury Creme Egg without tearing the foil to the massive ones like both my husband and I being present AND looking (!!) when Boyo took his first steps.) It also means that I feel desperately wounded, like physically abraded by the awfulness that is smeared all over this messy life, like doggie-doo on the bottoms of your wedding shoes.
I’ve always been like this. My mother tells the story of a 4 year old me crying in the bathtub because hours before, some mean ol’ grown-up unwittingly pressed the elevator button before I had a chance. As a childless adult (and with great gobs of therapy and self reflection) I learned to manage my emotional response to the ups and downs of life’s crazy-pants carousel into a more even-keeled horse and buggy ride. But as a mother, sometimes I feel like not only do I not have the reigns of my steed, but I don’t even have a buggy. Or a saddle. Or a bridle. And, um, it’s not even a horse, it’s a dragon and OMG, am I really riding an MF-ing dragon and seriously, y’all, is this dragon riding a shark? Is. This. Dragon. Riding. A. Shark?!
The hardest of all emotions for me to handle is anger. I am slow to anger and quick to forgive, and my lovely, long, slow-burning fuse coupled with my solidly held belief that staying angry is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die are both traits in which I take great pride. When I am well and truly rabid-dog angry (which is rare,) I go silent, not only because of the rage-induced aphasia, but because I never, ever want to speak from a place of anger. Words spoken in anger may have a modicum of truth at their core, but truth that is wrapped in malice isn’t the kind that sets you free, it’s the kind that can turn a spoon into a shiv. Weaponized truth is still a weapon and not to be used on people you care about (which should, after all, be all people.) So when anger starts to spew up from my Mariana Trench, I go to work immediately on identifying it and processing it. Then, once my words return, I can speak from a healing place instead of a hurting place. My spoon remains a spoon. It’s a simple plan which requires anything-but-simple execution.
Well, damn if motherhood didn’t just blast my carefully laid, beautifully simple plan to absolute smithereens. Of all the prismatic rays of motherhood that have taken me by utter, dumbfounded surprise, the acute anger that I have experienced is by far the most startling. The realization that anger comes more quickly, is more difficult to process, affects me more deeply, and can bleed out, staining an entire day is challenge enough for tender-hearted me, especially considering how fiercely I wish to protect my beautiful Boyo from the damage of my words spoken in anger. What really bakes my noodle is how unshakably shackled that anger is to deep, dark shame. If I were to tell the ugly truth, I would say that my one year old son makes me angry, and not just in the “bless his little heart” kind of way, in the bone-deep, red-hot, for realsies kind of way. He makes me angry in the way that would be totally natural if it were a normal-sized terrorist who were tearing my home to bits, barfing on my boobs, disregarding every single instruction no matter how seemingly small or sweetly spoken, and boldly reaching his hands between my legs while I’m trying to pee. But because it is my pint-sized guerrilla, I’m somehow supposed to think it’s adorable? I mean, yes, he is adorable, and of course I’m not angry with him all day every day, but seriously, this kid has bitten my butthole just because he was in a biting mood and that’s how high he could reach. I wish I were equipped for rolling with punches like that, but I am decidedly not. And, I mean, I get that discipline takes practice and absurd levels of repetition, but honestly, when he looks me square in the smoldering eyes and grabs that dog food for the 10,000th time, I feel like this:
And the worst part is, being that angry makes me feel like a terrible mother. The simple state of being angry with my boy makes me feel ashamed. I feel as though if I were a better mother, if I were able (like every well-meaning, but infuriating old lady in the grocery store instructs) to “treasure every moment” with my “precious angel” I wouldn’t feel anger of this magnitude. I have never felt more easily angered than this time when it has never felt less okay to be so.
I am aware enough of the way of the world in general and of mommy-circles in particular to know that am never alone in feeling any deep, truthful emotion. I also know that the harder the truth, the less it gets told which is a real conundrum, because telling the truth is what leads to connection and when we are connected, we don’t have to endure alone. No one talks about truly ugly mama-anger, at least not when it is directed at our darling little cherubs. Maybe that’s because it’s nearly impossible to express real anger without someone jumping to the conclusion that you are either depressed or, even worse, that you are a threat to your child.
The me that I am on a good day feels as though if I could just cut myself some well-deserved slack, and put on my oxygen mask, I would see that sometimes, just like Terri Garr, I just have to feel like this until I don’t feel like this anymore and that that’s not only okay, but that’s all there is. And maybe if I tell that truth, I’ll help someone else tell theirs. We’re all in this beautiful mess together, aren’t we? Let’s act like it.