By Michelle Brock
It was a typical weekday morning. I had to get my three year old off to preschool and head to work where I teach fifth grade. It was parent teacher conference week, so I was feeling a tiny bit anxious to make a good impression and have meaningful conversations with my students’ parents.
We pull up to preschool, where my son usually hopped out of the car and made a mad dash to be one of the first kids in class. Yet today, when I was feeling a little rushed to make copies before my conferences started, and I was wearing a more profession outfit that was a little harder to wrestle in, my son REFUSED TO GET OUT OF THE CAR. “I don’t want to go to school today Mommy! I want to play at home with DAAADDDYYYY!!!”.
I was breathing deep and remembered to honor his disappointment and feelings. “I know it’s hard to be away from Daddy. He’s a lot of fun. But you’ll get to play with Noah and Alessandro and that will be a lot of fun too.”
“No!” Then he crossed his arms and refused to budge.
I took another deep breathe and stayed the course. I used the low serious voice. “I’m going to count to three and you need to be out of the car. 1...2...3. I see you still aren’t out of the car. If you choose not to get out of the car, you are going to lose your show this afternoon”. I brought out the big guns, and waited. But he was not going to budge. In that moment, I knew I played the last card I had, so I had to resort to brute force. I grabbed his upper arm, hauled him out of the carseat and made the humiliating walk of shame, dragging my pint sized boy while he was screaming bloody murder. Thank god we arrived very early and my humilation was only witnessed by one other parent. While I was marching my son to what outsiders must’ve thought was the gas chamber, I wanted to shake him like a rag doll and smack him all over. How could he do this to me, when I was taking him to a place where all he has to do was play and have fun.
I usually always have a smile on my face. Even in high school, I was voted Everyone’s Friend because of my happy exterior. However, recently I’ve been thrown a loop because of an intense emotion has been taking root inside me.
But in the last three years or so, I’ve been struggling with the most uncomfortable and scary emotion: my anger. Not just feeling annoyed or peeved, but feeling like I could rip a person to shreds with my bare hands ANGER!
What could turn the sweet high schooler I once was into the Incredible Hulk? I’ve been trying to figure it out. I can pinpoint the birth of my anger to three years ago, because that was when my oldest child was two and a half years old. The smiley, mommy-clingy toddler was gone, replaced by a curious, energetic, strong-willed child. What was once a two minute activity to get his shoes and coat on to head to a park, became a thirty minute wrestling match and battle of the wills. I hate to admit that 9 times out of 10, he would end up in his stroller with no coat and shoes, and I would walk out of the house looking like I just stuck my finger in a light socket.
Unfortunately, my anger was not contained to these stressful interactions with my two year old. I started feeling angry that my husband was a lot more patient and calm in these situations. My anger would brew when I would get to a park and the other moms had beautiful put together outfits with full faces of makeup, and I looked like I just got mowed down by a pack of wild toddlers on trikes.
Then our building got inhabited by those lovely creatures called bed bugs. My anger mounted when two tenants refused to get rid of those nasty little nuisances. First they denied they had them, then they blamed other people for having them, and after we got so desperate we had to call the Department of Health, they wouldn’t let inspectors look inside their unit.
You must be wondering, how did my anger manifest itself? Was I cursing out my neighbors in the elevator? Walking down Valencia street with hour long rants about how people can suck? No, I took out my anger on my husband and myself. Yelling at him if he was five minutes late, or couldn’t read my mind when I needed help. My sleep was almost non-existent. I lay in bed, vaguely conscious, but very aware that I was not asleep, because if I were asleep I couldn’t be thinking about how I wasn’t sleeping. And my lack of sleep just added to my anger, because I was pretty sure if I were well rested, I would have had the energy to calm myself and not get so ANGRY!
The act of me getting in touch with the anger of raising young children, really opened the flood gates to the anger I suppressed growing up. I’m the second of four children, raised by a single mom, although we did get to see our dad on the weekends. My mom worked tirelessly to try and provide for us, while also going to school, but she was often worn out and did not have much patience for us. We were yelled at, hit, and woken up in the middle of the night to do the chores that didn’t get done while she was away. Living that way as a child was very scary. I was often angry at my mother, but I didn’t know how to express that anger. I knew that if I showed my mom how angry I was, I would get yelled at and spanked, so it just got stuffed down. Whenever I find myself in a frustrating situation with my kids and I’m taking my deep breaths so I’m not cursing my kids out, I feel outraged!! Outraged that I really want to hit my kids (although I never thought I would feel this way and I hate myself when I feel this way), and bitterly resentful that my mom wasn’t able to get control of her emotions and not hit us.
So, I’ve been trying really hard to deal with my anger. I often tell myself that anger is a valid emotion. I need to help myself and my children channel our anger in appropriate ways. The first line of defense that parents know so well is to use our words. In my classroom, I have this sentence frame hanging on the wall: “I feel ________________ when you ________________ because__________”. It’s really easy for me to remember when my 10 year old students come to me seeking help with a conflict, but in my every day life I’m still trying to make speaking this way a habit.
When I feel myself getting angry, I try to recall the words an old boyfriend used to say, “anger is really just a way to mask our fear”. So I try to figure out what I’m feeling scared about. When I go this route, I often feel like I’ve fallen down a rabbit hole. Asking myself what am I afraid of shakes me to the core. I feel like an 8.0 earthquake has overcome me and the epicenter is my gut. Thinking about the fear under my anger scares me so much because I’m really afraid of everything! I’m afraid I’m failing as a parent because I’m a teacher that can’t control my own children. I’m afraid of the attention I get mid-meltdown from other parents and innocent bystanders. I’m afraid my kids won’t like me when they are older. I’m afraid my husband and I won’t be able to pay our bills, won’t be in love when our kids go off to college, will get divorced. I’m afraid that I’m not a good enough daughter and that I will fail my children as a mother. All of these fears are in my head, and it’s so painfully terrifying to face them, so I often choose not think of them and just be angry.
After I let my angry Hulk emerge, I feel so ashamed. I feel like a monster when I’m imagining ripping someones head off, and even worse when I’m gripping my kids by the shoulders. I don’t want to live a life of anger and irritation. I want to be compassionate and caring, in control of my emotions, able to walk away when I’m feeling upset.
Speaking about my anger with other parents helps me to feel less alone. Children asserting their independence is one of the hardest situations to hold and go through. I’m learning it makes the most patient people feel crazy and upset.
The road to managing my anger is sure to be a lifelong journey. I need to honor, acknowledge, and figure out how to walk through the hot coals and glass shards of my anger. I need to be brave and not stuff my rage down, ignore it or try to walk around it. All of those avoidance techniques are just temporary solutions, that will leave my anger festering like a wound, that will later bubble up, reeking and infected.
I’m learning to accept all parts of myself, even the fiery, fuming, jaw clenching monster, which is what I’ve come to view my anger as. I’m nowhere near conquering or mastering my anger. But I’m a lot closer to learning how to deal with it by naming it and acknowledging it.