Friday, October 23, 2009

biting the hook

It turns out that screaming at children is bad for them, and for us, but a lot of us are doing it.
Thanks to a new friend of mine, I know this is New York Times worthy stuff. Strangely, it's not as comforting as I thought it would be to learn that I am not alone in this. I just picture a sea of stunned children's faces in the aftermath of being yelled at. I get ferklemt. Like a lot of us, I've been on both sides of the screaming fence and I've come to see it as abuse, although the article above doesn't mention that word, and the examples it provides as far as what is shouted and what provokes the outbursts makes me feel weird and defective, because I don't need to get all the way to Friday evening to lose my shit. I can lose it just fine first thing Monday morning. And after reading a scare piece like this I could spiral into a guilt so stormy it would make my grandmother finally come out from the rain, may she rest in peace. Because I've done a lot of screaming in the past five and half years.

So the article is another reminder for me to keep paying close attention to how it feels (i.e., horrible) when I unleash the mother lode of fury on my ever-innocent, resilient and mercifully forgiving tots, who in the past few days have taken to beating the shit out of each other like it's just what we do every evening before dinner.

I tell them in my Buddha voice to be gentle: "Hamish honey, your sister doesn't like it when you sit on her head. That's what that crying sound is. Why don't you give her some space?" When Hamish finally releases her, Stella, beet-faced and tear-stained, whips him in the eye with her Mardi Gras beads, and he punches her in the back and they howl and that's about the time I run clean out of ideas so I invite them to fight it to the death and calmly lock myself in the bathroom with a magazine. I wouldn't recommend doing this with older children. Eventually one of them notices I'm gone and comes whimpering, knocking on the door and I tell them it's time to wash hands and they do, and we move on to the next thing and I know that I wouldn't have gotten through it any better if I'd yelled. I want to build a fortress of experiences like this, where I don’t bite the hook and we're all better off for it, if a little bruised and pulpy.

Of course I notice that there's a buttload of guilt for the hostility I see in the kids when they're thrashing away at each other, because where else could they have learned such rage? It's the same way I learned it from my father. I feel his presence in me when I lose my shit. Like a poltergeist. The good news is that I'm on the right track and not just because my therapist told me, right after I asked if she was absolutely sure I didn't need drugs and she said that my issues seem to stem from an intense inner battle instead of from a chemical imbalance and I thought, can I get that in calligraphy please?

How do I know I'm on the right track? Because tonight my mother came over. And I kept it together. See, my mother is the wind-whipped rocky peak of my rage mountain. I realized this evening when she couldn't find Stella's shirt, a mere two inches from her glistening face (my mother cannot get enough hand-holding or petroleum jelly) that she and the kids and a portion of the world at large will never stop annoying me, and I might never be rid of my rage and my stupendous neurotic guilt, but I can learn to not react to any of it by witnessing myself when I'm losing my temper and remember that it sucks, both the rage and the inevitable follow-up guilt, and remind myself that this transformation from mean mommy to compassionate mommy takes time. Years probably. Lifetimes maybe. I used to think that enlightenment meant you were suddenly free of the woolly straitjacket of odious emotions but it's starting to look like that's not the case at all. Maybe the buckles just loosen instead, jangling with every cloaked movement to let us know they'll always be there.


kristi said...

hey! i have been wanting to write a blog post about this article and what it made me think about too. i vow to write one today. sometimes even though i feel overflowing and there are so many thoughts swirling around, when i actually think about writing it down i have felt shy lately. maybe it's because everyone is telling me "oh we love how real you are!" because that makes me think, "well then why aren't YOU being real?"

ok, that was random. anyway, i really appreciate your take on this, because i do think it's so important that we embrace who we are and not be so tough on ourselves and also learn that we actually CAN be nice mommies. some days i just spiral down, just like you are saying, and when my expectations of myself are low (e.g., i'll never stop yelling, i will always suck) then of course i live out that expectation.

so reminding ourselves--and also having friends who remind us--is so valuable to propel us down the road to a more fruitful mommyhood. at the very least, it will help us not be completely and totally insane by the time our kids go to college, so maybe then we can halfway enjoy our retirement. :)

oh wait, we won't have a retirement. i digress...

i told rick the other day that i was exhausted from an afternoon with the kids, and i realized that i think it was because i was using every ounce of energy NOT to yell when they were being destructo ONE and TWO (thankfully the baby was with him) at...wait for therapy. so the therapist observed me trying calmly to get them from running in circles and attempting to pull the coke machine over. nice. i wonder what she was thinking.

ok, this is way too long for a comment. xo :)

elise said...

Kristi! I love your comment! It's the perfect length. And you've got me thinking because I get the comment too, about how real I am and I never thought to ask why the pointer-outer of my realism isn't as real, as if being real is daring, and sometimes it feels daring like a dare, and now I digress. I can't wait to read your NYT article post. I think also that the guilt is as huge of an issue to work with as the initial anger and a condition not shared with the eastern hemisphere, which means that it's really optional. okay. nuff said.

Amelia Plum said...

my mom came to visit friday so this was my first chance to come upon this gem of a post. you go! that last paragraph is brilliant. i need to read this article. i like you links in the post too and that google ad asking if your husband is gay.

elise said...

Amelia! Please click on that link to see if my husband is gay. I will receive 6 cents. Someday. Thank you as always for brightening my day with your wonderful comments! and let me know what you think of the article. xoxoxox

Christina said...

I'm not even going to go read the article because I already feel so guilty everytime I get frustrated and loose it with my toddler. He does't know what he's doing and it's always at my breaking point. Luckily, if I yell, he just laughs at me. So that doesn't really do me any good. So now, if I feel frustrated by a situation and like I need to yell (because he's dumped a coffee cup all over the chair, or soup is smeared everywhere) I remind myself that he doesn't know what he's done and put him in his playpen until I've cleaned up the mess and calmed down. Then I grab him, give him a hug and congratulate myself on having kept my cool in front of the monster. It's so nice to see that I really am making progress.

I LOVE the bit about locking yourself in the bathroom while the kids fought it out - i'm going to remember this for future battles. My brother and I had big fights as kids, it's just part of the sibling rivalry. Even bad attention is attention from mom, so it's good to just ignore it...assuming no ones life is in danger of course. :)

Thanks for sharing and letting me know i'm not the only one out there that has a temper and for making me realize that I am working on it and finding myself keeping my cool in front of the kid.