Most people who know me would never guess this in a million years, but I think I have an anger management problem.
Now, if you're anything like me, the term "anger management problem" brings to mind bar room brawlers, men in tight white tank tops, and 17 -year olds who get sent to juvie for jumping their math teachers. What I DON'T think of is a 32-year old church-going, yoga-practicing, stay-at-home mom with an endless repertoire of verses of "The Wheels on the Bus." Me. Smiley, happy me, right? But beneath the innocuous exterior is a woman who has, truth be told, really struggled to keep her cool over the last 17 months. And here's the worst part of it all: the two people who can most easily drive me to the ugliest kind of fury are, 1.) under the age of five, and 2.) my own children.
Now, an important disclaimer here: first and foremost, I LOVE MY BOYS DEARLY. I CHOOSE to stay home with them on my own accord. They are not unusually misbehaved or obnoxious children by any means. In fact, strangers have even approached me to comment that these kids are quite the opposite. They are curious, loving, adorable little people... truthfully, they're the coolest kids I know. Which makes it all the more shameful that, in recent months, I seem prone to yelling and making this loud, exasperated grunting sound, even in the grocery store or in front of gawking neighbors.
Seriously, what's happened to me? I started motherhood with seemingly endless patience and gentleness, a firm resolve that I would model these virtues for my boys. A definite Kumbaya kind of mama. I would never, I swore, be one of those mothers who screamed or slammed doors or forced their shrieking toddlers into car seats in the Target parking lot when they refused to go of their own accord. Such women, I thought naively, simply needed to take a breath and remember what precious treasures their children were.
But here's the thing: some situations were just not meant to be endured by sane human beings. Like the time a few weeks ago when both boys were given balloons on the Pearl St. Mall, which initially, made them quite happy. I smiled blissfully as we walked along, hand in hand, each boy watching with amusement as his balloon bobbed in the wind. However, when on the way home, peacefully buckled into their side by side car seats, their balloons accidentally twisted around each other and tangled, all hell broke loose. Each boy yanked with all his might on his own string in a futile attempt to free the balloons, and both Eli and Jonah began to shriek like the girl from The Exorcist. Initially, I was impressively calm.
"Boys," I called back to them from the front seat as I cruised down the highway. "Just let go of your strings and I'll untwist them for you."
The duet of high pitched wailing subsided for a moment, but Eli, at just 16 months old, couldn't make sense of my offer and proceeded to tug with everything he had on his coveted yellow balloon. Jonah, not to be outdone, yanked immediately back, and the screaming resumed.
I raised my voice a bit. "Jonah," I called, trying to appeal to my older, most sensible son, "just let go for a minute and I'll get your balloon back to you." But by this time, neither boy could hear me over their screaming. I felt my patience and sanity begin to disappear.
"BOYS!" I yelled at the top of my lungs. "DON'T MAKE ME PULL THIS CAR OVER OR YOU WILL NEVER GET ANOTHER BALLOON IN YOUR LIVES!"
Seriously. I said that. Who am I, after all? Certainly not the peaceful earth mother I aspire to in my mind. But sometimes, desperate times call for desperate measures.
I'm certainly not justifying my anger or claiming that it's a good idea to yell at children. I deal with the shame and the guilt on a daily basis, wishing I could take back words or even an angry tone, praying that I'm not wrecking these little guys for life.
One recent evening, I had lost my cool once again after my four-year old had refused to go to bed and had woken up his sleeping brother for the second time that night. Jonah had padded down to the living room begging for "just one more snack" as I heard the baby begin to wail upstairs. I banged the pantry door shut, slammed down some crackers and milk in front of Jonah, and stomped back up the steps to attempt to put the little one to bed for the third time that hour.
When I returned down the stairs a few minutes later, I was feeling a bit calmer. Jonah sat alone at the table with his head down in front of his empty plate. I called him over to me on the couch, and he climbed up onto my lap. We talked a bit about the importance of following the bedtime rules, and he nodded.
"But mommy," he said quietly. "You broke a rule, too."
"Yeah, buddy. You're right. I was too mad, wasn't I? I'm really sorry. Do you know that?"
"Yeah," he whispered as he laid his blond head on my shoulder. "You did break a rule, but you know what? Now we'll put the rule back together."
Gulp. The boy really said this, came up with it on his own. Sometimes his grace and wisdom just about knock me over.
And I just can't help but feeling that maybe, just maybe, there's hope for me yet.