Sunday, July 15, 2012

Anger Management

Tonight's cocktail is a beet mojito. OK, yes, unusual, but have a little faith. I saw someone preparing a beet mojito on TV (can't remember where), and I subsequently found it in enough fancy restaurant reviews to conclude that this is A Real Thing. Like with a regular mojito, you muddle a handful of fresh mint in a shaker with 1 oz lime juice and sugar to taste (I probably used 2 tsp but didn't measure). Then I muddled in the better portion of a cut-up steamed beet - the little ones you can find pre-cooked and pre-packaged in the produce section at many grocery stores. Add 3 oz rum, shake with ice, strain over more ice in a tall glass, top with club soda. It's good - beets are sweet, so you primarily get that taste, with a little earthiness to balance things out. I tried it later with basil instead of mint and got a very different drink, also delicious but more herbal. I recommend both.

I never considered myself a particularly angry person. I grew up in a house with a lot of turmoil and conflict, but I thought I got out of it intact by being all Zen-like and avoiding conflict. The reed that bends in the storm doesn't break, and whatnot. It turns out, not so much.

Those reeds are way too serene. There must be a dead body under the water, or an alligator.
When Tweak was born, I managed to keep my shit together, but barely, in the sense that a car held together with baling wire and chewing gum might work, but you probably shouldn't ride around in it. I adjusted to the working mom thing, spent 10 months measuring my self-worth by the output of my boobs, and barely, between the weekend entertainathons of which my ex was so fond, managed to make sure there was usually food and clean underwear in the house. Years later, I finally realized that under the relatively normal facade of my psyche, there was a lot going on that was NOT normal.

It looks so peaceful from here ...
After Tink, my second child, was born, even after the 10,000 consecutive sleepless nights brought to us courtesy of reflux were over, I found within myself a hot, simmering cauldron of pure rage. I was angry all the time. I was angry at my then-husband. I was angry at my parents. I was angry at George W. Bush. I was angry at people who wrote checks at the grocery store. I was angry at the seemingly smug stay-home moms who'd been doing this much longer and seemed to have it all figured out (or so I thought). I was most of all, God help me, angry at my children. I felt like I was walking around with no skin on. Touch me, and I would bleed, scream, and try to punch you in the throat. It's just as well that I didn't know about GOOP back then, because I would probably be writing this from prison.

Don't even get me started.

I've mentioned before how I about lost my damn mind during those years. The anger was a huge part of that. While I found myself experiencing intensely angry emotions around my children (emotions on which I did NOT, thank God, act), it obviously wasn't their fault. It also wasn't my ex's fault, even though he didn't exactly help make things easier, either. It was about me. I felt trapped. I felt I'd been sold a bill of goods about mothering and work and marriage, and those things seemed so easy for other people, but I was completely fucking it up, and I had no excuse. I didn't have to worry about financial security, health, political instability, discrimination, or my or my family's personal safety. I had no right to struggle, and I hated myself that it was so hard for me.

Since then, I've talked to a lot of moms about this issue of anger, and I have learned the following things.

  • Everyone's kids sometimes, more often than they like to admit, cause them to feel incandescently, mind-blowingly angry. This is normal.
  • Ditto for spouses, even the good ones.
  • Many kind, rational, loving women with small children will tell you that they have had at least fleeting fantasies of leaving their families in the dead of night, changing their names, and moving to Arkansas (or somewhere else nobody would ever think to look for them). This is not, however, generally condoned as a solution to one's problems.
While I was glad to know I wasn't a complete freak, I still had to learn why my anger seemed so much worse, and what to do about it. Bottom line: I needed to grow the hell up, and fast. Ultimately, I was angry because I had never learned to confront people, take responsibility for the course of my life, and work through uncomfortable feelings, and I didn't like the place where that led me. Even worse, I had no one to blame but myself.

In childhood, when things got rough, I buried myself in schoolwork, a book, or a daydream, and I did my best to acquiesce and be good so nobody would bother me. I carried that avoidance into adulthood, and nothing terrified me more than confronting a friend, my spouse, my family, or my co-workers. It didn't all come home until I had children because I had responsibilities I simply couldn't avoid, no matter how I felt. The anger was actually a gift to me - a message that I had to deal with my feelings rather than let them chase me into a corner. As unpleasant as it was to have to learn this lesson on such a delayed timeline, it was the best thing that could have happened to me. Children are blessings in all kinds of ways.

I'd like to say that I'm now a fully well-adjusted adult and that I've figured everything out now. Of course, that would be a load of crap. What I can say is that in the moments when I would most like to duck and run, I make a conscious effort to turn and face the person, situation, or emotions that are bothering me and deal with them. I might not always get it right, but when I instituted this change in my mindset, much of my anxiety, frustration, and anger lifted like fog. Learning to face my demons was the best thing I could do for my children.

I'm sure Gwyneth is breathing a little easier now, but if she writes a check in the line ahead of me at the grocery store, all bets are off.


  1. This post really resonates with me! I figure everyone feels like tossing their kids put the window at some point -- the only thing that would make me a bad mom is if I actualy did so. But acting on the underlying anger issues is harder, especially when my instinct is to go silent. I continue to be helped by two books: Crucial Conversations and Crucial Confrontations, which walk through ways to talk about what I want in tough situations.

  2. There's a great book called Parenting from the Inside Out that suggests all of us really have an opportunity to do a lot of growing through what being a parent teaches us. It felt so insightful but uncomfortable that I put it down after two chapters, but I'm sure the rest of it was good, too. :)

  3. I'll put those books on my list! I started last year listening to CDs from a company called Celebrate Calm (, whose founder, Kirk Martin, goes around the country doing workshops. His over-arching message is that the only way you can parent effectively is by keeping yourself calm and not letting your child's behavior, or the situation you're in, or what other people might think, etc., dictate your emotions or behavior. I've found them immensely helpful.

  4. I saw that guy's presentation and it looked great. Didn't buy the CDs though...maybe I can borrow them? I'll trade ya.


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