I try to be very calm in my approach to life–at peace with the world, aware of the positive forces in my presence, appreciative of the beauty and joy that surround me. But try as I may, the anger seems to dwell just below the surface. On the outside I am tranquil, but on the inside, I am one negative encounter away from reeling. Emotionally, I feel like I am floating along on a raft in the warm water on a sunny day–on Loch Ness. The surface is smooth, it beckons me to relax, but the prehistoric monster lurks just beneath, waiting to rear its long neck and swallow me whole. Curse you Nessie!
The reminders of this struggle bombard me daily.
After school, I happily make the boys a snack, glad to have this time to unwind with them at the kitchen counter. THEN, I spy some jerk out the window speeding down our street. I immediately seethe, envisioning myself chasing down the car, climbing on the hood, stomping in the roof, and yelling:
At a recent basketball game for my 9 year-old, I try to be supportive of all the kids–even cheering when the other team sinks a great shot. But there, on the bleachers, is one dad–only one–who keeps barking at his son for all the wrong things he is doing. I try to ignore him, but his negativity gets the best of me. I fantasize about walking over to him and screaming:
Ahhhh. The rage subsides, but it leaves a sting.
These dream-like confrontations make me feel better momentarily, but then deflated in the long run. I cannot be so confrontational in life–even if only in my mind. Too often, I feel like I got my approach to parenting not from Dr. Spock or Dr. Phil, but from Dr. Banner–you know, David Banner, aka The Incredible Hulk (Mr. McGee, don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.)
But, every so often, the world teaches me a valuable lesson about this struggle. Such a reminder occurred the other day when my boys were sledding in the fields behind our house.
I wait for a groan, but I’m met with enthusiasm.
It was idyllic. The dogs frolicked through the white, powdery trails, and I could hear the boys’ shouts of delight as they raced down the hill. The air was crisp and the sun danced through the barren branches. I became more elated with every step.
As I made my way out of the woods, I saw that more kids had joined my two–about seven in all.
I wanted the dogs to remain off leash, so I continued to watch the sledding action from afar. Owen (9), was now attempting to ride his snowboard–something he has adapted to quite nicely. As he came down the slope, I noticed he fell right after he passed two older boys–middle schoolers, perhaps.
No parent likes to see his kid fall, but I was proud he got up right away to try again. My radar was raised, though: “Who are those kids? I don’t recognize them.” I watched him trudge up the hill for another attempt. The same thing occurred–he cruised down the trail effortlessly, only to fall immediately after he passed the two boys, who erupted into some kind of shout when he tumbled. My mind raced: Those #@!@##$$#@%! They’re making Owen fall. They’re teasing him and making him self-conscious, and then laughing when he hits the ground. JERKS!
I decide I will get closer and yell at them. Something like, “Yo, knock it off! At least he’s trying. I don’t see you two making any attempts! Leave him alone!”
I rehearse my diatribe in my head, reminding myself not to call them any names, and then I get distracted by one of the dogs–it seems Huck has chased after a deer.
By the time Huck comes back, Owen has switched to the sled again, and seems content. I call over to them, trying to detect any stress in his voice. “You guys ready?”
“No, Dad! Can’t we stay–just a few more runs?”
“Okay!” I am relieved–and those two punks should be, too. Lucky to be spared of my wrath.
On the walk home, the boys are cold and snow-caked. They each hold a dog leash while I carry the sled and snow board. I try to get a sense of what happened with the other boys.
“Did you know any of those kids?”
“No,” they reply.
“Were they all nice?”
“Yeah,” they say.
As if I just thought of it, I say, “Hey, I saw you fall a couple of times when you were on your snowboard after you made it all the way down the hill.”
“I know. Those guys were trying to teach me how to stop,” Owen replies.
“How. To. Stop?”
“They were helping you?”
“Yeah, but it’s really hard to learn how to stop. Every time I tried, I’d slide out of control, and we’d just all crack up.”
“Oh. Well, that’s cool. I’m glad they could give you some tips.”
They were trying to help. They were teaching him. They were laughing WITH him.
Water splashes me from Nessie’s tail as he swims back under the surface–I’ve spared you THIS time, it seems to say. But what about next time? I think.
Why do I constantly see the conflict in everything?
When it comes to parenting, there is a fine line between protecting and over-protecting our children. I am aware that I must teach my sons to address their own conflicts in life. I cannot fight their battles for them. But more importantly, I want to instill in them a sense of awareness: not to view the conflict in everything, not to feel constantly embattled.
The best way to teach this is by example. If I continue to allow anger to thrive, I will never be able to fully enjoy where life is leading me.
I want this sledding incident to serve as a reminder for me. I want to recall it the next time I am quick to judge a situation.
But most importantly, I want to find a new lake to rest on–one that doesn’t house monsters–real or imaginary.
Take that, Nessie!
MEET THE CARTOONIST: Jimmy Murphy
When he’s not performing Shakespearean Sonnets at The Great Wall of China, Jimmy Murphy draws everything from the creatures that haunt his imagination, to the ones that haunt his 9th grade reading curriculum, to the squishy noseless people like those seen on this website [figure1]. Although not yet at the peak of his popularity, artistically or high schoolistically, this fourteen year-old has been drawing since he could hold a crayon–the first recorded drawing being a rainbow–[figure 2]. Jimmy’s artistic influences include Shawn Coss, Gris Grimly, and himself. He enjoys reading a good book, ranting about things he hates, raving about things he likes, sleeping, and can be endlessly entertained with a label-maker [figure 3].