anger

Swimming in Loch Ness

fam (1)

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!

nessie.1

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:

nessie.2

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: 

nessie.3

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.)

nessie.4 (2)

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.

nessie.5

I wait for a groan, but I’m met with  enthusiasm.

nessie.6 (1)

 nessie.7

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.

nessie.8 (1)

As I made my way out of the woods, I saw that more kids had joined my two–about seven in all.

nessie.9

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.

nessie.10

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!

nessie.11 (1)

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.

nessie.12

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?”

“Uh-huh.”

“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.

SIGH.

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.

nessie.13

**************

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!

nessie.14

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].
[1] Jimmy.1 (1)      [2] Jimmy.2        [3] Jimmy.3 (1)

Advertisements

Old Yeller

2774519474_3dff3f1e56_zDon’t worry. This post is not further lamenting about my dog’s death, but the title just fits my predicament so well. You see, I am a yeller. I’m not just a loud person. I need to be the loudest in the room. I need to be heard. And if I feel you are not getting my point, I will simply yell it AT you. This is a horrible trait–probably my only flaw:)

This flaw is weighing on my mind because I recently had an incident with my sons that I am still ruminating about. Last week I yelled at them–a scream at the top of my lungs kinda holler. I’ve only done that a handful of times with them, but it’s the type of behavior where just once is one too many. And of course, what really irritates me about the whole incident is that I was trying to be nice.

It was Friday. They had been bugging me about swimming at the YMCA all week. When they got off the bus, I asked them if they wanted to go. They answered with a resounding “Yes!” “Then we’ll get pizza and watch a movie,” I said. What a plan! What a great dad! What an idiot for thinking it would be so easy! “Can we have snack first?” asks one. “Can we watch a little TV first?” asks the other. “Sure. We’ll leave in a half hour.”

Of course I try to accomplish a dozen things in that half hour, so an hour and a half later we’re finally getting into the car–just in time for mommy to be pulling in from work. Shoot, I never told Pam my plan, I think. “I want Mommy to come with us,” Hayden says.  This is not fair to Pam, who didn’t even know we were going. Understandably tired, she lets him down easy. But this will not suffice. Hayden goes full throttle into one of his tantrums. He starts yelling and flailing and I realize I should have gone an hour ago. The window of opportunity closed tightly while they were getting their Sponge Bob on. Pam dashes inside and I get both boys in the car, but Hayden is still crying and whining, “I WANT MOMMY TO COME!” Owen gets out of the car–“I don’t want to go now because Hayden’s ruining it.” This makes Hayden wail harder. I tell Hayden he can’t go if he doesn’t calm down. I tell Owen he has to go because we had a plan. Everyone is now miserable–including me and Pam– who is witnessing this dysfunctional tableau from the kitchen window. But–hear me now–up to this point I have not yelled once. I did not raise my voice at anyone involved. In fact, I hearken back to the childhood behavior gurus, Brazelton and Spock, and try to rationalize with my son like the good disciple I am: “Make a good decision, Hayd, I know you can do it. C’mon, Buddy, use your thinking side.” I recall the syllabus of books that I have read throughout my years as a parent: Touchpoints: Birth to Eight , What to Expect: The Toddler Years, 1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline from 2-12,  and, finally, I’m Okay, You’re a Brat (this is a partial list).

With everyone safely buckled, I take a deep breath and begin to drive. I am quiet, hoping the storm has passed. I turn on the radio, wishing to hear one of the inappropriate songs that might distract them, the songs they now sing with bizarre naiveté (Can I blow your whistle baby, whistle baby, let me know…). Within two minutes, they begin to fight over a Fun Dip packet in the back seat–a gift from one of their friends from their Valentine’s party yesterday–cards alone don’t cut it anymore. Owen lent Hayden the dip stick to have a few licks (GROSS) but now he wants it back. Hayden is holding the sugary powder pack hostage.They begin to hit each other. I turn back for a second to see what the hell is happening, and as I look again to the road, I see a line of stopped cars with glaring  red tail lights. A slam on my brakes–stopping just feet from the car in front of me. This is the closest I’ve come to being in a car accident with the boys. Once I realize that we were lucky, that we are safe and no one is hurt, I want to kill someone. F***ing Fun Dip. F***ing swimming. F***ing pizza. F***ing movie.

What I say is, “DAMMIT!” Loud–remember this post is about my yelling. “DO YOU SEE WHAT YOU ALMOST MADE ME DO? WE COULD HAVE BEEN REALLY HURT! GIVE ME THE FUN DIP! ARE YOU HAPPY NOW HAYDEN? WHY DO YOU HAVE TO BE THIS WAY? WHY CAN’T YOU BE HAPPY? WHY DO YOU HAVE TO RUIN THINGS?” Hayden sees my irrational state, and raises me twenty. He proceeds to kick the back of my seat. He yells at me, punctuating each word with a stomp of his foot. While still driving, I attempt to grab his leg, but then realize I need to reclaim my “Adult In Charge” badge. I turn the car around and head home. I am proud of myself for not continuing to go to the Y, but my screaming has not reached its end. “ALL I WANTED TO DO WAS…AND YOU GUYS DON’T REALIZE HOW GOOD….AND WE COULD BE AT THE HOSPITAL….I BET YOUR FRIENDS DON’T…AND YOU ARE SPENDING THE REST OF YOUR NIGHT IN YOUR ROOM, HAYDEN.” And with that we are home. The boys are in tears, and I slam my door and storm inside. “Well, that was a bust! We’re back…”and then I rehash the whole debacle for Pam, rants, threats, and all.

I march Hayden up to his room, he is still yelling, and I pretend to ignore him. As I begin to shut hisyell door, he looks at me, teary-eyed, and screams, “Why do you always yell at me?” To which I reply, “Why do you always yell at me?” I shut (not slam) his door hard, and I go to my room and lie down. Yes, it’s 5 o’clock on a Friday night and I’m spending Happy Hour in Hell!

“I’m going to order the pizza. Do you want any?” Pam calls up to me. “No!” I yell down, wallowing. I lay on our bed and just try to breathe, to relax, yet I can hear Hayden talking to himself in his room. I feel sad, not sure whether he is berating himself or me (probably both). I go to his door and open it.  “Can I come in?” “No,” he says, but bitter-sweetly. I go back to my room and lie down again. A few minutes later, I spy him hiding in my doorway, peeking his head in, hoping I’ll notice him. “Come on in,” I say. He climbs on the bed. “Hayden, Mommy and I love you very much, but we get sad when you behave like that. You say I always yell at you. When was the first time I yelled at you today?” In his signature inaudible whisper he says, “When we almost hit that car.” “And weren’t you yelling at me and mommy and Owen?” He gives me a pouty lip nod. “Let’s BOTH work on not yelling, okay.” He repeats pouty lip nod. We spend the next few minutes just lying there, savoring the quiet, which seems extra loud now that neither of us is screaming at each other. While I am glad to have this reconciliation, the thought that I often have is gnawing away at me: “Oh, God. He’s me. He’s me.”

“Pizza’s here!” Pam hollers. He and I both make our way downstairs. I proceed to gobble two slices of the pie I said I didn’t want. We salvage the night by watching Hotel Transylvania–again. My behavior weighs heavy on my mind. I am trying so hard to have patience, to show my boys how to be respectful and kind. But old habits die hard. I think back to my childhood where he who was loudest was the winner. Yelling was the most effective way to gain attention in my large family. To yell was to win. And what a price we paid for that victory.

The next day, Owen and I find ourselves sitting on the stairs tying our shoes. He then hops into my lap without warning. Just puts his arms around my neck and plants a kiss on my face. I am so moved by this. Each time we share such a moment, a voice in my mind cries out, “Remember this. Enjoy it. Such embraces will disappear soon. He will not be able to sit in your lap much more. He will not want to kiss you much longer.” I take this opportunity to address the incident from the day before. “Hey. I’m sorry I yelled like that yesterday. I was upset, and I was scared that we could have gotten hurt.” “You scare me when you yell like that,” he says softly. A small dagger pierces my heart. “I know I do. And I’ll try not to yell like that again.” He remains in my lap a bit more, and I will this moment into my mind so I can remember this promise that I make to him.

Having reflected on this situation for a week now, I am reminded of how my anger still seeps through into my life. I am not foolish enough to think I will not raise my voice ever again–I’m sure I’ve raised it every day since. But there is a difference between raising one’s voice and yelling. And I am aware that part of my anger is resentment. At times, I resent the fact that my kids don’t realize how good they have it–what a charmed life they are living, or how much attention and quality time we give to them. But then I think about these young men we are shaping, the habits we are forming in them through our example. I realize that one of the most important things I can do for them is show them how to remain calm and composed, even when angry. It has taken me decades, but one of the most valuable lessons I have learned is that yelling is one of the fastest ways to get people to shut down. Once you’ve yelled, you’ve lost.