Anger: The Unvarnished Truth
We had the blowout of the century last week, my husband and I. The blowout of the century. The topic isn’t as important as the pure seething vitriol that came from both our mouths, flung at each other with all the might we could muster. It was a horrific display of the worst of our humanness. I had had it. He had had it. For weeks the blood boiled in both of us and reached the point where the pressure cooker burst–burst wide open. It was late at night. The dog was sleeping. The cat was sleeping. Ila was sleeping…or so I thought.
The next morning, we both did our best to paste a shiny smile on our faces so that she wouldn’t suspect that our feelings for each other at that moment were less than fond (to put it mildly). Although I didn’t notice then (shame on me) looking back now, Ila was very quiet that morning. She moved through the routine as if she was walking through molasses. The car ride to school wasn’t full of top-of-her-lungs “Frozen” songs and she was shy and clingy when it was time for me to leave her in her classroom. That afternoon, after picking her up, her tiny voice cut through the silence and pulled me from my very busy mind. “Mommy, why aren’t you married to Aidan’s daddy anymore?”
My super-mom senses went on high alert, and as hard as I tried to convince myself that she hadn’t heard the fight the night before, this very out-of-the-blue question made me agonize that she indeed had heard it. My mind searched for a way to explain it to her–why I was no longer married to my first husband? At first I thought I’d try an easy way out and say something like–”Silly, because I am married to YOUR dad now.” But something in me knew that this wouldn’t fly. So I settled on, “Well, sometimes people start out loving each other and then that changes. That is what happened to Aidan’s dad and me. We stopped loving each other.” Then with a quick realization that she may apply that to ALL love, I added, “But that doesn’t happen with mommy-love. As your mom, I will always love you. Nothing could ever change that. I love you and your brothers so much. A mommy’s love is forever.”
She was silent for awhile and I hoped against all hope that this answer satisfied her and even had myself convinced that the question was a random musing and had nothing to do with the fight the night before. I was wrong.
“So, when will you and daddy stop loving each other?”
I will admit here that the shame that rained down on me in that moment was enough to bring a cascade of tears that streamed down my face and plopped into my lap as I drove our little car towards home. How to answer this? I asked Hindsight for wisdom, and true to form he whispered something that I knew to be true.
Denial–way back, when I was a first time mommy–would be the tactic that I would have used at this moment. I would have waved it off. I would have said something like, “Oh your daddy and I will never stop loving each other.” I had denied many things as a young mom. I had waved off many concerns that my boys had dismissing them as silly or not something to be thought about at all. However, I know now that all that does is confuse children. It keeps them in a scared place where they may be wondering, but don’t want to feel foolish uttering the fear. It is a sure fire way to set up a lack of communication between children and parents. Knowing this, I pushed through the dread and asked Ila a question.
“Did you hear daddy and mommy arguing last night?” I peered at her in the rear view mirror.
She nodded her head solemnly and replied, “I couldn’t sleep. Your yelling kept me up. It was scary.”
I might as well have asked Mike Tyson to punch me in the gut. Again the urge to wave her concerns off perched on the tip of my tongue, but my mind kept shouting, “Truth, truth, truth.” So I rolled my tongue back, swallowed the urge to lie and pressed on with the truth.
“First of all, I want to say sorry to you. You shouldn’t have had to hear that last night. It was wrong for me and your daddy to act so poorly that we made you scared. I feel so bad for that. Please forgive me (At this point, we had pulled into the driveway and I had taken her out of the car seat and cuddled with her in the back seat.). She looked up at me with doe eyes and the pit of shame just grew and grew.
But I was sure, very sure that the truth must be told…the unvarnished truth…and so I continued. “But here’s the thing, my sweet, anger happens. It happens and happens and happens. Not just to your mom and dad, but most humans at some point get angry. So yes, last night, mommy and daddy were very angry at each other. Here’s the other thing, Ila. Hard as we try to be angry appropriately, like saying ‘I am feeling so mad,’ or ‘I need a break until I can talk calmly,’ sometimes, hopefully not that many times, we forget. We lose it. We lose our niceness. That’s what happened to daddy and mommy last night. We forgot about being appropriate. We forgot about the things we love about each other. We forgot about who we are as a family, and instead said things that were meant to hurt one another.”
Here, Ila nodded. Before I continued I asked, “Are you understanding what I am saying.” She again nodded and in her 4 year old way said, “You and daddy forgot to be nice.” Deciding that she was getting the gist of it, I pressed forward.
“In life sometimes, we can all forget to be nice.We all have moments where anger becomes boss and we forget about kindness and understanding. When really horrible inappropriate anger takes over it can be really scary, just like it was last night. But most times, underneath that scary anger there are still some parts of us that love each other. That’s the great thing about love. Love means that you can make a mistake or a lot of mistakes and a person will still remember who you really are and love you for that. Love means that you may feel so so so very angry or hurt or disappointed by someone, but you forgive them in the end. Love means that we say sorry when we know we were wrong. Love means that we keep on trying to be a family as hard as we can even when we are hurt or angry or disappointed. This is the way it is with daddy and me. We may have hurt one another last night, we may feel disappointed and angry, but we will keep trying to be a family, we will try to forgive and remember who we really are because we love each other.”
Ila nuzzled her head under my arm and pressed herself against my side. “It’s like Anna in Frozen,” she whispered.
“What do you mean?” I answered.
“Even though (her sister) Elsa froze her heart, Anna still loved her. Just like you still love dad even when you fight.”
“Yes,” I agreed. “even when we fight.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Logan has lived in Glens Falls, NY all her life. By day, she is an educator with 20 years experience, a mom to Aidan and Gannan, her two teenage boys, a new mommy to a beautiful daughter, Ila, and wife to the love of her life, Jeffrey. By night, weekends and any spare time she can find, Logan writes. She loves memoir and also adores writing essays about the challenges of parenthood. This year she started a parenting blog called A Muddled Mother, an honest place where mothers aren’t afraid to speak of the complications and difficulties that we all inevitably experience. Logan has been published in various children’s and parenting magazines including Today’s Motherhood, Eye on Education, Faces, and Appleseed. Logan’s previous column for Hilltown Families, Snakes and Snails: Teenage Boys Tales ran bi-monthly from June 2010-Feb. 2011, sharing stories of her first time around as a parent of two teenage boys. — Check out Hindsight Parenting: Raising Kids the Second Time Around every first and third Tuesday of the month.