Facing Anger (And Reluctantly Admitting My Husband Was Right)

Every window in my house is currently steamed up. (No, it’s not what you think! Jeesh, don’t make me blush.) The reason? I live in Florida. It is summer. The humidity is higher than Donald Trump’s bangs.

thedonald
high hair, high humidity. (photo source)
I just returned home to this heat from 

vacation in the cool, humidity-free Northeast. No matter. I am loving the all-consuming stickiness.

At last: the outside world is matching my inside world.

As vacation ended and some unpleasant realities of life creeped back into my consciousness, anger began seeping out in all the ways that Oprah would advise against. Projecting onto my husband. Snapping at my daughter. Scowling about towels left on the floor and muttering loudly under my breath.  A tiny voice within squeaked, hmm you seem pretty CHARGED UP about this…perhaps something else? To which my ego (angrily) replied, NO! Really, I  AM this angry over my husband whining about needing a nap after he slept ten hours last night! (Yes this really happened. Normally I would I would chuckle and lovingly mock him and tell him to shut his pie hole. I would not be full of PRIMAL RAGE.)

I was full of PRIMAL RAGE.

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Who knew? A google search for “primal rage”returns this fantastic image from an early ’90s video game.
I’ll spare you the details of the who and what that led to my anger. It isn’t necessary. What I will share is how surprised I have been at the depth and fierceness of the anger—and my unwillingness to simply name it for what it was.

Why, I wondered later, is it so hard for me to just say, “I AM ANGRY AT X AND I NEED TO JUST SAY IT OUT LOUD!”

Many wise souls have pointed out how resisting what is is the source of our suffering. Certainly it was the source of the suffering between my husband and myself, as he threw his hands up and said, “Whoa, why are you so upset with ME? I know this isn’t about me, this is about x! Stop projecting!”

He even predicted that ten minutes later I would be back, apologizing, and admitting he was right.

Damn it, I hate when he is right.

I think it all has to do with anger being a secondary emotion.

I read the term “secondary emotion” for the first time a year or two ago. I had this major “AHA” moment. I had been lumping anger as an emotion with all the rest. Turns out, anger is special. It is just the first layer of a delicious cake of emotions. Perhaps it is the crispy charred caramel bit atop a Crème brûlée. You have to poke through it to get to the creamy, smooth center, the meat of the thing.

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If only anger tasted as delicious. Image source.
Which, in my case, turned out to be sadness. So. Much. Sadness. Once I finally admitted to my husband that he was right (sigh), that I was not actually angry at him, I crept into a spare bedroom and wrote a little. The tears started flowing and they wouldn’t stop. Streams and streams of tears. I hadn’t cried like this in a very long time. I let it run its course but it took an awfully long time for my eyes to dry up.

No wonder I was hiding behind the anger. Who wants to unearth all that hurt and sadness?

I’d love to carry my metaphor forward about the dessert and crème brûlée, something trite about how sweet it is to finally break through all the flavors and eat the gooey custard middle. But that is not the case. There is nothing fun or delicious about resisting anger, feeling anger, and then crying for twenty minutes.

For me, the closest I can come to that happy ending is through my writing, which always helps me unpack what I’m feeling and find some self-compassion in the process. Not as tasty as a French dessert, but I’ll take it.

 

 

My mother’s slippers

They were slim and satin. She kept them next to her bed, or on cold days next to the heat vent. When we went Christmas shopping together, in between buying gifts for others she would stop by the racks of ladies’ slippers at Hudson’s Department store. This was a long time ago, before it became Macy’s. She would pick them out for herself and then wrap them with all the other presents, feigning surprise when she opened them on Christmas.

They were usually white or ivory, sometimes made of cotton or terry cloth, but always Isotoner Signature Women’s ballerina with the suede sole. In the later years she wore a white satin pair that would turn to gray, despite my father’s efforts to keep them white. (Nobody could do laundry like my mother. It was an art and science. Without her at the helm, we no longer had special containers going at all times dedicated to pre-soaks and stain removal.)

Her feet changed in these slippers. From strong and fast to warped and curled.1m7ZhI3

She carried the slippers with her hot tea and settled into them both at the end of a long day spent tending to others. She would tuck her feet under her legs, her legs under an afghan. I can see her, scooting over on the couch, a small sweet in her hand (chocolate or perhaps a cookie she unearthed from the freezer). She would look at me and say, Oh honey let me make some room for you. (As though her tall slender body was taking up too much space.)  And after I joined her on the couch, she would tuck in my feet under the blanket, too.

When she died, my sister took possession of mom’s slippers. I was relieved. I could not bear to see them, but it made me glad to know my mother’s slippers were still tending to toes, once again keeping strong feet warm under a blanket.

 

 

Reflecting on Three Years (Plus Eight Months) of Parenthood

Part 1: The Pregnancy Lessons

My daughter turns three tomorrow. Which got me thinking: I will be celebrating three years of parenthood!

But then I realized, not quite.

birthday_cake
Happy three years! (And eight
months!) (Illustration source)

I count the months before my daughter’s birth because I think pregnancy is a form of parenting, too.  To be fair, I’m not sure I became a mother the day I saw the positive pregnancy test. I think that happened a week or two later.

There I was, maybe five weeks into my pregnancy and I noticed spotting. It was significant enough that I got worried. I called my midwife’s office in a panic. The nurse explained that it could just be bleeding from implantation. Or it could be something else. She explained how at this stage there wasn’t really anything they could do. She encouraged me to rest.

My heart dropped. I curled up on the couch and cried.

I learned the first lesson of parenthood: vulnerability. 

I remember thinking, wait a minute. This is really scary! The worry…the fear…so much was out of my control! How was it possible to become so attached to a being so small that its heart beat couldn’t even be detected yet?

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Baby poppyseed (Photo Source)

Which taught me the second lesson of parenthood: surrender. 

There was nothing else to do but surrender to what was. I didn’t like it, I didn’t want it, but I had to remain suspended in this in-between place. Where it felt like everything and nothing was possible.

Who knew parenthood was one big Zen practice?

My husband was surprisingly laid back about the whole thing. If it isn’t meant to be, it isn’t meant to be, he said. He didn’t get it, not yet. This embryo the size of a grain of rice (or was it a poppy-seed?) wasn’t real to him yet. Not like it was to me. If it—my baby!—stopped growing, if it wasn’t meant to be, I would still be devastated.

This taught me the third lesson of parenthood: gratitude. 

 

Three weeks later I was sitting on a cold vinyl examination table. The midwife asked a few questions and then stopped abruptly. Wait, we were moving out of state soon? (Yes, in a month!) Why on earth were we in her office? she asked. She explained that we could have waited to find a provider once we moved.

I remember being aghast. Was she joking? Wait?! There was no way I could have waited. The bleeding had stopped and I wanted confirmation that all was well.

She proceeded with the ultrasound but I am sure she thought we were a couple of overly-neurotic new parents. (OK: fair enough.) Suddenly there was a rapid sound, like a horse galloping, I remember her saying.

That was my baby’s heartbeat. It was more than well.

My heart swelled.

I understood gratitude that day. It was a gift, this live child growing inside me. It wasn’t something to be taken for granted. There were no guarantees in this journey.

All this and I was only eight weeks into parenthood. Six months later, while eight months pregnant, I learned these lessons all over again, magnified by 1,000.

[Tomorrow:  Part II, The NICU lessons]