My whole body gets jittery when I’m angry. My hands tremble, my stomach quakes, my legs twitch. And usually such tremors end in a lengthy explosion, a twenty-minute verbal mushroom cloud with my voice as the source of the sonic boom.
I am a yeller. A screamer even. When I’m pissed, you can hear it from a mile away.
Wait, let me rephrase that:
I was a yeller. A screamer even. When I was pissed, you could hear it from a mile away.
Or at least that’s the way I want it to read. I’m still working on it.
My resolution for the new year was to find some sort of peace in my everyday. I want to feel calm and relaxed as I move from one part of my day to the next. I don’t want to feel rushed, I don’t want to feel anxious, and I most certainly don’t want to feel angry. And that’s usually my progression: rushed, anxious, angry.
Shortly after making this resolution, we took on two more foster kids, bringing the household kid total to six. Most families with this many kids phase them in. It’s a gradual accumulation, adding a kid or two at a time over the course of several years. Most families don’t choose the from-three-to-six-in-four-months route. Folks who go the few-to-many-in-a-very-short-time-span route are regarded by the mass media as crazy. Think Kate Gosselin or Octomom. Crazy. And constantly on the verge of a mental breakdown because that many kids in that short a time span is not normal for human beings. When left to nature, human beings give birth to singles, maybe doubles, on very rare occasion triples. There’s a reason for this. Other mammals are born knowing how to walk, how to swim, how to feed themselves. Human babies? Not so much. And so our mental capacity is such that we’re designed to phase kids into our families, not dump them in en masse.
I’ll be honest. It’s the kids that bring the crazy. I have never been so rushed, I have never been so anxious, I have never been so angry as I have since having kids.
With the addition of two more kids, one of whom we knew was coming with potential behavioral struggles, I knew my resolve to be peaceful was going to be more important than ever, not only for my own sanity, but for the health and well-being of everyone in the house. I needed a game plan. I needed one very proactive, very deliberate way to demand peace. (Is that possible? Isn’t “demand” connotative of some sort of non-peaceful dictatorship? Eh. Whatever.) It didn’t take much for me to decide what my one thing would be. I am constantly telling the kids “worry about yourself” and to “think about what you could have done to make this situation better.” So I took my own advice. In all of the rushing, in all of the anxious, in all of the angry, what could I have done to make the situation better?
So my resolution has changed. No longer is my resolution to a big, lofty, pie-in-the-sky “Find Peace.” It’s now just one simple, yet difficult reminder that I have for my allday, everyday: Do Not Yell.
And man, oh man, is it HARD.
Because I’m explosive when I’m angry, and containing all of that molten, fiery stuff is THE MOST DIFFICULT PART OF MY EVERYDAY.
A few days ago, I gave FosterKid T one of my favorite books to read. She’s below grade-level in her reading abilities, and as the education advocate that I am, I want to give her an academic boost in whatever way I can. She was disappointed when we couldn’t make it to the library to get a book her mom had on reserve for her, a book about fairies (dealing with bio parents is another whole story; we had a good reason for not getting the book). I happen to like magical things. I happen to have books about fairies. I started her on the fairy picture books. Then I gently nudged her towards other books with magic. Once I saw a glimmer of interest, I handed over my copy of The Chronicles of Narnia. She’s been reading it every night since.
This morning I found the book on the living room floor with the cover ripped off.
I. WAS. FURIOUS.
We have exactly five house rules. Number two on the list: Be aware of the people and things around you and treat them with respect. It’s the most positive and general way to say “Don’t break any of your crap, keep your shit picked up and put away, and please don’t break/dirty/destroy any of my stuff.” Books are especially high on my list. You leave a book on the floor, you lose it. You color in a book that doesn’t have the words “coloring book” on the front, you better run and hide. You rip a book, YOUR HEAD WILL ROLL. I know it seems really extreme. But as a writer, books are one of those material things that I just have to have and want to keep and fawn over and fold and bend until the pages are soft and the story is as much a part of me as the air I breath in and then let back out again.
So there was one of my favorite books, on the living room floor, cover ripped clean off. I was already feeling rushed because my meeting had run late, and I was anxious that T’s bus would arrive at any minute with her still shoeless. So I went straight to angry. The tremors started with my hands, so badly that I had to grip my coffee cup a little more tightly to keep from spilling it. My jaw clenched and my breathing quickened. And yet, as I got very viscerally angry, my mind immediately started chanting. “Do not yell. Do not yell. Do not yell.” And by some feat of self control I have yet to fully understand, I didn’t.
I took my book back, set it high on a shelf that she can’t reach, calmly told her I was really angry, told her the book would be ready for her again once she could demonstrate she was capable of respecting my things, and sent her off to school with a hug and a “have a good day, sweetie.”
I can’t decide whether that was the right move. I still haven’t decided whether I’m actually not going to let her keep reading it. I’ve got to balance her piqued interest in reading with her blatant disregard for the notion of taking care of other people’s things. I should also give her the chance to make it right, which I completely forgot to do in all of my effort to control my voice.
So I don’t have it all figured out yet.
But I did not yell.
And ten minutes later, I was back in my office, sitting in my chair, coffee perched loosely in a hand that had stopped shaking five minutes earlier.
It’s a start.