Sometimes you don’t realize you have a temper till you have kids.
And then one night someone carves a pattern into the leather sofa. Or someone just dumps a pencil sharpener out all over the floor. After you’ve told them not to touch it.
Or someone else gets out of bed for the ten thousandth time. When you’ve just finally sat down and there’s only an hour left before exhaustion slams into your eyelids.
There’s no rage like the exhausted rage of motherhood.
These aren’t the things they don’t talk about in the parenting books, or play groups, or coffee dates. How you will one day lose your ever-loving mind because two boys sat and watched their sister pour an entire bottle of purple Motrin all over the beige carpet and didn’t think to stop her.
These are the ragged fringes of motherhood that don’t make for pretty pictures.
These are the moments that no one teaches you about in the breast-feeding classes or includes with the instructions for putting the baby to bed on her back or thinks to write on a warning label.
It was late one night when I stood outside my sons’ slammed bedroom door that I remembered the one time someone had cautioned me on temper.
I was a senior in college. And there was a couple in our class who got pregnant and married and brought their bundle of toddling, delicious chub with them all over campus.
We were all sort of awed and infatuated by this threesome.
We’d bump into them in the dining hall, hand over our meal card to contribute lunch, babysit their boy with the forever long, dark lashes in Jenks Library, take him for dimpled walks under those big East coast trees.
I was a South African girl a long way from home. I missed the horizon.
But that baby reminded us all of family and that there was a slice of life far beyond these dorm room walls that we hadn’t tasted yet.
They’d have us over for dinner in their small, beautiful space and it was a welcome warmth away from bunk beds and communal bathrooms. This place they’d carved out that always had room for one more of us to crowd around their table and spill over onto their sofas.
They made it look so easy.
I never offered to help, not really. I babysat around campus because it made me interesting to cute boys and friends who would always stop by to share in the fun of the baby. But I didn’t ask what it was really like – this juggling a family and a full class schedule at the same time. Or how to fit work into the mix.
I was much too interested in the story of me.
But there was one night after we’d come over to meet beautiful baby number two, the Isaac of the summer after our senior year, that the door swung open on a world I couldn’t begin to imagine.
She was sitting in their small apartment, both boys asleep, telling me the story of temper. It struck me as odd that this is what she would choose to tell me. Not how precious the kids or how priceless the moments, but that,
“Lisa-Jo if you struggle with temper at all you better learn how to control it before you have kids. Because you can’t parent with an out of control temper.”
My head is resting against the bedroom door as I remember her words.
At the time I barely heard her.
A decade later and I am intimately acquainted with the wild temper that runs in these veins, inherited from generations before me and last night’s discovery that the boys had dug holes all over the new lawn.
More than the battle of sleeplessness or figuring out how to make broccoli appealing or mastering potty training for the third time, this full out war against my own angry, shouty spirit will be the biggest victory I am determined to win through motherhood.
Tame it I will.
Because when my son gets out of bed and is too afraid to ask the question burning in his heart because, as he lisps, “I was scared you’d be mad at me, mama,” I know this is a fight worth winning. I know by the awful pit in my stomach. And how hard I hug his long, gangly limbs.
Because there was a moment last week when I held Jackson’s hand as we walked through the grocery store parking lot and I asked him, “Do I lose my temper more or less than I used to?” and he cocked his head to the side, thoughtful behind his glasses and said, “less.”
Dear God, please help it keep being less.
I will not be ruled by my tongue or my temper.
I will not be controlled by my out-of-control reactions.
I will stop, drop, and take a time out. Behind locked bathroom doors or alone in the minivan if necessary.
I will quiet myself amidst the chaos. I will hold onto my run-away-frustration and chew hard on a piece of ice if that’s what it takes to cool down.
I will remember to eat. To treat myself will the same care I’d treat an explosive device and disarm with regular rest, exercise, food and friendship.
I want my kids to have memories crammed full of family as a safe place and not an unpredictable hot spot.
So I learn when it’s OK to say OK to another episode of Barney. This is better than a mother unhinged by her own limitations and the craft that went all wrong
I teach them what it looks like to say sorry; down on my knees and eye to eye, I say it. These words that can stick in the throat but that are like sacred, unexpected treasure when you place them in the tiny hands of your children.
I will keep on with the laughter and watermelon seed spitting and ice cream serving and bed time reading and diaper changing and vacation celebrating.
I will live in this one, new, beautiful, white canvas of right now and not be afraid to paint all over it with the wild abandon of today. Grateful always for the gift of tomorrow.