Ever the soul of charity, our daughter has suggested that we all make New Year’s resolutions. For each other.
“We’ll each do five, but only be required to work on three,” she pronounces, notepad in hand.
O-kay. Aside from everyone needing to save for treatment of Anna’s Jehovah Complex, I can think of one that not only goes to the core of our lives, but that we could address collectively, as all three of us struggle with it at times: anger management.
Notice, I said “at times.” Ours is not a household where disputes are conducted daily with Louisville Sluggers and we spend weekends spackling walls as a result. But we do have a fair number of flare-ups. Not unexpected when you mix together three passionate egotists, but still something to work on.
For the record, most of Marsha’s meltdowns relate to driving and Anna--- not necessarily in that order. The majority of mine are triggered by incompetence--- and Anna. A certain cohesion there. Anna’s are primarily connected with--- surprise! --- us.
Thankfully, our spats are of the gasoline fire variety. We don’t indulge in slow-burning sulfurous grudges that have us marking calendars till we speak to each other again. We’re also learning to stay away from each other when we’re “fried.” If we could cut each other a bit more slack and not take things so personally, it would help, too.
If only rage weren’t so cathartic. There’s a purity about that sudden rush of blood to the head that’s addictive. From day one you’re taught to control your emotions under threat of getting a timeout in your room when you’re five or in the doghouse when you’re forty. So on those occasions when they do come gushing out unchecked, you feel yourself lifted by the geyser regardless of consequences.
You know your behavior impacts family life when it becomes part of its mythology, a nexus around which related incidents and insanity swirl like dust from an exploded star. All three of us have had our share of iconic meltdowns and gotten a rep as a result.
I’ve long maintained that there’s no more mixed blessing for human society than the automobile. My wife is proof of this. Normally a civil and empathetic person, Marsha no sooner slides behind a steering wheel than she morphs into Hannibal Lecter. The ideal car for her would have sword blades protruding from its hubcaps, as some ancient chariots did, to disable other vehicles.
One day Anna and I were ten minutes behind when leaving for her eye exam. Normally a notorious slowpoke behind the wheel, I pulled in the parking lot with two minutes to spare. En route we approached qualifying speed for the Daytona 500 and made at least one left on red. (For the record, Anna’s eyes were fine except for dark circles from the G-forces.) On the way home she congratulated me for “driving like Mom.”
Which brings up an aspect of rage that’s harder to expunge than footprints on the door: the example it sets. From a parenting standpoint, it would have been better for me to face the music of being late than give another negative driving lesson to one who, as we’re now informed on an hourly basis, is within range of burning rubber herself.
My own igneous moments are often touched-off by a truly irrational character flaw: I expect gadgets and people to function, even when made in China. So when my wheelbarrow blows a tire the first time I use it, or I find a Gaudi-esque spire of dishes in the sink that Anna was supposed to wash, it’s apt to result in a blow-up. Which can then create blow-back. Another hazard of losing your cool--- especially with teens, who have the restraint of a bird dog toward a downed mallard--- is that it’s contagious. Never mind that the evidence is all in your favor. In the hormonally-charged world of thirteen-year-olds, having a texting exchange interrupted is reason enough to explode.
It would be nice if we could be low-key persons of conviction, such as my wife’s cousin in Pittsburgh: a liberal with the detachment to attend Tea Parties to check out GOP battle plans; a secular humanist who invites evangelicals into his home to debate. “Jehovah’s Witnesses avoid me,” he says.
Not to mention Jehovah Complexes.