The Ogre and I are fighting. I hate it when we fight. It means that he’ll work late, we’ll barely speak all day, the girls and I will have grilled cheeses for dinner, and I won’t be able to randomly throw myself into his arms when he does come home. It also means that there will be an invisible line down the middle of our bed tonight that neither of us dare cross, me out of fear that he’ll think I’m being needy, him out of fear that I’ll think he’s forgiving me. Breakfast tomorrow will be a silent affair, there won’t be an encouraging smile for me when I get back from running, his lunch won’t get made in a timely or particularly charitable manner. I know what fights mean, because lately they seem like a well-choreographed dance that we just keep dancing.
I’ve run through the usual litany of excuses (we’re both stressed, new baby, no family near, no help, no money, no time off, etc.) but this time they’re not holding up. Yes, all those things are true. But none of them are contributing to the fighting, which has but one cause: me.
I’m angry. A lot. Not all the time, but every four days or so I just wake up furious with everything and everyone. Partly it’s because I’m not getting enough sleep. The last two weeks have been peppered with sleep strikes from the baby and general wakefulness and consternation from the girls nearly every single night. Which means neither the Ogre nor I are getting a lot of sleep, although I’m getting more than he is. I’m getting more than he is because he knows I really don’t function well without sleep. He knows I get angry. So he takes the brunt of the night shifts and then goes off to study all day, an activity that really can’t be done well on little sleep. Housework and child-feeding, however, can be done at least satisfactorily on little sleep. But still, I’m the one sleeping more. And yet I still find myself angry, resentful and lashing out.
There comes a point, though, where apologies aren’t enough. When I get angry and scream at everyone and then come back ten minutes later feeling horribly guilty and remorseful, an apology doesn’t actually take those actions away. I might be able to wipe the tears from Sienna’s eyes but I can’t take that fear away, that nagging uncertainty that leads her to approach me with trepidation for the next few hours. The Ogre might forgive me but he doesn’t forget, and he has to keep himself braced for the next time I lose control. Eventually it gets to a point where there is no forgiveness, because apologies don’t mean anything. They’re empty words that say only “I feel better now. You have approximately three and a half days of cheerful Mom before I yell at you for no reason again.” That’s the point we’re at.
Marriage and children have done a strange thing to me. They’ve taken away the vacuum in which I used to exist, so that instead of seeing only the immediate effects of my actions and trying to correct those, I see my actions reverberate down through the years. I’ve seen Sienna’s anger and her tendency to yell and seen myself reflected back at me in those familiar blue eyes. I see the resignation in the Ogre’s eyes, feel the wall go up between us and know that he’s right when he says there’s nothing left to talk about. I can’t keep ripping wounds open in my family and then rushing back to put a band-aid on them. At some point, band-aids aren’t enough. Wounds fester and leave scars.
I need to change the way I deal with my family and the way I handle myself. I need to grow up and learn to live without sleep and to think of my husband and his needs before my own. I need to be patient and loving with my children so that they will grow up to be patient and loving as well. I need to live virtuously instead of selfishly. But how?
I’ve known for a while what needs to be done, and I’ve recognized for a while the deleterious effect my temper has on my family. But it seems as immobile and as fixed a part of my character as my love for my children; nothing can change that, and it seems that nothing can change this either. No matter what weapons I’ve attacked it with (prayer, guilt, sheer force of will), still it remains; a deep undercurrent of anger that rises up and poisons everything around me at the slightest provocation.
And what am I so angry about, anyway? That I’m in this life I swore I’d never live, a stay-at home mom who spends her time researching homeschooling curricula and making chicken stock? That I no longer get to wander around a lazy college campus, reading poetry all day and drinking wine all night? That a night out is now an hour at Starbucks, alone, with a book and blessed silence? That my pants size has increased in direct proportion to my expanding offspring? Well, yes. I’m angry about all those things. But when I look at the three little faces that fill up my hours and when my heart leaps at the sound of my husband’s footfall on the stairs outside our door, I know I wouldn’t trade them for anything. I know that this is, in fact, the life I want and the life God wants me to lead. I know that I have, inside these walls that I get so sick of being surrounded by, the greatest gifts God could have given me: a husband and children.
So why, why oh why, can’t that be enough for me? Why can’t I embrace this life and love every second of it? I know that one day I’ll look back and long for these days when my children were small and I could tuck them in at night and fit them all in my lap at once. I know that when life hits them hard, I’ll wish the power of Mommy’s kiss would still take the pain away. I know that if something terrible happened and I lost one of them, I would want nothing more than to return to these monotonous, seemingly uneventful days where my biggest concern was how to get them all up the stairs and the only thing I had to grieve was the loss of my own freedom. In short, I know that my life, right now, with all it’s little trials and hardships, is filled with countless blessings. This is my Eden and in it I am Eve, never content with the perfection I’ve been given, always striving for something elusive, something more, something that doesn’t exist. Maybe that knowledge will be enough for me to change. Or maybe this anger is the cross I’m bound to carry, the dragon I must fight but never defeat. I hope not. God, I hope not.