The Dragon

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.

A Better Barrier Method
"She alone could mitigate his mortality"
Quick-and-Dirty Marriage Tip Monday
How to Be a Good Wife When You Have a Feral-Child-Soul
  • Kacy Neinast

    Calah,I have some feedback for you, if you would like to hear it. Maybe you are depressed…depression is,after all, extreme anger turned inward. honestly, i suggest finding s celebrate recovery (they have child care) or something similar, where you can go be with other people and talk about this stuff. also, taking vitamin b helps a lot. love you, let me know if you need anything.

  • Emily G.

    Though I couldn't read the whole thing, this post made me cry because I saw things through my husband's eyes more than I ever have before. Though his anger does not occur nearly as often as yours, there is a lot of it and it hurts us all when it comes out. And after two years of marriage, both of us know that no matter how many times he says he is sorry and I forgive him with all my heart, there are scars and there always will be. And there is fear of the next time. I am not an angry person-in fact it's an emotion I have difficulty even experiencing-so it was eye opening for me to read how it feels from the other side. Thank you for sharing. I do also wonder if you are suffering from a little PPD. I hope things get better for you very soon, and I will be praying for you and your husband.

  • Calah

    Thanks for the comments, guys. I probably am dealing with slight PPD as these horrible mood swings have really kicked in since Liam was born, but I tend toward depression anyway. I have upped my B-vitamin intake for specifically that reason Kacy, and thanks for the tip about the group. It would be nice to talk about it but obviously we can't afford a therapist and I refuse to go on anti-depressants…then my kids would be trading angry Mommy for zombie Mommy. I think angry Mommy is the better of the two options. We've been eating a lot more nutritiously and I've been getting back into running and my moods do seem to be stabilizing a bit, so I'm hoping that over the long run things will even themselves out. Thanks for the encouragement and prayers. Emily, I'm sorry you guys have to deal with this too…it's really painful for everyone involved, as you know. I think it's wonderful that you are so patient and forgiving (cause trust me, I've been on the receiving side of lots of patience and forgiveness, and it makes life more bearable). I'll be praying for you as well. I hope you're enjoying your little Henry! He sure is a cutie.

  • Melanie B

    Calah, I have very similar struggles with anger. It's been lifelong but as you say much worse as a mother when I can see the repercussions in my children's lives. Especially after Ben was born I felt so overwhelmed and I found myself yelling more and more. For me it usually hits when I'm confronted with too many things to do, choices to make all at once and I feel like I just can't do it all and I'm a failure because of it. Like when both Ben and Sophie are crying and need me at the same time and I can only deal with one of them at a time and have to let the other scream. Rationally I know I just need to deal with one thing at a time and I know I'm doing the best I can; but emotionally I feel like a failure and I meltdown and start screaming. My first thought when reading this was like Kacy and Emily's I wondered about PPD. In my case I was pretty sure it wasn't PPD but definitely connected to sleep deprivation. Then again, I've sometimes wondered if for many women much of their PPD isn't really rooted in sleep deprivation as much as hormonal changes. For me things have gotten much better since I nightweaned Ben. To do that we had to move him out of our bedroom because as long as I was in the same room he was getting up every two hours or so to nurse– he'd always sleep a nice long stretch from whenever I put him down for the night but then begin the every two hour thing as soon as I came to bed. We have a tiny house so moving him out meant putting a portacrib in the office and my husband moving his computer to the dining room table. But once I started sleeping at least six hour stretches I found my anger much less out of control. I still struggle with it daily, don't get me wrong. But now I no longer feel like a nuclear reactor. Anyway, I just wanted to chime in to say you are definitely not alone in this. And I'll be praying for you.

  • Calah

    Melanie, thank you so much for your comment. I agree that having too many tasks at once and sleep deprivation are real triggers; for me, it's also not getting out and exercising in the morning or being cooped up in the house for too many days at a time. That being said, I can't tell you how much it means to me to know that another good mother struggles with the same thing. I've often made the situation much worse by berating myself and saying "No good mother would treat her children this way! You're horrible!" So knowing that I'm not truly a terrible mother and this is just a struggle I need to continue at is so comforting. Really, thank you.

  • Melanie B

    Calah, You are most welcome. I'm glad my words were able to help you.I've been there, feeling like I'm the only one. It's especially hard when so many of the Catholic mom bloggers seem to focus on writing only about the good things. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but when you're all too aware of how much you fall short, it can make it seem like you're the worst mother out there. I've found a few moms out there who write about their struggles and they have really lifted me up and kept me company in my hard times. One you might want to check out is Kate Wicker of Momopoly. She writes beautifully about both the good and the bad of motherhood. There was one post in particular that really spoke to me and I can't find it in her archives right now. But I did find this one that is just as powerful, about one of those days when she felt like the was the worst mommy ever. I think it might speak to you too.Here's a little excerpt; but you should read the whole post "Then I have to ask myself: Do other moms – moms like me, not the moms you hear about on the nightly news who burrow lit cigarettes into their children's skin – lose their tempers? Do moms like me who get way too self-righteous thinking they're great moms and taking far too much credit for their children's good behavior sometimes let a demon loose? Do other moms grab their children's arms just a little too tightly? Do other moms set their expectations far too high only to be disappointed and frustrated by age-appropriate behavior? Do other moms act like complete monsters?"

  • MarlaJen

    Dear Calah, it makes me feel sooooo soooo much, much better when I read what you and Melanie wrote. I lose my temper too, especially when I don't feel well, when I'm tired, etc., and when that moment is over, I always resolve to never yell at my kids again, and it's like my constant prayer to stop yelling at my kids. And I'm there berating myself after the fact too, "come on Marla, so-and-so would never treat their children like this…" and so forth. You wrote:"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 could have written that. That is exactly how I feel. I am a good mother, I love my three girls with every inch of my being, and it helps so much to read of other moms who are experiencing the same thing. Thank you, Calah, God Bless you always, and I will keep you in my prayers.

  • Bonnie

    Calah,I wish I still lived in Dallas (we just moved to Houston), because I think we would be good friends. I am a mom of two (a girl that's 3 and boy that's almost one), and several of your posts, including this one, could have been written by me. I find myself angry for no reason and often yell when I'm stressed or tired. It's hard on our marriage, and hard on my children, and I beat myself up over yelling at my kids when they are just being kids. Just wanted you to know you're not alone in the world :). I have no real advice to give as I struggle with it too, being a good, Catholic mom and trying to instill values and morals into my kids while trying to figure out myself at the same time; wanting to be home with them, but wanting my own freedom back too. Thanks for the honest post! Bonnie