By Laurent Gonzalez
We walked the three blocks to the park in total silence. All I could hear was Charlie’s labored panting, the dry leaves crunching beneath the stroller wheels, and the hum of passing cars. I trudged along, pushing the stroller at the sluggish pace of a toddler, keeping in step with my 2-year-old son dragging his feet in front of me.
I tried to focus on the feeling of the sun beaming down on me, cutting through the icy early November chill to warm my back, but as I watched my husband walk along beside my son, what I felt was a growing sense of outrage, and a strong urge to “flat tire” the f*ck out of his boot heel with my stroller. Minutes later, as we stood side by side, pushing our children on the swings in syncopated rhythm, my husband finally broke the silence. “So, what’s up? Are you mad?”
I stared blankly ahead, wading carefully through my thoughts, attempting to cobble together a sentence that made any sense whatsoever. Truthfully, I was mad. I was so mad – at myself, for telling my husband I didn’t need his help taking the kids to the doctor that morning, and for thinking it was such a bright idea to have both kids vaccinated against the flu virus at the same time (you know, since we were in the office, why not?) I was mad at the nurse who gave the shots, glaring at me impatiently as I struggled to comfort one crying child, while simultaneously preparing the other for the impending doom of the needle. And I was mad at my kids for forcing me into these situations, and for needing so much, so often, so intensely.
I have felt such incredible depth of emotion since having kids – the strongest love imaginable, and also the deepest rage. It’s truly astounding the amount of conflicting thought patterns one can have when living with small humans on a daily basis. I love you more than anything in the world, and I’m in awe of your brilliance… but I’m going to strangle you to death if you won’t stop shrieking and throwing toys.
I love my kids 100 percent of the time, but many days, I don’t like them. I feel suffocated by their needs. I desperately miss my life before they existed, and I kick myself for not appreciating “freedom” when I truly had it. And then I feel intensely angry, but there’s nowhere for the anger to go – no logical place to direct this barrage of heated frustration – because I can’t go back now. These kids are here to stay. And I wouldn’t want to go back – not really.
But the anger is still there, nagging at me. So, I numb it with way too much wine, or it explodes out of me as an overreaction to my kids’ toys on the floor, or to my husband’s innocent absence from a doctor’s appointment. Eventually, the guilt sets in – for my explosion of feelings, for my lack of appreciation for these little living, breathing, messy, rebellious “gifts” I “get” to spend time with every single day, for my inability to “enjoy” them without bottoming out at the end of the day into some coping mechanism, like thin mints, or pork skins, or pinot noir.
Anger is like steam – it builds and builds, and at some point, it has to come out. It shows up as resentment toward my husband, or over-the-top frustration with my kids, or it sits inside of me and creates resentment toward everyone on the planet. I know it’s happening because I see the signs. I find myself loading the kids up in the car, driving to the gas station on a desperate mission to buy wine, tearing up because I know I shouldn’t need alcohol in order to endure my own children. My mind replays laughs shared with mom friends as we complain about our kids and how they make us crazy, but I find myself wondering: if they really knew the depth of crazy I sometimes reach, would they laugh quite as hard?
When you love your children with the intensity that they demand, other parts of your life suffer. It’s inevitable. Having kids is like being in an abusive relationship: they want everything you have to give, they suck up every shred of energy and attention, and, at least for a time, they give very little in return. And it isn’t socially acceptable to leave them at the playground unattended for a few hours while you go get a massage. “Breaks” aren’t really a thing. So, it makes sense that there are moments when we all sort of lose our marbles. Moments when we’re thankful that we’re not the star of The Truman Show, with our insanity exposed to the general public.
My friends with older children tell me this period is only temporary, and that, in the scheme of things, “it goes by so fast.” So, I am trying to hold onto it. I swear I am. But when you’re in the thick of it, it’s not always easy to see the other side, and to remember that a child’s nature is to grow. One day these clingy, emotional toddlers will be distant, closed-off teenagers, and then adults who, if they’re anything like their parents, will choose adventure and the love of exploring new places over living anywhere geographically near us. They will not always be so easy to hug, carry, and kiss. They will not always invite me into their problems, or ask me to play dinosaurs.
So, the next time you see me, can you remind me of that? Because this week, it’s not so easy to remember, and it all feels so very, impossibly far away.
Lauren Elizabeth Gonzalez is a Missoula-based writer and blogger whose kids provide ample inspiration for her short stories, social media posts and articles on motherhood. Drawing on her master’s degree and background in conflict and dispute resolution, Lauren is also working on a series of how-to guides to enable parenting partners to build a stronger, more connected team dynamic. Find out more at www.LaurenTheFreeMom.com, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter for a daily peek inside the head of a nutty gal just free mommin’ it.