As the mother of three small children rarely a day passes when I don’t get a tantrum out of at least one of them. And, as the single mother of three small children, rarely a day passes when I don’t get completely annoyed with the screaming, crying, and (sometimes) kicking that happens all around me, regardless of time or place.
I’m realistic enough to know that I can’t wish it away. I just usually pray that it doesn’t happen in the middle of Wal-Mart.
Then again…why should I be different from any other parent there?
But the other day, as my son was gearing up for a whopper, I didn’t get annoyed. I experienced an emotion that I had never felt before.
I was jealous.
As I sat out on my back porch, I could still clearly hear the sounds of an emotional train barreling through my son’s room. And instead of wanting to run away from it myself, I stared up at his window in wonder and muttered, “Damn. That’s a good one.”
He was pissed and he didn’t care who heard it. He was in a rage, ready and willing to just let ‘er rip. I could almost feel the head-rush he must have had as he yelled with all of his might. And I thought, “How lucky is he that he can go up to his room, completely let loose, and kick the shit out of anything that isn’t moving out of his way?”
I started daydreaming about doing it myself. Going into my room and screaming and crying until my head started pounding and I collapsed on my bed, completely spent. Slamming the door a million times if I felt like it. Swiping the contents of my desk into a heaping pile of junk on the floor and then stomping on it with all of my might. Who cares if the windows are open? Who cares if the whole neighborhood hears? Who cares if it makes someone feel uncomfortable?
Who the hell cares???
Many people talk about how resilient children are. And I think that’s true. But that could be because we give them the emotional freedom to feel however they need to. The way they express their emotions when they’re young is completely unshaped by the expectations of others and is, therefore, completely honest.
But eventually, those tantrums at the store are met with a time-out. Crying, kicking, and screaming results in privileges taken away. Getting so mad they just want to hit something (or someone) is completely unacceptable.
By the time our kids are teenagers, they’ve already started to understand that having a nervous breakdown in public is “just not cool.” We try and try, after loss, to get them to express themselves when all the years before that, we basically said, “That’s not okay.” We’ve confused them by telling them all their lives that they need to keep their emotions in check and then suddenly we start telling them that it’s okay to be angry. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to break down.
When society has been telling them all the years before this happened that it’s not.
Once we hit adulthood, society’s tolerance for emotional outbursts is non-existent. I mean, how many times have you screamed and cried in the middle of the grocery store? I’m guessing zero. And how many times have you wanted to? Probably too many to count.
Think of it this way. When I brought my kids to group counseling a few years ago…you know what they had? The Volcano Room. It had a million stuffed animals, balls, soft blocks, and the floor and walls were completely covered in padding. The kids could go in there and throw, punch, kick, and pummel anything they could get their hands on.
And where were the adults and older kids? In “discussion” rooms according to age, calmly talking about various topics related to grieving.
What happens to our tantrums? What happens to our anger, our rage, our overwhelming grief about our situation?
It gets replaced with a smile, a nod, and a, “I’m fine. How are you?”
And…not that the kids don’t need an outlet to express themselves…but who do you think is really in need of a Volcano Room?
You can’t see me right now, but I’m raising my hand.
What would happen if we allowed ourselves the emotional freedom to just…feel? I want to walk into a padded room and throw the grocery list…the bills…the back-to-school forms…the insurance paperwork…just chuck ‘em at a wall over and over until the paper is crumpled and soft. I want to scream until my throat is raw. I want to kick at those padded walls until my legs are sore. I want to pull an Office Space and take a baseball bat to every appliance in my house that has the nerve not to work properly.
I want to take my emotions out on an innocent teddy bear.
And you know what I think really keeps me from doing it? Knowing that I’m the grown-up and I have to tow the line and keep things moving. Worrying that once I start, I just may not be able to stop. Understanding that honest emotion takes up time that I just don’t have. And, of course, my overwhelming and somewhat irrational concern about what other people will think if I just let go.
All of that and knowing...I’m the one who’ll have to clean up the mess when I’m done.
© Catherine Tidd 2010