I’m a mother. I try to hide that fact from you because, well, it softens my edge as a hypocritical life coach. You want a certain amount of command from the person you get advice from whether you pay them or not. You want to know that when the going gets tough your guide (me) will put a knife in her (my) mouth and carry you and your backpack across the river.
Knowing that she (I) cut out paper dolls and ball gowns and swimwear attire all weekend challenges that image. It shouldn’t. Weathering motherhood is nothing but character building. Enduring five-hour airport delays with children who have earaches only to return home to battle bouts with the new breed of monster lice that drinks Pantene for breakfast should make anyone worthy of giving other people bucket loads of personal advice.
So as a mother, you experience a lot of different and very intense emotions. Certainly I know that the variety and intensity of feelings are available to all humans, regardless. It’s just when you’re taking care of something a good part of the day and night that has no regard for your time, belongings or emotional status, you can be pushed to the brink more often then say, if you have a super-challenging boss. (I’m going to assume your boss doesn’t wake you up at 6am on the weekends or pee on your new bedspread. If s/he does, you, my friend, are in need of a new job.)
One of the more unpleasant emotions is anger. Anger is something I’ve been dealing with lately. I’m not going to go into why or how much, okay? So, get your nose out of my business. Stuff happens, people get wronged. Perfect innocent people who were just trying to help get caught in crossfire and it doesn’t feel good. Seriously, I’d love to tell you what set off the anger because I love to gossip. But the problem is, I hate the fallout of gossip. I hate being confronted with: “Someone told me you wrote a column about me behind my back.” That feels really crappy. So, for the most part, I try to not say anything unless it’s a matter of national security. If you see something, say something and all that. I’m totally into that. Yesterday I saw a woman wearing a stylish skirt and matching blazer made of Duane Reed bags that she had taped together. She also had a squirrel on her head, but that seemed secondary to her impeccable tailoring job. But I do acknowledge that I have to tell you something about the anger-producing incident so I don’t lose you to a competing network. Last week, a mother of a kid in my kid’s class implied to several people that I had lied about something. I hadn’t. It was something that she didn’t want to hear because it put her in an unfavorable light. And I, like everyone in the tri-state area, hate to be falsely accused. I was steamed. Being falsely accused sucks. Yet, with great effort I unpuffed my chest and backed away instead of engaging. Now like most little sisters, I am an unskilled yet scrappy fighter. I will grab anything that’s near and start swinging it if I’m enraged. But fortunately, I’ve learned over the years when to fight and when to back down. This one, I quickly judged, was not worth it. I backed down, but the anger didn’t and I, for one, don’t like to walk around with a fresh heap of burning hot anger stuck behind my sternum.
When you get really angry, what do you do? First, I tried a bunch of pathetic crap I won’t go into now for the sake of embarrassing myself, but nothing worked. I needed some insight and since I’m not in therapy at the moment, I went to the library.
It just baffles me that libraries exist. I mean, c’mon, there is a place that will let you borrow almost any book that’s ever been published? Really? Borrow for free? How does the publishing industry let this institution survive? Imagine there was a place you could just borrow a car if you only promised to return it in a reasonable amount of time. The good people at Toyota and Ford would not sleep until they crushed this establishment into a fine powder. Libraries are modern miracles. That they haven’t been taken away from us by now is inexplicable. I am filled with glee every time I walk into my local branch.
On this particular trip, I remembered a book that I saw when I was a new mom: Buddhism for Mothers. I kind of gave it the snub thinking it was probably too reductive for me. I am by no means proficient in Buddhist studies, if there is such a thing, but I do appreciate the scholarly aspect of anything and I pegged this book to be a little too “Idiots Guide.” (Although the knowledge I gleaned in Idiot’s Guide to Haircutting continues to save me hundred of dollars a year.) After I returned it, I ordered it from an independent bookstore in my neighborhood. Can you tell it had an effect? If I didn’t know any better, I’d say I was in danger of losing some of what makes me so charmingly hypocritical.
Buddha must have gotten really upset. That guy knew anger. The cool thing about Buddha’s free advice on how to deal with it is that he says to try whatever works. He gives options—like a baked potato bar. Sure, you want to try sour cream and bacon bits first but if that doesn’t work, there’s a totally different way to go. Can you say broccoli and cheese? I can. I can even say Fruit Loops and turkey gravy if it gets my anger out of me.
Here are Buddha’s tips as explained in the aforementioned book. They are pretty self-explanatory but I’ll add a little of my drivelings to make sure you fully understand what the fat man was getting at.
1. Dwell on the positive. I think this means you can examine the positive in the situation that has upset you OR you can just let in the wonderfulness around you at that very moment. Is there a crack in the sidewalk that looks like Fran Dresher? Is there a breeze passing by that smells like Febreze? Soak it up. It might lift your mood. Staying in the present is, in general, a great way of dealing with unpleasant emotions. The past and future are full of some stinky, stinky feelings. Be here now, right?
2. Consider the result of our thoughts. Angry thoughts tend to bring on angry actions. Do you really want to deal with the fallout of those actions? When I used to get angry, I would get violent. I wouldn’t stab anyone exactly but I would throw crap at the walls. And then I would have to sweep it up and replace whatever I smashed. Gradually, I learned to throw softer things, plush animals and socks being the favorites. In those early days of mothering, I would whip stuff only when the kids’ backs were turned which resulted in some hilarity that often snapped me out of my fierce mood. “Mommy, did you just see Winnie the Pooh fly over the TV? He flew very, very fast. He must be hungry.” Know that if you hurt something or someone you are going to end up feeling even worse.
3. Distract ourselves. Although dramas on daytime TV are dwindling, Netflix streaming and pay-per-view offer a wide array of distractions. Of course, there are other things to take your mind off the inciting incident. Just know that the distraction must do exactly that: distract. You’re not going to feel better if you decide to finally wash your sweaters. Your sweaters will be clean, yes, but you will be angrier. Trust me, been there.
4. Consider the alternatives. A lot of our negative emotions come from our perceptions of events. Ask yourself if there is an easier way to think about the whole thing. Do you need to take the whole thing so darned personally? C’mon. Is it really all about you?
5. Willpower. Tell yourself to shut up. Or if you want to be nicer, tell yourself that it’s not doing anyone any good just playing the event over and over again in your head. Cut it out. Really. Be tough. Don’t let up. You’ve got to stop looping the tape of what happened that got you so steamed in the first place.
For my situation I chose 3. And 5. I’m not going to lie to you, although it kind of worked, I still found the need to throw Fashion Fairytale Barbie at the back door. It made a very satisfying sound and no harm was done. And I felt better after all that. But then something magical happened that Buddha didn’t mention was even a remote possibility. Four hours after the accusation came an email: “Hey, Sorry about earlier. I was upset. Thanks so much for looking out for my kid.” Man! Aren’t apologies awesome? Occasionally people come to their senses and see they’ve been jerks and apologize. And nothing is more powerful for turning around a situation and making people move on with their lives. Won’t you apologize to someone today? No? Alright then, forgive someone, even if they apology hasn’t been offered. No? Then, adopt a puppy. You’re a grouchy one.
And the weird thing is, after a really good apology, you can actually feel better than before the whole thing started. You’ve been through something with another person and worked it out without getting a lawyer or acting like someone on a reality show. I suppose a good apology is the platonic form of make-up sex— it’s invigorating and memorable and you didn’t really think it was ever going to happen.
Take-aways: Be here now. If you’re a thrower, throw soft stuff. If you see something, say something. Support your local library, they desperately need our help. See you next time.