In certain circles, my mouthiness is the stuff of lore, and I’m known to be short-tempered, too. There was the time I was behind the wheel as a student at Penn State with a friend in the passenger’s seat. Mounds of snow were everywhere, and the parking lot was slick with ice. As I carefully backed my brown Dodge Colt (don’t judge) out of a tight parking space, an old man was suddenly in my rear-view mirror.
“What the *&$&^#*@! are you doing?” I yelled as I threw my hands up in the air. “Be careful! You can’t be creeping around, jumping out from behind the #$#$%#^$% snow! I’m trying to @$@#^%^ drive here, and you don’t want to get the $%$^% run over, grandpa!”
He stared at me and put a hand over his heart.
I angrily put the car in drive and fishtailed out onto the road. My friend stared at me.
“What?” I asked, now speaking at an acceptable volume.
“We almost got killed back there,” she whispered.
“He almost got killed,” I responded, gritting my teeth.
“No, we would have been dead,” she assured me, “when you almost ran over JOE PATERNO in the parking lot across from the Freshman dorms!”
I can still hear the sound my heart made as it pounded in my ears. If there had been social media and cell phones in every pocket at that time, I wonder if photos of my car would have been available within minutes? “Girl in Crappy Car Threatens Football Legend That Rules Campus.”
Not long after that, my new boyfriend (who is now my husband, Jason) invited me to watch a deck hockey game. This was the first time I visited the town he grew up in and spent time with his family. He was playing on a rec team with his father, brothers, and friends, and I was sitting in the stands with the rest of the spectators. A player on the opposing team ran his mouth constantly, agitating and taunting the team I was cheering for. When the game was over and this guy continued to chirp at Jason’s younger brother, I could no longer be silent.
I interrupted the small talk from the girl seated next to me by climbing to the top of the bleachers and shouted “Hey, Tubby, why don’t you go home?”
All eyes were on me. “Tubby” didn’t take kindly to my outburst, and started hurling insults my way. My future father-in-law and “Tubby” exchanged words chest to chest, with 8 other guys attempting to separate them, and my first visit to Jason’s hometown had its infamous story.
Fast-forward to present day, where I’m primary caregiver for our 4 children. I try to be patient–really I do–but some days that’s a losing battle. I’m that sassy mom that mutters biting comments under her breath, hides in the bedroom to scream while suffocating into a pillow, and can lose her cool once–okay, twice—maybe three times before being reminded she’s a lady.
My grandmother was the voice of reason and compassion in our family. When my parenting frustration was apparent, she would click her tongue, purse her lips, and advocate for the kids. Every time.
“Take the anger out of your voice,” she would tell me. “They are little, and they are sponges. Everything you do and say is being sucked up right into their brains.”
And, of course, she was right. Not long after she passed away in 2013, I was washing dishes at the kitchen sink while lecturing Baby #1 about the snail-crawling-through-peanut-butter pace of her dinner consumption. In the middle of my tirade, I smacked my forehead on a cabinet door. I bit my tongue to prevent a stream of obscenities from escaping my mouth. Baby #2 shook his head.
“Mommy, that was Grandmom doing that.”
I felt the hair on the back of my arms and neck stand upright. I looked around slowly, expecting the ghostly image of my grandmother in her housecoat with pockets full of Swedish Fish (“Just in case my sugar is low”) to be behind me.
From that day forward, I either stub a toe, bang a hipbone, jam a finger, or crack my noggin every time I’m on a tirade with one of the kids. They patiently wait for it to happen, routinely pausing a few seconds before responding to my pointed questions to see what bodily harm befalls me.
Take the anger out of your voice.
These days, I need to be reminded of that. I’m aware that anger has its place, and it is necessary. Lately, though, I have been seeped in it. I’m annoyed about routine cancer screening that must be scheduled and completed. I’m pissed off that cancer continues to harm those I love. I’m afraid of the current political climate, and what it means for our society and my immediate community. I’m anxious about relationships, volunteerism, advocacy, money, parenting, and life in general. Does this have a cumulative affect on me and, in turn, on my children? Absolutely.
My mission is to properly channel it. I get to the gym even on days when, mentally, I’d much rather stay home. As much as hate to exercise, I feel better after working out. I’m dedicated to eating a healthy diet for the added bonus of preventing moodiness from inconsistent nutrition, and I am making every attempt to be mindful and present. I’m pausing and choosing my words carefully, not for lack of passion or interest, but because I want to model the behavior I expect in return.
Take the anger out of your voice.
What do I want my children to learn from me? It is what I show them through my actions that becomes part of their fiber. My mannerisms, my body language, and my tone are being observed and emulated. I don’t want to destroy or deny my anger, but I don’t want them to sop it up in a reckless form.
I want them to see a strong person that takes her zeal and emotions and does something constructive with them. Grandmom was right. What they need from me isn’t judgement, but inspiration.