Guest Blogger, Amy ScheibeMommy Baddest
by Amy Scheibe
I'm in the Zeitgeist right now--as often happens when you raise children--you know, when you suddenly come across a morsel of information that you never thought you'd need and bango, it's everywhere. Spanking. Swatting. Flicking. Smacking. Hitting. Slapping. Twisting.
Before you get pregnant no one ever tells you that morning sickness has nothing whatsoever to do with the morning. When you're ready to have the baby they don't tell you that when the anesthesiologist puts the needle in your back he just might miss your spinal fluid and hit your sciatic nerve. They don't tell you that you might need reconstructive surgery on your vagina. Try to get one person to tell you that breastfeeding is going to make you want to kill yourself from time to time--in particular when the baby latches on around day five, or when you get engorged and thrush AT THE SAME TIME. I really thought I was finally about out of the "they don't tell you" woods when I encountered in myself a shocking amount of rage, triggered by the object of my affection -- how could someone I love so completely make me so palpably angry? And why didn't anyone warn me that this exists?
Surely I'm not alone?
There are times when Bo has needled me into what can only be called a very ugly place. I first encountered my "bad mommy" space after I had Hedda last summer and Bo had just turned two and a half, when my husband -- having perhaps rightly decided that I had enough help with my nanny for Bo and a baby nurse for Hedda -- went back to work five days later. Right around that time my estrogen levels bottomed out, and I started having what I can only look back on as blind fits of anger. One night I actually threw a chair -- not at anyone, just down on the floor -- screaming, crying, begging my son to LISTEN. Understand, please, that I was never out of control, but I did find myself on a very thin sheet of ice. Happily a few months ago I asked him to do something, he did it, and then turned around to me and said "Mommy, I'm LISTENING!" If he had turned that corner in the opposite direction I might have completely lost my shit. I'm sure I'm one of the lucky ones.
What I'm trying to say is that no one ever told me that at 41 years old I would be seriously worried that I could not control my anger around my child if provoked. And by provoked I mean a constant volley of attempts to kill his sister. A constant sneaky hitting of his sister, pushing her off of things, tripping her, etc. There have been a few times when I finally felt the need to resort to "smacking" Bo to get his attention long enough for Hedda to get away unscathed. By few I mean exactly three. By smacking I mean twice on the butt and once on the bottom of his foot. By unscathed I mean breathing.
Clearly, in the moment it seemed like the right thing to do, and Brian supported me in the decision (having been raised by a world-class ear-flicker), but after each incident I couldn't shake the deep guilty feeling it attached to my soul until the Zeitgeist happened: within a week three of my close girlfriends confessed to me--unprovoked--that they had recently had what one of them called "bad mommy" moments; times where their children had gone out of control and they reacted with smacks. I had been under the impression that no one ever, ever, ever physically punishes their kids anymore -- that somehow kids can now be reasoned with. I have no idea why I thought that, especially after one of my college friends told me about ten years ago how she had to engage a spanking ritual in order to get her daughter under control -- trust me, this wasn't a Lisa Welchel "God says it's okay to hot sauce my kids" kind of situation, the girl was seriously a danger to herself and her baby brother. I guess I simply thought that I would be different -- much as I had convinced myself that my hips were big enough to pass a 9 pound baby. What the fuck was I thinking?
Right now I feel very lucky that Bo has matured again, and even though we had three really rough behavior days last week, I was able to keep my composure and use the time-honored torture of the isolation chamber -- "go to your room" -- and alienated him mentally instead of physically. Has anyone proven that that works any better? Or causes less damage? Probably. And I'm sure there's a study to countermand those findings too. What I can tell you is that since my friends confided in me, I feel stronger and more capable of handling my rage. There is strength to be found in solidarity. Now that I know I have people I can trust to talk about this topic I feel more in control of the decisions I make -- I've listened to their solutions and offered them some of my own. We compare notes. We learn.
As I say to Bo on a loop "don't hit don't hit don't hit don't hit." But then I remember how vicious my siblings and I could be to each other and that my mother intervening with her voice was RARELY enough to stop us, even when she would yell above the din "CUT IT OUT OR I'LL GET THE KNIVES!" She spanked, but she was 27 and it was 1967 and she also smoked while she was pregnant! I recently witnessed two brothers, seven and nine, get into a fight with fists that ended with one of them kicking the other in the face -- all in the time that it took their mother to flip a pancake. And these are super-excellent well-behaved kids. She swatted the kicker on the thigh and sent them both to their rooms. Afterwards they were much calmer and less violent. But she felt like shit, like there should have been a more magical and competent reaction. I know it helped her to have me there to listen without judgment, just as it helped me to see that though the road ahead of me may not get any easier, I have one more mommy to turn to for advice.
Now, I'm sure there are parents who never meet their inner monster, who never have a child who provokes or disobeys in a menacing or potentially dangerous way. I think that's great. But I'm even more sure after my Zeitgeist week that so many of us need guidance from each other on how to handle these flare ups, that we need to have all of it out in the open so that the best of us can help those of us who are as new to this dynamic as we are to wiping a little brown circle without cracking up and making our kids anal retentive. I can't help but think sometimes that if someone had told Andrea Yates about this sneaky rage, if she had had a group of mothers confiding in her who had navigated their way through it, if she had just one person say to her "I know exactly how you feel," for god's sake if she had had just one blog like this one to read, she just maybe would have made it through one more day with her children and found a way to ask for help.
Note from Ms. Lori: Amy Scheibe is the author of “What Do You Do All Day?” now in paperback and available at your favorite online or brick and mortar bookseller.
Ms. Scheibe is an editor at a publishing house in New York City, where she lives with her husband and two children. She is currently working on her second novel.