I don't normally talk about "philosophical" stuff on this blog, but here goes.
This morning, I had a meltdown at Ruth, like, ranting, yelling, and screaming. It was one of those "straw that broke the camel's back" moments. The proximate cause was just that I'd gone out to scrape ice off the car, and told her that we really needed to get to school and so while I was out could she please put her coat on, but when I came back in, she hadn't. Of course, it wasn't just that. It never is! Between the weekend, MLK Day, and snow days, Ruth has been at home - mostly cooped up in the house with us, for five days straight - and then this morning, we had a 2-hour delay. Three times, despite being five, she had accidents, including one this morning where she just straight up peed on the floor when she was steps away from the bathroom. Yesterday, I took her out sledding with a friend, which was about 5% sledding and 95% whining. Melissa's been sick. Recently, Ruth was in the ER for shoving something up her nose. We didn't get to take the NYC trip I was looking forward to as much as Ruth was. The pizza was an hour late last night. I mean, that's always the way. Anyone could avoid yelling about almost any incident, if it was one anomalous thing in a life of bliss, but it's the streaks of bad luck and defiance and annoyance that really wear you down. And this morning I happened to be alone with Ruth (Melissa already used up personal time on the previous snow days), so I didn't have Melissa around to step in so I could cool off, or to talk me down. Sometimes you need someone else's help to de-escalate.
But, on the way back from dropping Ruth off at school, I started thinking about this a bit more. I didn't yell at the pizza guy, despite his delay causing me at least as much actual problem as Ruth's two-minute delay in getting her coat on. I mean, sure, maybe it wasn't his fault he was late, I don't know - but Ruth is also five, there are probably extenuating circumstances for her as well. She's still learning how to be a person.
There are all sorts of people in my social and professional life that I don't yell at. Many of them have caused me much greater harm, much more willfully, or even maliciously, than Ruth has. Maybe the even darker side of things is that if I tell the whole just-so story of how it comes to be the case that I yelled at Ruth this morning, it's as much an accumulation of things completely unrelated to her as it is child-rearing-related frustrations. I'm running through a bottle of antacids a week or thereabouts being stressed out about losing my job. I have other professional frustrations. Things have been disrupted because Baltimore can't get its shit together to plow. I worry about Ruth's school. I worry about my parents. There was a homicide literally around the corner from me. Yesterday was the anniversary of a good friend's death.
This raises two importantly disturbing issues, to me.
1. I am clearly capable of restraining manifestations of my anger, even when I feel it very intensely.
2. I am much more likely to restrain it around the people I don't care about as much, who are causing me real problems, than around the people I truly love and care about.
Now, of course, there are reasons for this. Anyone reading this can guess at at least one professional contact I have that I fantasize about screaming every obscenity I know at, jumping up on his furniture, flipping him off with both hands, and maybe setting something on fire. There is a very good reason that not only do I not do all that but I don't even give him a piece of my mind - it would even further damage my career if I did that. I'm sure every person reading this has someone in their professional lives that is just too powerful to piss off, and we all learn restraint of anger and to pick our battles. The flip side of that power is that, not only would yelling at people like that damage our own interests, it likely wouldn't accomplish anything (not that I think yelling at Ruth accomplished much - I don't think she's more likely to get ready in a timely fashion if I yell at her more than if I took a more loving and practical approach, and it's not even like either of us feel better).
But still - what lesson does this send? I fear it is something like "kowtow to those more powerful than you, save your lashing out for the weak and vulnerable." Overblown? I don't know. That's pretty much the only reason I end up yelling at Ruth - I can. There are all sorts of other people in my life who the instinct not to lash out at is so deeply ingrained, I'd never do it, even when totally justified. In reflective moments, I don't think I'm doing it for her own good - and when I do it, it's certainly not a calculated performance; I'm not thinking, "I should yell now, because if she feels like she's getting away with it, she'll do it more," or something. Maybe, if you're being super charitable, it's something like, "I show my true feelings with people in my family, not the false face I show the world - sometimes that is unbridled love, sometimes it is my genuine fear, anger, or frustration." But that certainly wasn't what was in mind when I yelled at her this morning, and I suspect it's just rationalizing back-fill. I have trouble escaping the thought that deep down, I have internalized the norm: fear the powerful, inflict fear on the weak.
What kind of life among other people is that lesson going to prepare her for?