Sometimes in parenting, the line between fury and hilarity is paper thin. You feel incredibly powerful emotions, emotions like rage and hate and amped-up types of frustration that make earlier, pre-parenting forms of frustration seem almost quaint by comparison. And yet, these emotions, and the strong and often regrettable language that accompanies them that is directed at your misbehaving spawn, have dual lives, for they are also a kind of comedic performance you enact to be a good parent and to teach your kids life’s most hard earned and valuable lessons. You become the emotion so they can learn. Sometimes you literally want to wring their necks, and yet, you know that if you actually started to, wring their necks I mean, you might just bust out laughing because it’s so damn ridiculous how mad you’ve gotten over the fact that they won’t just eat their fucking dinner in the time frame that you’ve previously decided is the reasonable amount of time in which to consume a plate of food and now you’ve spent twenty minutes arguing about eleven peas and half a pork chop. You also can’t help but face the fact that most of time you’re hating in them what you most hate in yourself (or other people hate in you) and there’s also a strange and sickening kind of karma at play that no one ever warned you about in the pre-parenting world, or could even have prepared you for if they had.
The other night, Felix is in the bath and refuses to get out. I’m standing in the bathroom doorway, lion towel in hand, spine aligned with doorjamb, palm against forehead. It’s late. I’m tired. I want him out of the bath so as to be one step closer to the end of the day and my first beer and my book and my tv show or whatever the hell it is I’m needing. He’s sassing me in the most passive way. Kind of hearing me and then responding with gibberish and disappearing beneath the rim of the bathtub as if he didn’t hear me. Lately Felix has been experimenting with two unfavorable traits: sullen faces and pointed fingers. When confronted with a task he doesn’t want to do or a directive that’s not to his liking, he’ll play with these traits, setting my blood to boil as he crosses his arms aggressively and makes his angry face at me. So I’m asking him to get out of the bath and he’s saying no in his own special way. I’m getting kind of pissed, but trying to keep it together, urging him like I would my dog, “C’mon Felix. Really buddy, it’s time to get out. C’mon pal. Felix. Felix?” My wife is sitting on the toilet seat, combing the hair of our younger son, who’s recently been removed from the bath and is already in his pajamas. He’s also put up a fight, but luckily he can’t talk yet and isn’t that strong. She’s watching me get pissed. I’m in control though. I am. Until Felix barks “No!” and points his finger at me and then simmer becomes boil and I get really mad. There’s just something about a pointed finger.
“You know?” I say, “I’ve had about enough of that tone from you. You’ve been very curt with me and mommy lately and I don’t like it when you use that tone of voice. And I don’t like it when you point your finger at me. It’s rude and I want you to stop it!”
But even as I’m saying the words “It’s rude and I want you to stop it!” I’m also noticing my own totally heated and unreasonable tone, not to mention my own aggressively pointed finger and it’s at this point I realize that I’m basically looking in a horrible mirror. I’m yelling at him to stop doing the exact thing I’m doing right that second and the whole thing is just so ridiculous that before I know it I’ve burst into fits of laughter and tears of hilariousness go cascading down my face. I’m laughing so hard I can barely catch my breath and feel like I’ve just broken character because my cast mate was making funny faces at me. Like I was just pretending to be mad, but really, I wasn’t. I was really mad, but in a puff, all my rage went up in smoke. It was one of those surreal moments. Add it to the catalog.
There’s a great line in The Big Chill where the Glenn Close character is on the phone with her daughter and saying things like “I don’t care,” and “no, I didn’t say that, young lady,” and “well, when you’re a mommy, you can be mean” and things like that. When the conversation’s over, she hangs up the phone, turns to her friend, played by Mary Kay Place, and says “sometimes I can’t believe the things I hear myself saying.”