I've been thinking a lot lately about what I self-teasingly call my yeller aura: my tendency to lose my shit and start yelling when things don't go my way. But it's no joke. I have a serious problem with losing control of my anger and yelling at whoever is around, usually someone I love very deeply, usually Will.
I'm good at controlling my anger at work. I understand that I'll get fired if I yell there, and then what would I do? I'm completely unqualified for any job outside the library. In August 2001 I stupidly decided to quit the library and move with my then-girlfriend Kristin to St. Joseph, MO and work in a dental lab. Me. The person who breaks a light bulb when she screws it into its socket. The person who can't stand to do crafts or puzzles or any tedious thing with my hands. The person who drops a frozen pizza onto the hot electrical coil at the bottom of the oven when she tries to move the oven rack with the pizza still on it. I am a wordsmith, not a dentalsmith.
My job in the lab was to manage the front end. I thought that meant typical office work. Clerking, secretarial stuff. Instead I discovered it was my job to "prep" the denture molds mailed into the lab. Dentists shipped us molds of their patients' teeth so we could make dentures for them. It was my job to take the molds out of the packaging, put them into a tray with the correct paperwork, and do the rough filing. Rough filing involves using a tool that sands down the molds so the real dental lab technicians don't have to waste their time doing this task any first grader could be trained to do.
Apparently I need to go back to first grade. I broke three molds in the four weeks I worked there. The first two times my boss was pretty cool, but when he discovered the third mold I'd broken he literally threw the tray at me. I quit, went home, called my previous boss at the library and begged for my job back. I started back at the library on September 10, 2001 and I have no intention of quitting again. The bosses at the library are not prone to throwing books. In fact, in my twenty years at the library I am proud to say I have never broken a book. Not even a book spine. Not even a tiny pencil.
Needless to say, I found my calling in the written word. So I know I need to mind my Ps and Qs and control my temper while I'm at work.
For some reason I lack that control at home. Which is ridiculous because relationships with the people I love are just as important, far more important in fact, because although I joke I'm not fit to work anywhere else, even I know I could always get a nanny gig or clean up dog poop for a vet or something like that. I'm suited to more jobs than I'm suited to romantic partners. In other words, I honestly can't imagine myself in a loving, committed relationship with anyone else but Will. So why don't I treat my relationship with him with the same respect I give my job?
I should. And now that I've written it down, hopefully I'll be more mindful of the problem, and it will be easier for me to work on it.
I owe it to Will to stop yelling at him. He does not deserve it.
I also owe it to Katie. Lately we've been getting emails from her teacher. She yells in class when things don't go her way.
At first I tricked myself into believing it would be an easy issue to solve. If I could learn to quit yelling at the dogs, then Katie would model my behavior and quit yelling at her peers in class. Easy peasy, right?
Wrong. It has been surprisingly easy for me to quit yelling at the dogs--in fact, I have only yelled at them one time since I shook hands with Katie and agreed to try to stop yelling at the dogs if she'd try to stop yelling at her classmates. Once in several months is pretty good considering I used to yell at them every day, whenever they'd bark too much. But we're still getting the emails from Katie's teacher.
Just a heads up. She blew up today...
She said she was tired.
She said she doesn't like April Fool's Day.
She said so-and-so was bossing her around.
After the last email a week ago, Katie sat in my lap in our rocking chair and we talked about it.
"Yelling is not allowed at school. You know hitting is not allowed at school, right? Yelling is like hitting someone with your words. Sweetie, trust me: I know. It's hard for me to control my anger sometimes too. It's hard for Daddy to control his anger sometimes. Everyone has a hard time controlling their anger from time to time. But we must keep trying. If I yelled at someone at my work, I'd get fired. Yelling is inappropriate at work. It's inappropriate at school too. When someone bosses you around and you turn around and yell at them, instead of them doing the wrong thing and you doing the right thing by talking to them calmly, you're both doing the wrong thing. You must figure out a way to control your temper when you feel yourself getting angry. I must too. It's something we both have to work on."
When I talk that much, it usually means I'm talking to myself more than the person on the receiving end of my lecture.
Katie and I had a good discussion, despite my rambling. I asked her to list me some things she can do to try to control her anger: take deep breaths, count to ten, say her ABCs, walk away, talk about how she feels when she's calmed down. I let her know I was keeping this list inside my own head so I can refer to it when I feel like I'm going to start yelling. Hopefully my honest admission of my own failings will help Katie understand that no matter how hard we try, we all sometimes mess up and yet we still deserve forgiveness so we can move on and try to get better instead of wallowing in our sorrow over our mistakes.
It was decided among Katie, her teacher, the school counselor Mrs. C, and I that Mrs. C would introduce herself to Katie and let her know she can come talk to her if she wants to. Katie's behavior is not quite problematic enough that we feel she needs a regular meeting with Mrs. C, but we want Katie to know she's there for her if she need her. I'm pleased with this plan, keeping our options open.
Last night at dinner, Will, Katie, and I were discussing how both Katie and I have been having trouble controlling our anger these past couple of weeks. During the course of the discussion, Katie set down her fork, popped her eyes open dramatically like a silent film star and said, "I know, Mama! If you ever need to talk to someone about your anger you can visit Mrs. C's office!"
"Oh, that's a wonderful idea, Sweetie. Maybe I should go back to first grade for a do-over. Then I could talk to Mrs. C and she could help me," I said, half-joking and half-serious. Wouldn't it be great if life allowed do-overs?
"You should," Katie advised.
"Well, but I can't. So I think I'll let Mrs. C be the counselor for the kids at your school and I'll find my own therapist so I'm not hogging all of Mrs. C's time," I said.
"What's a therapist?" Katie asked.
"A counselor. A social worker. A psychologist. A therapist. Those all mean kind of the same thing: a person who you talk to about things you want to change in your life and they help you figure out ways to make those changes," I said, speaking from years of experience. I was sent to my first therapist when I was eleven. I'm not one of those people who is ashamed to admit when I need professional help. We go to the dentist when our tooth aches. Why not go to a therapist when our emotions ache?
I can see "visiting Mrs. C's office" is going to become an on-going joke in our family, and I can't be more pleased that we're the sort of family that jokes about needing mental health professionals. The other day when my alarm clock went off and I grunted and slapped the snooze button, Katie said, "The alarm clock needs to quit yelling or it will have to visit Mrs. C's office."