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MAMA LIKES

When Mama Ain't Happy
posted by Amy

Jody's post about mama rage is a brave and honest look at the way so many of us feel sometimes.

Being the parent I planned to be before I actually had kids is impossible. While some people may have grown up in houses where everyone spoke calmly and rationally at all times, I didn't. My parents were loving and playful and took care of all our basic needs and then some. My mother is still my idol when it comes to tolerance for the messes kids make; she allowed us to cook, to create art whenever and wherever we wanted, to play in the mud in the backyard and make "paper" out of the garden plants, and to sew and, later, make movies with the home video camera.

It was also a home which eventually grew to include ten children, including some who were learning to speak English and who had some intense needs after living in orphanages or foster homes before they were adopted.

Until I was about five, my father worked full-time and was finishing the engineering degree that had been interrupted when he was drafted and spent a year in Vietnam. (I can't even imagine what my birth was like for them, given that my mom was in the U.S. and my father was in Vietnam. And coming home from war and immediately being immersed in fatherhood and marriage? It had to be hard for all involved.)

When I was a teenager, my father worked in Texas during the week and flew home to California each weekend--unless it was his National Guard weekend for the month. Meanwhile, my mother was working on a master's degree and, oh yeah, taking care of ALL THE KIDS.

So it was a home with a lot of people and a lot of needs and a lot of love and also some anger. My father doesn't express anger in healthy ways, to say the least.

One of my struggles as a parent has been to figure out how to deal with the anger that's a pretty natural part of this nonstop, intensely physically and emotionally demanding life of caring for small children I love more than I could ever have imagined.

On my first Mother's Day after Henry's birth, I was awakened by my sick baby at 5 a.m. after a night of nonstop nursing and crying. I was exhausted and more than a little irritated that breastfeeding meant Chip slept like a log throughout the night while I paced the floors. So I woke him up and asked him to go get the infant Tylenol from the baby's room. He trudged sleepily down the hall, yelled back that he couldn't find it, and then came back. Livid with anger, I stomped into the baby's room, grabbed the medicine, and threw it at Chip. Yeah. Not expressing anger in healthy ways? Like father, like daughter.

Like Jody, I've also had to learn new strategies to replace some of the ones I grew up with. Sometimes I feel whiny and resentful about this. "It's not fair," I think. "Why should I have to learn new stuff when other people just get to use what they learned from their Atticus Finch-like fathers?" I'm not sure what I would do if Chip hadn't been raised by a stepfather whose rage could have given my father a run for his money. Oddly, this makes us better resources to each other, as do our combined years of therapy in various forms. Mostly, though, it helps that I'm not alone while making this journey. (Other than my brothers, for instance, often Chip is one of the few people who intuitively gets, say, that this music and this book are wonderfully comforting to me.)