Nine Clues that I’m Angry (Or Will Be Soon)

Anger. It’s an emotion at least as American as Fourth of July parades, cookouts and flag burnings. While some people are attuned to the twitches in their bodies that alert them to angry feelings, I need more concrete notifications. As a public service to my loved ones, I offer the following clues that Mr. Hyde is on the loose and should be avoided at all costs.

  1. Anyone other than me is whining.
  2. I’m rushing. And no one else is.
  3. My eyes are open. Moments earlier they were closed and enjoying a sexy dream starring me and Jason Bateman, but now a certain little person’s stuffed lamb fell off her bed and MUST be rescued immediately as evidenced by the screams emanating from her bedroom.
  4. The playroom that took two hours to clean and organize stayed neat for seven minutes instead of the usual 22.
  5. My shopping cart contains five pints of Ben & Jerry’s Chubby Hubby instead of the usual one. You know, for my husband.
  6. I need toilet paper stat and there’s none in the bathroom and no one home to blame.
  7. I can’t find the sales receipt for the oh so cute, oh so slightly expensive sandals I bought that fit at Macy’s but pinch like a horny Italian the minute I wear them outside.
  8. The tone of my voice is calm yet tight as I form the words, “Fine. Go. Have fun,” when my husband is invited to yet another last-minute sporting event.
  9. Our kitchen floor is clean. (The only time our kitchen floor gets washed is when I’m angry, so if you visit us and our floor is spotless, you’ll know my mood going in.)

Each of my nine “tells” belongs in the category of “sweating the small stuff.” They also guarantee that I will a) lose my shit within moments or b) act as if everything is fine, but silently seethe, shooting daggers at anyone within ten yards, including the lovely woman at the dentist’s office who didn’t say thank you when my five year old held the door open for her or the kind gentleman at the grocery store who advised me to “smile” as we passed each other. (Should any of my readers have access to the surveillance videos at either of these fine establishments, please note that I regret resorting to stealth middle finger salutes in both cases. I know. I know. Speaking up would have been classier, but the bird can be strangely satisfying.)

While I do save some of my anger for the serious social injustices in the world, mostly I’m angry when I don’t speak up for myself or don’t let others know what I want and need. And when I’m extra surly, mostly what I need is a hug, especially when I’m too stubborn or too far gone to ask for one.

Anger (640x483)

I’m participating in Yeah Write’s 31 Days to a Better Blog program. We started yesterday, but it’s not too late to join in! Today’s assignment is to write a List Post. And, yes, I’m open to feedback!

Yesterday’s assignment was to write an “elevator speech” to describe your blog. Check out what I came up with and let me know your thoughts. Thanks!

Memorial Day Menu: Humble Pie

After enjoying several days of a lovely long weekend, apparently I’d had my fill of relaxation, barbecues and fun with friends and family. I spent Memorial Day on a bender, tearing through our house in my best martyr mode, uncluttering, organizing, cleaning and folding the loads of laundry stacked up since my last martyr fest.

I was a whirlwind of non-stop activity. And I silently let all the lazy asses in my house know just how annoyed I was at them for relaxing and enjoying their day off. And by “them” I mean my husband.

As I hauled out bag after bag of clothes for Goodwill, I made sure to sigh in front of Mike as often as possible as he enjoyed yet another snack while reading the newspaper. I gave him my best evil eye as I cleaned the floor under the breakfast table where he sat. He smiled and expressed his love for me.

I gave him my best harrumph as I dragged bags of garbage out to the alley. He sipped his coffee, blissfully unaware of my seething inner monologue. (For those of you untrained in master martyrdom, keeping hostility bottled up is part of the fun. Asking for help isn’t nearly as satisfying as hoarding a heaping bowl of resentment.)

There was no reason I couldn’t have sat on my ass all morning. We had no big plans for the day and our daughters were playing happily together (after I cajoled them into picking up their toys by withholding the iPad until the playroom was cleaned. My husband is cajoled by one thing and one thing only, and I was too steeped in annoyance for that!).

Though I made myself miserable, I got a lot accomplished that day.

Today, my husband is working from home. He’s busy with reports and conference calls, a steady stream of activity. And I’m having trouble getting anything accomplished. Not one thing. I’ve sat down to write at least three times and haven’t been able to jot down a coherent thought (not that I usually let that stop me!).

The more he works, the less I accomplish. Has he harrumphed me even once? Not yet.

Is he feeling superior and resentful? Mike doesn’t work that way. Frankly, he’s not at all concerned with what I’m accomplishing. That treasured measuring task falls solely on my capable shoulders. I’m the scorekeeper and today he’s ringing my bell.

He could chastise me or rub my nose in it, but he’s too busy working. What I should be doing. Or at least that’s what I tell myself.

Letting myself relax feels impossible today. I feel like shit for not accomplishing something. Accomplishment is my higher power, and I bow at its altar on a daily basis. I need a new way of relating. Or maybe a lobotomy. And sex. Either way … HELP!

Gift Finding Vs. Fault Finding

The other night in Florida, out to dinner with my husband’s siblings at a popular oceanfront restaurant, we encountered an uber friendly, highly inquisitive (read drunk and obnoxious) gentleman in the open-air lobby.

A Left Coast native, he was intrigued by our Midwestern lives and long-term marriages and peppered us with probing questions.

After one too many inquiries, I checked out of the conversation and focused on more important things, like what sides I would order for dinner (corn bread and baked potato) and what the odds are of being eaten by a shark if I went into the ocean with a bleeding cut on my leg (according to Google, 1 in 100,000,000).

When I resurfaced, I caught the end of this conversation:

Obnoxious Dude (pointing to my sister-in-law’s husband):  So … you were college sweethearts. Why did you end up marrying this guy?

Sister-in-Law:  He made me laugh, had a good job and a great head of hair.

Obnoxious Dude:  Sounds like you made a good choice. And what do you bring to the relationship?

Sister-in-Law:  I’m very good looking.

After laughing at my sister-in-law’s cheeky response, I started thinking about how I would answer that question – what do I bring to my relationship?

While I am also very good looking, I’m usually more willing to point out my shortcomings (bossy, short-tempered, martyr-ish) than my gifts.

Photo courtesy of http://www.miscfinds4u.com

Coincidentally, a good friend and spiritual mentor had suggested I spend some time during our vacation making a list of all the gifts I have to offer, all the wonderful qualities that make me, me.

After resisting her suggestion for days (and knowing I was still at least 30 minutes away from that corn bread), I started making a list in my head at the restaurant.

The first few were easy:  funny, loving, warm hearted.

I quickly added honest, responsible and persistent.

After those, the going got harder:  organized, compassionate and friendly led to sensible, hard working, good speller.

Blah, blah, blah – in my head, all of these attributes added up to B-O-R-I-N-G!

Where were sexy, exotic and impertinent? Why weren’t unpredictable, brazen and audacious on my list? (And where’s a good Thesaurus when you need one?!)

The next day, when I called my friend to share my insights, she relayed to me a story from the Talmud (I’m paraphrasing here) about a man who upon his death tells God, “I’m sorry I wasn’t more like Moses.” God replies, “I’m just sorry you weren’t more like you!”

Listening to this story, something shifted in me.

I’m tired of fault-finding and wishing I were different instead of owning all the glory and wonder that is me. My friend helped me realize that instead of changing anything about me, I want to own, value and even celebrate everything that is me – my strength, honesty, courage, confidence, earnestness, authenticity and big spirit-ness.

I already have all the qualities I long for and admire in other people, some only need more exercise to reach their full potential, like the ab muscles I’ve neglected over the past several years.

I’m likely to relapse into fault finding, so I need fellow travelers on this gift-finding journey. Are you with me?

What attributes of yours will you celebrate today?

PTSD By Proxy

Ever since we built the staircase in our house, I’ve been afraid one of our daughters would fall and get hurt. I never envisioned Mike would fall. I’d rather it was me. Mike is supposed to be invincible. Thankfully, at least he has a hard head.

I’m scared for his brain, his lovely, thoughtful, warm, loving brain, and I want to be up his ass about resting and recuperating. I’ve flip flopped between telling him what to do, policing his activities and leaving him be.

I’ve had no shortage of opinions on Mike’s recovery, and I’ve been willing to share my hard won medical knowledge, gleaned from too many years of watching medical dramas. I feel like a doctor, but as far as I know no one has bestowed on me a medical degree, and Mike is less likely to listen to the wisdom I’ve collected trolling the Internet than he is to his doctors. (The ones who actually completed medical school. As far as I know.)

If I were in his shoes, what would I like? To live my life. To make my own choices. More pain meds.

Mike isn’t a child, and I may want to consider not treating him like one. Perhaps it is time to back off and focus on my own recovery from the trauma of seeing him so vulnerable and hurt.

My emotions don’t match up to Mike’s current state. My husband is fine, getting stronger every day. Can you say “delayed reaction?”

Our daughters have been extra emotional lately (and that’s saying a lot), and I have the patience of a gnat (one in need of more antidepressants). I firmly believe every spouse or partner of an injured person should be given a prescription for the same level of pain medication that the patient is taking. An automatic partner prescription. I’ll take some valium too.

Who knew a loved one’s accident would give me PTSD? I have many of the symptoms (pieced together from every crack website I could find):

  • Reliving the Event – Every time Mike moans or coughs, I think he’s dying. If he’s too quiet, I think he’s dead. Isn’t that normal?
  • Avoiding Situations that Remind You of the Event – Well, I don’t want our girls anywhere near the staircase and I want to move to a nice, flat ranch house. Stat. Does that count?
  • Feeling Numb – no luck on this one – I’m feeling plenty thankyouverymuch.
  • Feeling Overly Emotional – Define “overly.” My crying jags feel so refreshing, even though they come over me in inconvenient places (read grocery stores and preschool classrooms) and often scare small children and animals.
I wish I looked like this crying ...

I wish I looked like this crying …

Instead I look more like this. Scare any small children lately?

Instead I look more like this.

  • Feeling Keyed Up – ding, ding, ding – I am on the lookout for danger and am feeling on guard and easily startled (See “Reliving the Event” above). My daughters are taking advantage of my over-reactivity by making loud noises just to see me jump. Thus my unrequited need for valium. Apparently, deep breathing exercises are all I get.
  • Impulsive or Self-Destructive Behavior – I’m obsessed with finding a new pair of sunglasses. But that’s pretty standard for me. Does shopping for hours on Bluefly for a new party dress and shoes I don’t need count? How about my new found big screen TV obsession?
  • Diminished Appetite – Ok, here’s the problem. Why is it I never get the diminished appetite symptom? Of any illness? Even when I have the stomach flu, I want to eat. What does a girl have to go through to get a diminished appetite?

I’m not making light of PTSD, please believe me. Whether or not witnessing an accident like my husband’s contributes to a PTSD response, I am not qualified to say (though at times I convince myself I am).  However, I am struck by the backlash of emotions I’ve felt over the past several days after holding it together for my family during and in the days following Mike’s accident.

I’m grateful for the friends and family who have offered me a safe and comfortable place to fall while I’ve fallen apart. After several days of feeling the weight of my emotions, I am feeling more and more like my regular crotchety old self. For this, we’re all blessed.

And if I don’t have PTSD now, just wait until we get the shopping medical bills from this little shenanigan! I’ll especially appreciate paying for all those $15 boxes of tissues I snotted up in the hospital. I better go order another pair of shoes.

Be well!

Not For the Faint of Heart

My husband, Mike, is the one with a concussion, stitches and cracked teeth, but I feel like I got hit by a Mega Bus. Not one to ignore an opportunity to make someone else’s crisis about me, here I go…

I keep having flashes of seeing Mike unconscious on the stairs, bleeding from his head. I burst into tears at random times. I feel a sense of dread and alternate between feeling patient and loving with the girls and incensed at their constant noise. Rhys (4) dropped her doll over the stairs to Ava (9) yesterday, and I nearly lost my shizz. When I come home after being away for a couple hours, I’m scared I’ll find Mike on the floor again or dead.

This is the price of being attached, of loving. I hate this price, always have. I hate that once we open ourselves to love, we stand to lose. We are vulnerable to hurt; to the whims of the world, of life, of nature. After our daughter’s bike accident last fall, I thought God and I had a deal. Apparently, I still have some learning to do.

I'm all for love, strength and courage, but could live without the vulnerability love brings. Photo  Credit: http://pinterest.com/yazoah/

Could I take a pass on the vulnerability love demands?
Photo Credit: http://pinterest.com/yazoah/

Coincidentally, before Mike’s accident I was reading the book, Signs of Life by Natalie Taylor, about a young woman whose husband died after hitting his head in a freak skateboarding accident.  She was pregnant at the time of her husband’s death and somehow wrote this heartbreaking, compelling memoir in her spare time. Reading Natalie’s poignant words was helping me feel grateful for my husband; appreciative of his simply being in the world.

I have so much relief and gratitude that I’m not in the author’s shoes, yet at the same time I feel panic that something horrible will happen. And I have to be on guard. As if.

Life may be trying to teach me that I’m really not in control. I surrender. Sort of. I’ve been holding on too tight, walking in terror much of the time. Instead of trying to control my terror, I want to learn to embrace it, live with it, give it a seat at the table, but not the head of the table.

I want my terror to serve me, rather than the other way around. I don’t know what benefits embracing my terror will offer, but I want to find out because pushing it down isn’t working and controling offers no benefits other than pause and paralysis.

My brain tells me I don’t want to open my heart any more, yet I will. I will because I am the hero of my own story and the hero opens up her heart and reaps the benefits and the sorrows. Life didn’t work any better for me when I played it safe. Life didn’t deliver the promises I longed for until I was willing to be vulnerable. Now that I have those promises, I have to learn to live with this fear of loss.

I’ve wanted all the pluses of attachment – joy, love, excitement, a heart bursting with life and joy. Got ‘em. But safety isn’t one of those promises. Is love still worth it? I think so. I hope so.

What is the alternative? A life of searching for an attachment that won’t leave me hurt or aching? I didn’t feel the same vulnerability all those years I was yearning for a spouse and children. As long as I was longing, I was in control. Once attachment set in, I was toast; no longer guarded against pain and fear and hurt.

As I think about the Natalie Taylors of the world and all the parents and loved ones of the victims of Newtown, the Brazilian nightclub fire and the daily accidents, shootings, diseases and the like, I’m reminded of the saying, “Love is not for the faint of heart.”

And for me, today, there is no acceptable alternative. There are, however, helmets. And we’ll be sporting these beauties at all times from now on.

Stay Strong and Scrub the Toilets

A Family Emergency, How to React in a Crisis, Stay StrongEver wonder how you would respond in a crisis? The heart stopping, life changing, this-can’t-really-be-happening kind? I’ve always imagined I’d be cool and confident under pressure, then crack once the adrenaline and immediacy of the situation wore off. I was right. But I never expected a crisis to leave me with clean counters and folded laundry.

My husband slipped and fell down the stairs last week, hitting his head on the banister. I found him sprawled halfway down the staircase, bleeding and unconscious, after hearing a series of loud thumps that woke me from a light slumber. The time was 5:20 am.

After my initial scream, which woke our two daughters, I moved into action, putting my extensive Grey’s Anatomy training to good use. Relieved to find my husband’s pulse, I quickly put Ava (9) and Rhys (4) to work.

“Ava, Daddy is hurt and needs an ambulance,” I said, hysteria lurking behind every syllable. “I need you to get the telephone for me and dial 9-1-1. Can you do that?”

Ava’s eyes widened. “Mommy! Mommy, what happened? Why is he bleeding like that?”

“I don’t know what happened,” I yelled. “Get the phone!” Seeing her eyes, widened in terror, reminded me to calm down and breathe.

“Honey,” I said, “I know you’re scared. I want you to look at me.” Surprised by the newfound authority and control in my voice, I said, “Get the telephone and dial 9-1-1.”

As Ava ran to get the house phone, Mike began moaning and slowly writhing, his eyes opening briefly before rolling back in his head. Placing myself between his 6’ 2” frame and the remaining ten steps, my job was clear:  use my strength to keep him from rolling down to the bottom.

A flash of pink caught my eye. I looked up to find Rhys standing at the top of the staircase clutching Finn, her favorite doll, and the hem of her rose-covered nightgown.

“Rhys, your job is to get me a clean towel for Daddy’s head. Can you do that, honey?” I said.

Rhys tilted her head and smiled at me before hurrying off; Ava handed me the phone so I could speak with the emergency dispatcher, who tried to calm me down while I begged her to hurry.

Ambulance en route, I turned to Ava again. “You have one more job. Open the front door so the ambulance people can come in.”

When Rhys returned with her offering of a single sheet of wet paper towel, I felt panic building inside my chest. As blood spilled from the gash in Mike’s forehead onto the hard wood steps, I wanted to scream – at Rhys, at the universe, at God, at anyone who would listen. We needed help. Real help. Not a half-sheet of Bounty; a fucking grownup.

Instead of screaming, I pressed my pajama sleeve to Mike’s head and used the paper towel to wipe the smears of blood from my hands.

While we waited for the ambulance, we talked to Mike as he regained consciousness and convinced ourselves he was going to be okay.

The sixty minutes between the ambulance rushing Mike to the emergency room and my friend Jackie arriving to take care of the girls was the longest of my life so far. After leaving messages for friends and family and cuddling with the girls, I settled them in front of the television and looked around for something to do, something to distract me from the panic and dread rising in my chest and the sight of congealing blood pooled on the staircase.

Cleaning was the obvious answer. When in doubt or panic or confusion, I clean. I clean counters to be specific. I doubt I’ve ever cleaned more efficiently. I methodically wiped down our kitchen counters three times before loading the dishwasher and folding the many loads of laundry cluttering our dining room table. I cleaned spit from the sink and scrubbed the toilets, something our children have never seen me do.

This robot mode felt safe, solid, something to hold on to. I knew if I slowed down for even a moment, I’d be overtaken with fear.  And I was desperate to keep terror from getting anywhere near me again.

Around the time I started cleaning out the refrigerator, sanity returned. I grabbed a bucket and some rags to tackle the blood-splattered staircase.  As I lovingly wiped Mike’s blood, the tears finally flowed.  And haven’t stopped since.

Other than a serious concussion, five stitches and two chipped teeth, Mike is remarkably unharmed and recovering well. As for me, I’d like to borrow some of Mike’s resiliency. And our house has never been cleaner.

Linking up with those wonderful writers and supporters over at Yeah Write. Click the image below to check it out!

What Happened to the Martyr He Married?

My husband returned last week from a three-night trip to Miami to watch his beloved Notre Dame football team get walloped by the unstoppable Crimson Tide.  Mike’s getaway left me the sole parent, a role I have played many times and one I typically milk for as much resentment as possible.

Mike is exceptionally good at making plans with friends for activities he enjoys. Whether arranging football weekends, golf outings or ski trips, Mike knows what he likes and what will bring him joy and connection. He makes both a priority in his life.

Until recently (read today) I’ve been exceptionally good at being a martyr. And a scorekeeper. Not a fulfilling combination in our marriage. (And certainly not a satisfying role for an intelligent, smoking hot woman in her prime.)

Here’s our scorecard:

Marriage, Relationships, Parenting Styles, Martyrdom, Football WidwoMike = 35 Mary = 3

Yes, I’m exaggerating. I’ve only taken one trip:  a weekend visit to New York City last June with a dear friend.

This disparity has been an issue in our marriage for years; ever since we were blessed with children. Our pattern looks like this:  Mike makes plans for a night or weekend away. I collect a chit for a future getaway.

And by collect I mean hoard. My chits are stacked to the ceiling and threatening to overtake our living space. The time never feels right for me to plan a solo adventure, so I save my chits for a future, better time. When will this magical “better time” occur? Perhaps when our young daughters are away at college?

Don’t get me wrong, we do a lot of activities together as a family and as a couple. From date nights to nights away, we tend to our marriage in ways big and small. But most of my time is family time. When it comes to making room for individual pursuits, I’ve lagged behind (hid behind?) my socially-engaged husband for years.

I believe I deserve my own time, but am afraid of using up my IOUs and never having more; afraid of committing to my own happiness. If I keep my adventures in the future, I’ll have something to look forward to – you know, when we’re 84 and living on a fixed income. Then I’ll make time. Woot, I’ll live it up!

While pragmatism can be a worthwhile asset, I don’t want to model martyrdom and deprivation for our daughters or teach them by example that only one person in a marriage gets to enjoy time away for fun and pleasure. And somehow resentment doesn’t look as good on me as I hoped.

I believe people are put in my life, by choice and by design, to teach me things and help me hit bottom on traits that don’t work for me anymore. Under that belief, Mike has been trying for years to teach me to grab what I want and enjoy every big, juicy bite of it, trusting that more is on its way.

I have a choice. I can resent my husband and be a victim (Option A) or learn from his example and plan my own time away (Option B).

Option A:  “What the fuck, Mike? Why do you get to go away on another boondoggle? You should be here with your family having fun, damn it.”

Option B:  “Have a great trip, Mike! Before you leave, let’s coordinate our calendars for next weekend because I’m going away with my girlfriends. You have the babysitters’ numbers if you need them. Wanna have sex before your flight?”

Which would you choose? Exactly.

Today I cashed in one of my chits and spontaneously planned my own weekend getaway with two girlfriends. For next weekend! Although I’m feeling squirmy, I’m proud of myself and excited to try on a new role in my family.

One concern:  without my regular martyrdom and resentment fix, who will I be? Time will tell, but next weekend, I’ll be the one sitting by a pool reading a book. You may not recognize me. But I bet I’ll be looking damn good.

Dude Write

Also linking up with the good-looking group of writers at Yeah Write. Come check us out.