IT MIGHT HAVE STARTED THEN, the questions about discipline and physicality. That day of the frenzy, it seems likely, and most certainly plausible.
There are school bags to pack and teeth to brush, mine and theirs. I need to put on work clothes and the boys need hats. Lunches need to be made and there are the socks that do not fit, no matter how hard I try to make it so.
Still, Noah is crying and will not stop, not ever maybe, and there is the stress of knowing that I cannot make it to work on time, not with them at two different schools, my wife already out of the house, and the crying, hats, socks, teeth, all of that piling up on top of each other.
But even in the midst of all this, I start to believe that I may really get out of the house, because suddenly they are ready, and why can’t I be too?
I can, and so I leave them up front by the door and I run into the kitchen.
The tears get louder. Why is that happening? It’s possible that that they are magnified by the foyer and its funky acoustics, but then there is wailing, and I run back to the foyer, and Myles is standing by the doors that open into the hall leading to our rooms, they are closed, and he is holding them shut so that that Noah cannot step into the front of the house.
Hence the tears and the wailing and the increased frenzy that I just want so badly to go away. I look at Myles. He’s smiling and entirely pleased with what he’s done.
This is a great time to breathe, count to ten…something. Instead, my brain briefly explodes, and all I can see and hear is the crying, the heat, the rushing around and the frenzy, so much fucking frenzy.
As the sweat starts to pool on my upper lip and slither along my brow, and as the words in my head start to morph into something that sounds a lot like the white noise that passes for conversation among the adults in Peanuts, things don’t exactly blur together, but they do start to go a little dark.
Which is not to say I cannot tell what is happening, I am watching it happen, but I am not in control, not really, maybe not even close.
I see what I am doing and I understand that I am grasping the collar of Myles’ coat, that I am lifting him off of the ground, and moving him away from the doors, which I now open as he stands there gape-mouthed, caught somewhere between bemusement and shock.
Noah stands in front of me in the hall red-faced and perspiring, screaming and shaking, a physical manifestation of the emotions pin-balling around my frenzied brain.
So, it might definitely have happened then, this question of discipline and what it might look like, though if not, then it probably, definitely, happened as I was walking home from school with the boys later that day and I heard Myles say to one of his friends, “my dad tried to strangle me this morning.”
Which I would argue is not true, not really, but that doesn’t change the fact that discipline of the physical or corporal persuasion has never felt like an option to me.
I was not hit as a child, and I do not believe in hitting children, no slaps, no brushes or spanks, and I understand this may be a provocation for some people, though I am happy to report that the science supports the adverse long-term effects of spanking, which might seem like common sense to some, but also likely serves as a provocation for many others.
This does not change the fact however, that I was moved to act in physical way, or that I still believe that raising children requires discipline, and that there must be consequences when they do not manage their crueler and yes, more annoying impulses, but that if these consequences do not involve hitting, they better involve something.
Something that they can learn from and I can try to master so that I do not lose my shit in some way that everyone ends up regretting. Which I do not plan to do, it’s just there can be frenzy, and there can be anger, emerging in ways both unforeseen, and from places I was not fully aware existed before I became a parent.
I could pause here for a moment and think about the fact that there was no discipline in my house growing-up, that there was an element of needing to make do, that there was love, always, and endlessly, but we had to figure things out for ourselves, which when coupled with my parents just not being around as much as my wife and I are, ultimately required less of a need for discipline in the first place.
All of which may say something about how my wife and I parent, or about who I am and what I still need to fix, or more likely both.
Which I get, but for now, let me say this, if there is to be frenzy, and there will be, there has to be, the time-out can be a beautiful thing.
You don’t have to lay hands on your child, which is nice, though if needed it can be brief and focused, hands on shoulders, crouched down and face to face. Your child cannot move or talk, ideally, and so they must re-focus, catch their breath and think about their actions, whether they think they are doing so or not. And after the allotted time there is conversation, hugs, expressions of sorry, and love.
As I said, it can be beautiful, and it has worked very well in our house, and even better when we are consistent and we follow our own rules, which can be tough, but when we do, a sense of calm and thoughtfulness pervades our world because of it.
What the time-out does not necessarily allow for, however, is dealing with the anger that refuses to dissipate on those days where the frenzy is too much and my vision starts to blur. Where I feel something cruel has transpired and I react to the repetition of such behaviors, or the abuse of power they can entail, both of which are clearly triggers of mine, and must be managed as well.
Which I can’t always do, and when I can’t, I give myself a time-out too.
I step away, door closed, and I let those emotions bounce off of the walls as they are doing in my head. I also at times play music, because the emotions need a place to go, and they need to be channeled, and it’s possible that music does in fact soothe the savage beast, though I haven’t seen the data on that.
Data or not though, I want to share the songs that help me out during these times, even merely thinking about such times; what they represent to me; and how I get through the frenzy when it’s not clear anything will work.
“They say jump, you say how high.”
It may be that “Bullet in your Head” by Rage Against the Machine is self-explanatory, maybe, yes? Sometimes I am so mad, and no I don’t know who that dude is, but I am so mad at myself, my children, and at the world, I want to punch a closet door, which I have. Not good, that. So at those times I now choose to play “Bullet In Your Head” instead, pogoing and shadow boxing until the rage has dissipated and run its course, evaporating into the cool night air. The first time I heard the song, I was looking at several hours of work, it was late, I was dreading it and angry that I had to be doing the work at all. The song served as both a focus and a balm, and little about that has changed since.
“I’ve been funny, I’ve been cool with the lines, ain’t that the way love’s supposed to be.”
At times what I need is nostalgia and false hope. Would the world of “Mad Men” even exist without these things? I need to believe that life was better once and can be again. Maybe not in this exact moment, but soon, because I like to believe I remember what it was like, pre-children, when things were of course perfect for me. When there was no anger or confusion. When I lived in a world where Rick Springfield was God, “Jessie’s Girl” ruled, and it really was okay to pine away for my best friend’s girl. Back then I didn’t have a family that might implode because of my actions. There was no mortgage to pay or vaccinations to worry about. Instead there was goodness, longing, lust, and Rick Springfield’s great belief that not only was such longing alone more than enough to worry about, but that it would all somehow be okay.
“All right stop, collaborate and listen, Ice is back with a mission.”
Sometimes of course I must laugh, a lot, if only to stanch the flow of tears. Because when the bad feelings remain, where would I be without humor and the opportunity to recognize that some people have it worse than me? Even celebrities who have slept with Madonna still write songs like “Ice Ice Baby,” grow grungy white-boy dreads, and get hung upside down off of balconies by Suge Knight. Frankly, it feels good to gloat, it’s a release, and sometimes, and this despite my best intentions, I even mouth the words to Ice Ice Baby because they’re so damn catchy, and because despite Ice’s protestations, they remind me of Under Pressure by Queen. All of which makes me happy, allows me to feel sane, and unlike so many other things in recent history, doesn’t make me want to punch anything at all.
All of which is ultimately very good, very, very good, especially when that moment comes where the frenzy is now memory, the children are smiling, and I know that I will live to see another day, or at least live long enough to see the next thing happen, because something will happen, it always does.