Parting with Anger

I’ve written about anger before …

In poems for my memoir ….

Anger’s Beginning

Anger itself is not violent, but when left to fester, it can become a hurricane sweeping through the Caribbean to Florida up through my home state, South Carolina. Those storms are never forgotten.

The reason I write about my experience with anger, just like my memoir, is to tell a story and maybe at least one person will realize he or she is not alone.

I’m not naturally an angry person. On my best days, I like to reach out to people. Sometimes I sit back and listen.

When I was younger, I was more naive and opened up to people more easily.

From where come my anger’s origins?

There are many experiences for which I have felt anger, but at its heart …

…. was the feeling of complete professional failure when my husband and I lost our     first home, and I gave up time …

with my son.

Excerpt from Never Saw Jesus in the Mirror

(Title Poem in Memoir)

“I never saw Jesus in the mirror. No blue-eyed saint from a Venetian religious piece on display in an art museum. People in my hometown, Peach Corner, said, ‘Isn’t your mom amazing?’ They would say. ‘She was my favorite teacher.’ I shook my head and said, ‘Sure.’  I thought about the times she’d come home after school and laid down. The only time I looked for her in the mirror was to see if I’d gained weight, or evidence of a weary face revealing the me who didn’t want to read anymore after reading to and with students all day. Hayes asked me to read to him ten times or more.

Bad daughter? Admitted.

Bad mom?  Admitted.

I never saw a preacher glance at her Bible from a pulpit and lower her voice for her final summation in the mirror. I never saw my dad in the mirror, but I walked behind him on the day when he first served the church.  He walked on the sanctuary’s blue carpet—the color of old hospital walls.  He pulled a vacuum out of the sanctuary closet, and began to clean the sanctuary floors.  That was 1997, and the day I discovered my second favorite hiding spot in the church when the youth group played the game, Lights Out.  (My favorite hiding place was the top of the commode in the boys’ bathroom sitting cross-legged.)  Dad joined the choir, and he was almost always the first person to shake the new pastor’s hand.

Choir ladies held my hand, and said, “Your father does so much for our church.” With white-gray bobs, the same women said, “You have a beautiful voice. Why don’t you sing in the choir with your father?”  They saw my dad as a hometown saint, and at one time, I had a scholarship to some small college for singing. One day, I stopped singing in public, and I shrugged my shoulders. I sing to my son, I thought.

I admit Dad became a certified family saint when he helped with my family’s rent because Ben’s paycheck still hadn’t arrived.   Mom and Dad took us in when we were evicted.  When I looked in the mirror, I saw a mother with a small log at the bottom of her stomach left over from baby weight, who feared judgment from old choir ladies and mom’s former students. Why? Because I would always be seen as a helpless; maybe hapless child who could not buy a house for her family. I admit I never saw Jesus in the mirror.

My Daughter and Postpartum

Since my daughter’s birth, my anger grew from postpartum depression because the anger itself was under the surface.

It is–and was–never my daughter’s fault.

The anger came from a storm deep within. Any person or thing that took more time than necessary from my children felt my furry. There are a lot of experiences I’m good at describing, but the absolute and total depression I felt when leaving my children during my internship and to drive 45 minutes away to my first teaching job was almost inconsolable. When my son told me a few months ago after I was already experiencing a difficult first year in my job, “Why are you coming home so late? I want you home”;

I thought my heart would burst. 

When a former, indirect adviser — from a different department in my college — told me I had to attend a mandatory meeting for teacher candidates over my son’s IEP meeting with about six teachers and a principal to determine whether or not to move Hayes to a different school because of his behavior, I exploded. I mean, plain out exploded in email at this person. 

How can youI thought, in an age where you’re competing with the University of Phoenix and other online universities to recruit working students and parents tell me I must choose this meeting over my son?

Rage, like a light rain, quickly fades. I regretted wording my email the way I did.

I also regret requesting that six teachers and a principal reschedule the IEP and decision because of the demand that I attend this meeting.

Yes, I was angry, but not all of the time.  Near the end of my first school year, I realized I needed to go back to therapy.

You know, it’s okay.

I take medicine.

It’s okay. 

I began working out and writing again. I took time for my kids without feeling guilty for not completing any job. 

I forgave others.

Then I forgave myself.

Not only did I start working out the whole body like I used to, I began eating better and keeping a fitness journal. In this fitness and health journal, I began writing Bible verses down. I had not done this since I was a teenager.  If I am going to be a good teacher, I have to take care of the tools. The first tool is me. 

Now

I have a wonderful education and background. I have two wonderful children and an absolutely, amazing husband, who has been through the thick and thin with me. I have a new job in a wonderful district to which I’m moving my children.

And…

I was told today.

“There is no reason your son should be on a modified education plan because he is high functioning and clearly smart.”

I cried for joy. I cried because someone wasn’t just going to throw my baby into a cage. Someone understood his specific needs, and they’re placing him in the exact class to help him manage his behavior and reactions.

When I tell you God held my hand today, I felt it.

When I tell you it is not easy to talk about my faith, believe me.

When I tell you someone saw my son as a person, and not his disability or demanded I take time from him; I will break down in tears.

When I tell you no, I never saw Jesus in the mirror, but I saw a hope for my son’s future where he wouldn’t just be a number or …

a date I had to change.

A special thanks to everyone, including my husband, parents, mentor teachers, and friends who took this journey with me. 

Longer Than Six Weeks: A Mom’s Journey

Life is not always avocados and protein shakes.

Or, as I tell mom, life isn’t always rainbows and unicorns.

An important experience I write about in Never Saw Jesus in the Mirror is the mother’s body .  From Hollywood, we—as women—sometimes see new moms who’ve gone to the gym. They lose weight in six weeks.

There is so much baggage that we—as a culture—fail to discuss, or are afraid to discuss, when it comes to being a mother. These struggles don’t end six weeks after giving birth. This baggage includes the expectation to be yourself again … whatever that means. Slim down …

Okay.

There is also the fear of: How will I work at the rate I did before? Will I be what I was before?

I was inspired by this woman’s recent video where she talks about her body and the peer pressure moms have faced. She had twins, and one of the ideas she discusses is: The motherhood body challenge doesn’t stop six weeks or even six months after your child is born. 

In my memoir, Never Saw Jesus in the Mirror, one poem written about an experience in 2011 states:

“I had hoped to lose all of the baby weight by then, so I could rub something in your face. Like a body snapping back in place after giving birth is really going to improve anything other than the fact I feel good Reasons Why, February 2011).

It took me one year to get back to my original size after my son’s birth. I’ve been one pants size from my prebaby weight with my second child for one year now. My daughter is two-and-a-half years old, and I breastfed her for two years and two months. It takes longer to lose weight when breastfeeding.

No matter how many times I felt like I’d failed, I had to remind myself I was doing the best thing for her.  

Sometimes, when you work and try to do what you did before your child was born, you feel anger. 

Anger for:

  • Not being with your baby long enough
  • Feeling like others are impeding on your time with your child
  • Unable to complete tasks you did easily before 
  • Trying to balance being a mom, wife, and your job

I went back to work as a graduate assistant four weeks after giving birth. In those four weeks, my newborn daughter had been in the hospital over Christmas with pneumonia We were scared we would lose her. I was mad at myself because I had to leave her toosoon. 

Sometimes anger in motherhood seeps in little by little, and we don’t realize it.

That is how it was for me.  I remember climbing the stairs to run errands when I returned to my graduate assistantship. These stairs are no joke. I went up three flights. I expected to go up like bad ass; like the reporter I once was with a notebook and pen in hand.  I nearly collapsed.

I wasn’t even supposed to work out for six weeks. I had to leave that day because I felt so sick.  I believe anger started that day. I had been diagnosed with depression when I was 14, but had controlled it well without medication for several years. Anger and anxiety began as a little snowball and then grew bigger. 

In my poem, Love with Vinegar, I wrote:

“In moments such as that, I saw a monster ripping away my job, degree, dreams, and ability to help Ben provide for our children. I saw the slip of paper being torn in my face. I saw two barefoot children on the street, so I sucked it up and dealt one more semester …

And, one week after the fall semester of graduate school had ended, I told Ben, ‘I felt as though I was fighting off wolves.’ Ben said, ‘You thought you were in an ocean with nowhere to swim and sharks surrounded you, except you were swimming with dolphins; not sharks. People want to help you.’ I laughed. ‘Only that one supervisor. She’s a shark. She smelled blood.’ ‘But,’ Ben said, ‘People forget even dolphins bite.'” (from Love with Vinegar, May 2016). 

How do we, as moms, deal with these issues?

I finally got help with counseling, and I kept writing. I just kept writing. I keep a fitness and health journal, a financial journal, and my regular journal where I write a lot of my poems. I began a fitness commitment, and just started my third week.  I plan to continue with it in the school year. I also wrote about my new nutritional plans.

This may not work for everyone.

I have had victories and defeats in my personal and professional life, but I think writing, eating, and fitness are helping me return to the more positive version of myself.

I read in Ecclesiastes 12: 2-4 about remembering God before dark times come, “…and the clouds return after the rain, in the days when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men bent…” I wrote this in my fitness journal, because I had forgotten the walk before I journeyed into the challenging times.

 

What is “Never Saw Jesus in the Mirror”?

I took seven-and-a-half-years to write my novel, Sons of the Edisto.

Like a friendship begun in childhood, I have scribbled different narratives and poems about my journey from journalism into motherhood and teaching. It might sound mundane at first, but …

Some had to do with my relationship with my husband.

Some poems were about my daughter and breastfeeding.

Other poems covered the struggle of facing an economy indifferent to those who struggle with medical and their jobs.

A few covered the journey from losing our home to becoming a student and teacher.

Some dealt with the struggle faced with anger, alcohol, and food to move on to a place of peace.

Many poems deal with raising a son with autism, ADHD, and a developmental delay. I debated about what to call the manuscript for it, so I decided to name it Never Saw Jesus in the Mirror.

Last summer, I began organizing the poems into chapters beginning with the poem I read in last week’s blog. I chose to do them chronologically, and I am working to make them flow together. I found it harder to write a straight up narrative.  The more I write narrative poetry the more the story comes out.

I will continue working on it even as a I work as a teacher, mother, and wife.  I know there are different poems that go beyond me and show with what others have faced.