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peeling the onion of anger

2017 October 9
by Rachel Turiel

It’s a puzzle of a Tuesday evening. Rose has soccer practice at a time that was once reserved for family dinner and needs to be shuttled to and from the soccer field; Col has a friend staying late; our foster dog needs a walk; everyone needs to be fed; Dan is 11,300 feet up in the high country chasing elk with his bow.

Col and this friend are deep in the fog of the next plan brewing and Col answers my questions with distracted monosyllables. This buddy seems to bring out in Col a thirst for adventure, for independence, for the kind of fun that is made of risk and hilarity and a few things you might not want your mother to know. When I told them recently that I felt hesitant about them riding bikes downtown because of their history of pushing the envelope together, this friend said with endearing transparency, “Oh, that’s not just with Col. I push the envelope whether I’m with him or not.” Though I sometimes wish Col was enamored with say, the cautious, rule-abiding art of library science, I am very fond of this friend.

I tell the boys that dinner will be ready in five minutes. They filter out the frequency of my voice in favor of nerf gun discussions. Finally Col’s friend nudges him, looks up at me and repeats, “dinner,” as if we have discovered a common noun in our different languages.

I assemble a meal that hits all the food groups currently existing in our fridge and call for the boys. Col and his buddy are missing, not on the property, not within shouting distance. There is no time to track them down. Rose eats, grabs her soccer bag and we drive away not knowing where the boys are. I feel annoyed, thinking: they should have told me where they were going. They knew dinner was impending. Driving home, my mind simmers with satisfying fantasies of what I will say and do when I find them. The blame center of my brain is like a city at night: lit up and active.

In the car, I resist the magnetic lure of distraction (radio, cell phone, punishment strategies) in favor of what I advocate for my children: to acknowledge and investigate all feelings. Breathing a little space into my clenched chest, I notice that behind the anger is a desert of sadness, dunes of fear rolling and cresting.

There’s this existential sorrow over my children growing up and calving off the glacier of our family, landing in the wide ocean of their own lives, paddling ever farther from home. Meanwhile I’ll be in the kitchen, a caricature of my own loneliness, prepping another meal in hopes they come home hungry. This is only part invention. When I volunteered to accompany Col to the flea market recently he said, “but I want to go with someone Mama. Like, a friend.”

The kids are doing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing. Growing and stretching and leaving, a thousand small practice goodbyes. And it’s all been so lovely, couldn’t they stay just a bit longer?

The children needing me less is both wonderful and heartbreaking. They are free to prepare their own breakfast and also free to make bad decisions, decisions which are bolstered by the advisory boards of their own peers, who have equally, alarmingly undeveloped prefrontal cortexes. Sometimes popular culture and peer influence looks like rotten bread crumbs which they hungrily follow. This is where fear shakes me by the shoulders. Sometimes a winning strategy is to make really clear agreements with them, other times it’s doing the heart-searing work of letting go.

I am grateful to see that underneath the hot kick of anger is fear and sorrow. I can surround these feelings with love. The inroads of self-empathy clearcut through the misplaced blame. For these are universal experiences of motherhood: arms achingly full and then achingly empty.

Also, the sadness and fear are simply messengers pointing to what I’m really yearning for: connection, however it may look between a tween boy and his mama right now.

When I arrive home—the boys still missing—I hop on my bike and hear their voices less than a block away. They’re deep into mischief, the variety of which would be familiar to generations of boys.

I explain that not knowing where they are leaves me worried, and I want them to check in with me before they take off. No threats or punishments, just stating boundaries. They understand and readily apologize.

The three of us sit down to the spread that was warm and fresh an hour ago. The boys express their gratitude for dinner and are forthcoming in the specific brand of 12-year old boys: an endearing blend of self-doubt and bravado. I can see that they’re wobbling on their own precipice, experimenting with who they are outside of family, and yet needing their home nest to be welcoming and steady. I feel a thread of connection, braids of their tweenhood and my own mom-ness, weaving us all together tonight.

Related posts:

guardians of a gift
empathy in action
nighttime parenting


5 Responses leave one →
  1. October 9, 2017

    As my 2.5 YO son had the mama-mama-mama chant all weekend (and then sobbed “don’t leave me mommy” when we got in the car to go to preschool, I needed this reminder that someday I will miss his need to be with mama always.

  2. Jane permalink
    October 9, 2017

    Wait until they get their drivers licenses. I know, total non issue given that we live in town and are two blocks walking distance from the high school. Doesn’t matter….it’s a teenage milestone, these driving privileges, whether you want them to stay on their bikes or not. Sigh….maybe the younger male child will be different?

  3. Mollie permalink
    October 9, 2017

    Thank you for this:
    For these are universal experiences of motherhood: arms achingly full and then achingly empty.

  4. Nan permalink
    October 9, 2017

    Your words. Break the heart, and build the heart. Beautiful post.

  5. Susan permalink
    October 10, 2017

    Oh wow, Rachel! You capture how I feel with my 16 year old daughter!

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